While the issues with arms manufacturing in Russia have been covered in a number of analyses, production remains a serious challenge for the Russian defense industry as the Kremlin continues to search for answers to solve the problem of restoring its military power for its war against Ukraine (see EDM, July 7, October 31, November 17, 2022). Over the past two weeks, several actions demonstrate that Russia’s defense industry faces persistent troubles with increasing arms production rates.
To begin with, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chair of the Russian Security Council, announced a new group of supervisors that will be responsible for controlling the manufacture of high-priority arms. Medvedev also publicly warned defense factory managers about the criminal liability that will come with further violations of arms manufacturing contracts (Scrf.gov.ru, January 10). Furthermore, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly criticized Minister of Industry and Commerce Denis Manturov regarding delays in fulfilling contracts for military and civilian aircraft (Kremlin.ru, January 11). Finally, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that all supplies that had been planned for delivery to the Russian Armed Forces in 2022 must be delivered by the end of February 2023 (Government.ru, January 18).
Despite a few recent optimistic statements, the heads of Russia’s defense industry confirmed that efforts to reach peak capacity in arms manufacturing has led to cost-plus inflation and actual losses. Yet, in hopes of still achieving this desirable peak production rate, the resurrection of Moscow’s command administrative model is considered inevitable for the defense industry (Vedomosti, October 24, 2022; Vedomosti, December 22, 2022; Kremlin.ru, January 19). At the moment, in the face of ongoing bureaucratic games related to new supervisory groups and the notions of a command economy, the extensive use of the Russian workforce while reducing the number of weekends, holidays and vacations remain the main measures for increasing arms manufacturing domestically (TASS, January 2). Consequently, the issue of maintaining a high quality of produced arms and equipment will continue to be painful (Kremlin.ru, November 24, 2022).
In this way, the Kremlin has tried to demonstrate at least some convincing achievements in arms production, in the hopes of displaying to the Russian elite that victory in Ukraine is still possible and that Russia remains a superior power. In this light, the manufacturing of air defense systems may be the only sector of the Russian defense industry that still provides the Russian military leadership with good news. For instance, at the end of December 2022, Putin canceled his visit to Uralvagonzavod, the only manufacturer of main battle tanks in Russia located in Nizhniy Tagil, at the last minute. Instead, he visited the defense factory in Tula that produces the Pantsir short-range anti-aircraft systems (Kommersant; RIA Novosti, December 23, 2022). Incidentally, these systems are now being deployed on the rooftops of some government buildings in Moscow—presumably due to the fear of future Ukrainian strikes within Russian territory (Bbc.com/russian, January 20).
In January 2023, Putin visited another manufacturer of air defense systems, Obukhovsky Zavod in St. Petersburg, where he declared that, every year, Russia produces three times more air defense missiles than the United States (Kremlin.ru, January 18). While the Russian president’s boasting was largely symbolic, his statement reveals a valuable piece of information: if American companies produce about 600–650 air defense missiles of all types annually, that means Russia produces up to 2,000 units of such missiles.
However, in this regard, most of Russia’s air defense missiles belong to the short- and medium-range types, including Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). For the manufacturing of each type of missile for Russia’s most advanced long-range S-400 system, the quantity produced could be estimated anywhere from 50 to a couple hundred annually. This estimate is based on manufacturing rates for US missiles of comparable specifications, including the SM-6 and PAC-3 (Esd.whs.mil, December 2019; Lockheed Martin, October 4, 2022).
Taking into account the limited manufacturing rate and limited amount of missiles on hand for the S-400 systems, it is quite significant that Russia used a number of S-400 missiles against Kyiv in January 2023 (Defence-ua.com, January 14). This was most likely due to the serious deficit of cruise missiles in Russia’s arsenal, which is of growing concern for Moscow, as their annual manufacturing rate is comparable to the production rates of S-400 missiles if not slower. Outside of this consideration, it is hard to explain why the Russian military decided to use the sophisticated and new air defense missiles instead of those cruise missiles already available. Consequently, the fact that the manufacturing of air defense missiles is the current pride of the Russian defense industry case a shadow on the underlying problems with arms production in other sectors.
Nevertheless, the Kremlin is hell-bent on increasing arms manufacturing at any cost and does not seem to care about the long-term consequences of inching closer to a command system in defense production, which will hardly be limited to only the defense industry itself. Thus, as Moscow pushes higher arms production rates, the Russian economy, as a whole, will be further damaged.