Russian TV Shows Off Rare 2S4 Mega Mortar-Then Ukraine Blows It Up
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As Russian troops attempt to break through Ukrainian lines in the Donbas region and encircle forces defending the city of Severodonetsk, it’s employing a variety of rare, specialized weapons including BMP-T ‘Terminator’ anti-personnel tanks and KUB-BLA kamikaze drones.

Recently, Russian military reporter Aleksandr ‘Sasha’ Kots revealed Russia was also employing its super-sized 2S4 “Tyulpan” (“Tulip”) 240-millimeter self-propelled mortars, designed to penetrate and destroy heavy fortifications and large building.

This weapon, which has no counterpart in Western service, is by far the largest-caliber mortar system in service. Out of hundreds deployed during the Cold War, Russia retained just 40-50 in operational service—10-12 per district-level High Power Artillery Brigade.

The giant mortars belt out gigantic 288-pound F864 shells more akin in effect to air-dropped bombs out to a range of 6 miles at a stately maximum fire rate of one round per minute. It can also fire Smel’chak (“Daredevil”) laser-guided rounds, 3B11 nuclear shells, and 3O8 ‘Nerpa’ rocket-assisted cargo shells with a maximum range of 12 miles that can release a hail of cluster bomblets.

These hard-hitting weapons, both towed and self-propelled, were used to shatter airport terminals in Donetsk and Luhansk defended by Ukrainian troops in 2014-2015, and terrorized civilians in Syria, Lebanon and Chechnya with penetrating bombardments that could gut apartment buildings.

Earlier in May 2022, a 2S4 was photographed firing at Ukrainian forces holed up in the Azovstal steel facility in Mariupol using a guided Smel’chak round.

Kots’s video in Rubizhne (finally secured by Russian forces on May 12 after a two-month siege) showcased from several angles a 2S4 firing beside a large industrial facility. The bark of each shot is followed by the ringing bell sound characteristic of this mortar.

Around this time, Russian strikes destroyed several bridges over the Donets river to Severodonetsk to cut it off from reinforcements. This particular 2S4 was alleged to have knocked out the bridge connecting Lyschansk to Severodonetsk. If true, likely this was again accomplished using a laser-guided munition.

However, within 24 hours after Kot’s report went live, the Ukrainian military released a video shot by a drone peering down on a location close to the building Kots had been filming from. It shows a 2S4 consumed by flames. Abruptly, its ammunition—up to 40 oversized rounds—detonates in a gigantic fireball.

Though we don’t know for sure, it seems distinctly possible Ukrainian forces geolocated the 2S4’s approximate position using the imagery from the TV segment.

The attack method is also unclear, though due to the 2S4’s relatively short range, there are many possibilities ranging from howitzers to loitering munitions, missile-armed drones, or even civilian-style octocopters adapted by Ukraine to drop anti-tank grenades with surprising accuracy. Likely the drone filming the aftermath of the strike helped locate the Tyulpan and guide the attack which destroyed it.

This is the first 2S4 confirmed lost by Russia in the conflict, though Moscow reportedly retains up to 400 inactive systems in storage, some of which could eventually be refurbished to replace losses.

Though a welcome victory for Ukraine, the incident highlights the risks that abundant media imagery of the conflict may betray the position of units, enabling fatal attacks.

More broadly, the situation at Severodontesk has entered a grave phase for Ukraine as Russia seeks to exploit a potential penetration of Ukrainian defenses emanating westward from Popasna. This may allow Russia to form a pincer in conjunction with a thrust pressing southward towards Lyman that could leave the veteran Ukrainian brigades in Severodonetsk encircled.

The next week will likely determine whether Ukraine can repulse Russian momentum in this sector. If not, Kyiv may have to choose between allowing forces in the Severodonetsk salient to be surrounded, or executing a potentially costly withdrawal from defensive positions stubbornly held for months.

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