Russia deploys US HE M106 shells, suspicions of Iranian link

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An intriguing twist recently surfaced as a photo showed an aged, American-manufactured 203mm HE M106 artillery shell. Interestingly, Ukrainian sources revealed that it wasn’t linked to Ukrainian artillery in the ongoing war conflict; instead, Russian artillery was tied to it. They claim that the projectile was captured on camera, ready to be fired by the Russian military through a 2S7 Pion Self-Propelled Howitzer.

Photo credit: Instagram

The image, released by the Ukraine-centric Instagram profile p1x_militarist, showcases Russian artillerymen holding the US-originated 203mm HE M106 artillery shells. Here’s the catch: these units can be utilized by the 2S7 Pion, a 203mm self-propelled artillery gun from the Soviet era.

Undoubtedly, Ukraine also utilizes these 203mm HE M106 artillery shells, generously donated by the US. However, the appearance of these shells from the Russian stockpile raises eyebrows as they show noticeable aging. As expected, this has stirred a whirlwind of conjecture, with some hints suggesting a “Tehran connection.” Ukrainian military experts have hypothesized that these rounds could be a gift from Iran to Russia, likely leftovers from the era of Shah Reza Pahlavi’s reign.

Photo: YouTube

During the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi, the United States provided Iran with a diverse array of artillery munitions. This formed part of a broader framework of military aid and cooperation that existed between the two nations during the tense Cold War era. A vital component of this munitions package was the 105 mm artillery shells supplied for the M109 self-propelled howitzers. Those familiar with these shells can attest to their extended range and substantial destructive power.

Additionally, the US also met Iran’s need for ammunition for the M101 towed howitzers it possessed. This ammunition consisted of 105mm shells that were markedly lighter and exhibited greater versatility compared to the 155mm shells. Due to their flexible nature, they suited a wide range of tactical situations. The supply for the M114 towed howitzer was also included in the artillery ammunition provisions. The US provided 155 mm shells for these, significantly augmenting Iran’s artillery power. Military circles recognize the M114 for its reliability, and the role of the 155 mm shells made it formidable.

To conclude this aid package, Washington also transported various types of mortar munitions to Tehran. These munitions included rounds for the 81 mm and 4.2 inch [107 mm] mortars, which were part of Iran’s military arsenal. Frontline soldiers can attest that these rounds were indispensable for supporting infantry and were esteemed for their accuracy and overall effectiveness on the battlefield.

Photo by Dmytro Larin

Significantly, the “Iranian factor” doesn’t solely determine this context. We cannot overlook the likelihood that these may be part of a seized Ukrainian cache. Since 2022, both warring parties routinely publicize images of captured or abandoned weapons when the enemy pulls back from a sector. That the U.S. intentionally exported these projectiles to Ukraine, despite their earlier American production, remains a possibility. Indeed, the type of assistance the U.S. provides to Ukraine has evidently evolved from outdated ammunition and weapon systems to increasingly sophisticated ones today.

Concurrently, Ukrainian experts are diligently searching for evidence of Iran importing these shells. According to one source, a detailed examination of the photo reveals a distinct discrepancy in the pattern of Latin letters inscribed on the projectiles. This suggests that Iran may have retrofitted the shells to U.S. standards.

If the “Iranian link” to the American shells is confirmed, we then face a situation where Russia has access to an additional source of ammunition. However, it is important to consider the other side of the coin. Russia’s agreement to import 203 mm rounds from Iran possibly indicates a deficiency in its defense industry’s capacity to meet domestic production requirements of this specific caliber.

The United States Army employs the high-explosive artillery munition, known as the 203 mm US artillery shell 2HE M106. This was primarily designed for the M110 8-inch [203 mm] self-propelled howitzer, a substantial piece of artillery that saw widespread use during the Cold War and beyond. 

The term “2HE” in the 2HE M106’s name represents “High Explosive Model 2”. This designation indicates that the shell is filled with a powerful explosive payload designed to detonate upon impact or at a specified altitude, thereby inflicting significant damage on enemy forces and their equipment. 

The M106 artillery shell is a separate-load, full-bore round. This means that the round itself and its accompanying propellant are loaded into the howitzer separately, allowing for greater ammunition handling versatility and firing customization. In this way, the artillery crew can manipulate the amount of propellant used to reach the desired range.

Crafted from top-tier steel, the shell of this artillery piece was constructed to endure the severe pressures and heat of firing. It’s fitted with a responsive fuse that allows for decisive detonation either upon impact or mid-air, above the target area for an effective dispersion of lethal shrapnel. 

Though originating from an earlier era, the M106 still symbolizes the pervasive might and precision integral to American artillery. Its continued presence within the US military’s toolbox solidly attests to its destructive efficacy on the battlefield, despite its age.

The 2HE M106 or HE M106, from a preceding generation of American artillery shells, has now been replaced by more advanced iterations. Currently, its modern counterpart – the 155 mm M795 shell – serves its battlefield purpose for the United States Army and the Marine Corps. Designed to achieve optimal range and deliver high destructive output, this artillery shell contains TNT and features a steel frame that splinters upon detonation. This structured design ensures maximum damage against enemy personnel and machinery.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Sean Searfus

Unlike the 2HE M106, the M795 boasts broad compatibility with all modern 155mm howitzers, including both towed and self-propelled systems. This versatility solidifies its position as a top choice for up-to-date artillery units. Notably, the M795 integrates advanced technological features, such as the GPS guidance system, addressing accuracy issues prevalent in the days of the 2HE M106.

In essence, even though the 2HE M106 and M795 both aim for the same strategic purpose, the latter undeniably symbolizes a substantial leap forward in terms of range, precision, and lethal capabilities.

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