Trudeau says Canada is sending artillery to Ukraine. Here's what that could mean

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week that Canada will send artillery to Ukraine in response to a request from President Volodymyr Zelensky — which would mark a shift in the nature of the military aid Canada is offering the embattled nation.

Expert predicts Canada will send M777 howitzers

A M-777 artillery unit fires at a target during the Afghan war on Nov. 24, 2010. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will provide artillery to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion. (Murray Brewster/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this week that Canada will send artillery to Ukraine in response to a request from President Volodymyr Zelensky — which would mark a shift in the nature of the military aid Canada is offering the embattled nation.

Though Trudeau hasn't said what type of artillery Canada plans to provide, he called the move a response to the shifting state of the war as Russia concentrates its forces in eastern Ukraine.

"We've been in close contact with President Zelensky since the very beginning and we're very responsive to what it is that they need most specifically," Trudeau said Tuesday. "Their most recent request from Canada is to help them with heavy artillery, because that's what the phase of the war is in right now."

What Canada has sent so far

Since Russia invaded, Canada has been largely sending the Ukrainians light infantry weapons such as rocket launchers, hand grenades and anti-armour weapon systems — weapons meant to be used by only one or two people at relatively short ranges.

"The equipment that we've sent is fairly rudimentary stuff," said Dave Perry, defence analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

The rocket launchers and anti-tank weaponry Canada has supplied are essentially "point and shoot" weapons that require little training, Perry said.

These shoulder-launched infantry weapons tend to have a range of between 150 and 600 meters, depending on the model, said retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, now a senior associate with Bluesky Strategy Group.

Canada has sent 4,500 M-72 rocket launchers to Ukraine. The weapon has a range of 150 to 200 metres "on a really good day," Leslie said.

"They're best fired in multiple volleys, so five or six people shooting at one armoured vehicle at a time," he said, adding that they are unlikely to take down a modern tank.

Members of the Canadian 2nd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment fire a Carl Gustav 84mm Recoilless rifle during live fire platoon attacks at range 800 during the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton on July 10, 2018. (Combat Cmera/OS Justin Spinello)

Canada also has sent Ukraine 100 Carl Gustaf anti-tank systems. Those have a range of between 400 and 600 metres, Leslie said.

Canada also has provided protective items such as helmets and body armour.

What Canada has to send

Compared to the weaponry Canada has sent to date, artillery would be "an order of magnitude bigger," Leslie said.

The U.S. recently announced an additional $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. President Joe Biden said that package will include artillery and ammunition.

Perry said the type of artillery Canada donates likely will depend on what the U.S. is sending.

"If the Americans are going to send a weapon, provide 40,000 rounds to go with it and provide the training to the Ukrainian armed forces on how to use that gun specifically, then it would make a lot of sense for us to send the same type of equipment," he said.

Both Perry and Leslie said they suspect Canada's likeliest option for Ukrainian military aid is the M777 howitzer, which fires a 155mm shell.

The M777 is operated by a team of eight to 10 soldiers, Leslie said, and can fire a shell up to 30 kilometres with a high degree of accuracy.

One advantage of the M777 is that it's highly mobile "for a heavy hunk of metal," Perry said, and can be airlifted by helicopters or towed with trucks.

Canada currently has 37 M777s, though it's not clear how many would be sent to Ukraine.

What Ukraine still needs

President Zelensky last week issued a plea through social media for more weapons — including artillery. He also asked allies to supply armed vehicles, air defence systems and combat aircraft.

"Freedom must be armed better than tyranny," Zelensky said in a rare English statement. "Western countries have everything to make it happen."

Ukraine's embassy in Ottawa said that while the country is grateful Canada announced an additional $500 million in aid in the federal budget, its defenders need "heavy weapons" as soon as possible.

A Canadian LAV (light armoured vehicle) arrives to escort a convoy at a forward operating base near Panjwaii, Afghanistan at sunrise on Nov. 26, 2006. (Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press)

"Ukraine urgently needs heavy weapons to protect the lives of our citizens and to counter the Russian offensive," a statement from the embassy said. "The immediate shipment of weapons is needed to support Ukrainian forces right now."

Leslie said Canada could focus on Ukraine's request for armoured vehicles by sending 50 light armoured transports, known as LAVs.

"They have a remarkable gun on them and they do a lot of useful work," Leslie said. "And right now, Ukraine needs them more than we do."