Canada recently sent four of its relatively new M-777 howitzers to the Ukrainian military to help it deal with a renewed Russian offensive from the east, CBC News has learned.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed the plan to ship what he called “heavy artillery” earlier this week, but offered no details on what the Canadian military would donate.
“Their most recent request was for exactly that, for heavy artillery, for operational security reasons,” Trudeau said Wednesday. “I can’t go into specifics at this stage on how and what exactly we get to them.”
Three defense sources – who spoke to CBC News on the condition that they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case – say four of the 37 howitzers Canada purchased during the war in Afghanistan were intended to be shipped.
Defense Minister Anita Anand acknowledged the shipment in a Friday press release, but did not provide details, saying only that “a number of M-777 howitzers” had been sent to Ukraine. “in collaboration with our American allies”.
Later Friday, during an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics, Anand said “there are certain details that we are keeping confidential for security reasons.”
WATCH: Defense Minister discusses Canada’s future plans to arm Ukraine’s military
The big guns come from the inventory of the 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Manitoba, two of the confidential sources said.
The shipment included an unspecified amount of ammunition, the statement said.
One of the three defense sources said the package included a number of precision-guided Excalibur rounds left over from the war in Afghanistan. GPS-guided shells are worth around US$112,000 per round.
“Although this equipment is from the Canadian Armed Forces inventory, the capability will be replenished,” Anand said.
Canada recently shipped some of its aging stockpile of Carl Gustaf anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and the Department of National Defense said it had provided a “significant number of additional anti-armour rockets”, which had been requested by the Ukrainians.
Anand said Canada was also finalizing contracts for “a number of commercial model armored vehicles, which will be sent to Ukraine as soon as possible.” Ottawa has also set up a service contract for the maintenance and repair of specialized drone cameras that Canada has already provided to Ukraine.
“As Ukrainians fight to defend their sovereignty, freedom and independence, Canada remains committed to continuing to provide Ukraine with the military equipment it needs to fight and win this war,” Anand said in a statement. the press release.
More than a decade and a half ago, retired Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie led the Department of Defense’s internal campaign to purchase the M-777 howitzers for use in the war in Afghanistan.
Supplying Ukraine is important and urgent, he said, as long as it does not deprive the Canadian military of its ability to fight.
“We only have 37 howitzers,” said Leslie, a former Liberal MP who is now a business executive at BlueSky Strategy Group, an Ottawa lobbying firm.
He urged the Liberal government to quickly replace donated equipment, especially howitzers.
“That’s about 10% of the overall triple seven gun fleet,” Leslie said. “This will have a ripple effect of 10% on the level of readiness and training of the Canadian Armed Forces.
And that’s important, he said, because NATO could request up to 3,400 Canadian military personnel for its Eastern Europe strike force within 30 days.
Canada has come under pressure to provide heavy weapons as other allies continue to provide deadlier aid, both overtly and covertly.
The United States announced this week that it is donating 90 155mm howitzers as part of its recent $800 million military aid package to Ukraine.
These weapons have also started arriving in Europe and US troops have started training Ukrainian forces to use them, a senior US defense official told several US publications this week.
A US official, quoted in the military publication Stars and Stripes, declined to say whether the US was sending its M-777 or M-198 155mm howitzers. The two American guns are of a different caliber from the Ukrainian Msta-B 152 mm howitzers.
Anand said the next phase of Canada’s military support to Ukraine will include “armoured vehicles, heavy artillery, additional munitions and contracts for the maintenance of drone cameras.” She did not provide details of that aid or say when it will be delivered.
A popular weapon
The M-777 is a 155 millimeter towed howitzer. While it fires large shells, it was designed as an ultralight gun by BAE Land Systems, Inc., a British arms manufacturer, in the late 1990s.
The weapon quickly became popular with the US Army and Marine Corps and was sold worldwide to a number of countries, most recently India.
Western militaries like it because it’s perfectly suited to the type of light, mobile warfare that took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. The weapon can be easily and quickly transported by air – either suspended under a helicopter and moved to the battlefield, or placed in a large transport aircraft for rapid deployment in other countries.