Damage the Lancet inflicted on the M109 Paladin is unusually high

Recent shares on social media from Russian sources present a captivating scene of a Ukrainian M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer that is wrecked and seemingly beyond repair. The timeframe and location of the destruction of this Western-provided M109 to Ukraine are indeterminate, but that’s not the crux of the matter in this circumstance. 

Damage the Lancet inflicted on the M109 Paladin is unusually high
Photo credit: Twitter

The Russian sources claim that a Russian Lancet loitering missile is responsible for the destructive attack on this M109 Paladin. The aftermath of the drone strike presents a riveting sight. In contrast, we’ve seen German Leopard tanks and other self-propelled howitzers – both Eastern and Western European variants – with significantly less damage, albeit incapacitated. 

The specific damage on this M109 is hard to miss – its left drive chain is ruined, with a section of the upper left chassis split apart. The gun turret also bore the brunt of the attack on the left side, leaving little to nothing of the armored exterior of the howitzer. The internal compartment, originally intended for the crew, is entirely charred, devoid of any salvageable parts. In fact, the explosion was of such magnitude that it left a large gaping hole on the parallel right side of the dome.

Russian Lancet UAV was used 872 times destroying 698 targets
Video screenshot

How penetrating is the M109’s armor?

Constructed from a single steel composite known as Rolled Homogeneous Armor [RHA], the defense of the M109 measures 13 to 15 mm along its sides, and a substantial 19 mm in the front. Although this may not compare to the robustness of main battle tanks, it’s essential to remember that the purpose of the M109 is more artillery-focused. 

While it might not hold up against powerful anti-tank weapons, the M109’s armor has proven itself against small arms fire and scattered shell fragments. The armor has seen various iterations with each contributing to its progressive enhancement. For instance, the newer variant, the M109A6 Paladin, comes with an additional layer of armor protection. This model features modular armor that can be upgraded as needed, providing valuable protection against specific threats. 

Spain is working on trajectory correction fuze in the 155mm shell - M109 howitzer
Photo credit: Wallpaper Flare

Despite the upgrades, it’s crucial to mention that the primary construct of the M109’s armor does not grant it the ability to withstand direct impacts from oppressive anti-tank weaponry.

How much explosive is needed?

Specific figures indicating the exact amount of TNT required to penetrate its armor are not publicly shared. Such information is typically kept confidential due to military sensitivities. 

Taiwan's M109A6 howitzers are late, the US is offering HIMARS
Photo: US Army / Staff Sgt. Richard Wrigley

Despite the scarcity of concrete figures, we can delve into the fundamentals of armor-piercing mechanisms. The success of an explosive in penetrating armor hinges on numerous factors. These include the type of explosive used, the proximity of the blast to the target, and the angle at which the explosion impacts the armor. For example, shaped charges are particularly effective at penetrating armor as they channel the energy from the blast into a concentrated stream, unlike a standard explosion. 

The armor protecting the M109 has undergone a series of upgrades throughout its lifespan. Consider the M109A6 Paladin variant, it features added armor for enhanced defense. The armor on this model is modular, which allows for augmentations that offer increased protection against specific threats. Despite these advancements, it’s crucial to note that the armor on the M109 isn’t designed to withstand a direct hit from heavy-duty anti-tank weaponry. Instead, its defense relies on its mobility and the strategic maneuvers of the crew to evade incoming hits.

One Lancet

Why Russia uses Lancet-3 FPV against Leopard 2A6 - explained
Photo credit: Zala Aero

Constructed by the Russian firm, ZALA Aero, the Lancet kamikaze drone can drop an explosive payload at a targeted location and explode upon impact. Despite its compact size, the Lancet-3, the heaviest model in its line, carries a 3 kg charge, substantial enough to wreak significant havoc, especially when it targets a defenseless spot. 

Taking into account that the payload of Lancet can inflict severe harm, imagine a scenario where it’s successful in finding a weak point on the M109 Paladin. Examples could include the upper armor, the engine compartment at the back, or the space nestled between the turret and the chassis. Judging by the extent of destruction evident in the video, it seems the space between the dome and the chassis suffered the most, indicative of the precision attributed to the Russian drone operator.

M019 losses in Ukraine

According to the LostArmour database, the first Paladins, which were M109A3GN units from Norway, began to be damaged in early November 2022. This occurred in the Nikolaev region, where they were destroyed by the Russian military. 

The Russian Ministry of Defense has consistently reported on Ukrainian M109s since mid-January. Roughly every two days, the ministry shares updates about the destruction of a couple of these self-propelled artilleries at various locations. Records indicate that since September 2023, Russian forces have reported destroying nine of these artillery units. 

According to the Ministry’s reports, between January and September 2023, the conflict claimed as many as 58 M109 self-propelled guns, across all models. On the other hand, the LostArmor database records 14 entries, complete with photos and coordinates of the destroyed machines. Interestingly enough, 11 of these artillery units listed in the unofficial database were not mentioned in the defense department’s reporting. There are also three additional destroyed armored units, which appear to be included in both databases.  

Ukrainian officer: My M109 Paladin SPH has an accuracy error of 70m
Photo credit: US DoD

In conclusion, as of now, the Kyiv administration has witnessed losses of at least 69 Paladin self-propelled guns from all models, equating to more than 40% of all such artilleries. Photos from LostArmour also show that the damaged units are often beyond repair.

M109 delivered to Ukraine

Norway was the first to provide Ukraine with American self-propelled guns, announcing a shipment of 20 M109A3GN from their stockpile of 56. This transfer was initiated shortly after the announcement, and Ukrainian operators quickly learned how to operate these new machines. By mid-July, these guns were actively utilized on the battlefield. 

In June 2023, there was news about an upcoming delivery of M109A4BE self-propelled guns. Until mid-2023, Belgium had been utilizing this type of equipment before selling it to various foreign countries and businesses. Just last year, the UK purchased two dozen of these guns from OIP Land Systems to give to Kyiv. 

US builds power, orders more 155 mm Paladin M109A7 howitzers
Photo credit: BAE Systems

We should also acknowledge Latvia’s contribution. They provided Kyiv with six M109A5Ö modified armored vehicles, initially sourced from Austria. However, it’s worth noting that the majority of such equipment, around 40 units, has been retained by Latvia. In October 2022, Italy commenced deliveries. Italy recently transitioned from the old American ‘Paladins’ to the modern German PzH 2000 self-propelled guns. This transition freed up around 200 M109Ls, with approximately half being supplied to Kyiv. 

In total

Unsurprisingly, the latest supplier of these M109 guns is the USA. Early in 2023, they dispatched 18 of their newest version, the M109A6, to Ukraine. What we know for certain is that 164 Paladin self-propelled guns have either arrived in Ukraine or are in transit. Keep in mind that there could be more about which we are yet to learn. The actual number might be higher. Furthermore, additional aid could be on the way, which would increase the total number of self-propelled guns provided.


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