Ukrainian Strikes Cause Moscow to Re-Think Munitions Supply and Logistics (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 125

A Russian ammo depot exploding in Crimea on August 15, allegedly due to Ukrainian sabotage (Source: Reuters)

Since 2014–2015, Russia has built dozens of ammunition depots hidden in civilian buildings near railway stations in the occupied parts of Ukraine. Russian logistics warehouses are almost always located near railways, since the Russian military has been experiencing a serious shortage of logistics units, especially transport units.

When it comes to supplies directly in the Ukrainian combat zone, Russian troops rely heavily on railway supplies. Even before the war in Ukraine, the Russian army conducted a number of studies aimed at the optimization of security forces, with an emphasis on railway transport.

Yet, this has its disadvantages—the Russian army is disproportionately dependent on railways as important arteries—and the result is a traffic jam of 30 kilometers (km) or more, as was the case near Kyiv this past spring. Partly due to the impossibility of ensuring the security of supply columns, the problematic experiences of the Afghan war and both Chechen wars have been repeated. When the Russian army cannot gain access to railways, then its entire logistics system collapses.

The Russians’ advance to the east of Kyiv was defeated because they were unable to capture the railways passing through Chernihiv and Sumy regions. With cities such as Nizhyn, Chernihiv and Sumy stubbornly defended by Ukrainian troops, the Russians had to set up truck supplies for their troops east of Kyiv—and failed miserably at this, as Russian troops could not withdraw further than 90–100 km from their supply warehouses. Moreover, at this distance, the Russian Federation can only supply its units for conducting defensive operations.

Now in Donbas, in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, the Russians have established more stable railway supply for their troops. This allows Moscow to supply the tens of thousands of tons of artillery ammunition that is being used every week; transfer reserve tanks, howitzers and other equipment necessary to compensate for the huge material losses of the Russian army, as well as necessary fuel.

Large-scale optimization of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s structures at all levels has been carried out; supply schemes have changed; large logistics centers are being formed, an outsourcing system has been implemented; efficiency has been increased in material, transport, technical, veterinary and sanitary support; as well as improvements have been made in operational maintenance and the provision of communal services to military units and other organizations. As a result of these numerous changes, all support links have suffered. In the advanced parts, a shortage of repair kits for a number of wheeled and armored vehicles currently plagues units. The bankruptcy of the tank repair factories in the Southern Military District has severely hurt opportunities to carry out capital repairs of battered and decommissioned equipment (, July 6).

Sorting, in turn, is by no means endless; few spare tracks are available in general, and they are concentrated around major railway junctions—Moscow, St. Petersburg and Bryansk. All railways in the Pskov, Belgorod and Kursk regions are single track. And if something derails in these areas, then the section becomes unavailable for at least a day or two. On June 24–25, because of the derailment of a train with shells in the Pskov region, direct traffic between Velikie Luki–Kunya and Porkhov-Kunya was stopped for two days. Although, trains were allowed to detour through Luga (, June 25).

Russian military exercises, as well as command and staff exercises conducted from 2016 to 2021, showed, on the one hand, the expediency of official decision-making, but on the other, they revealed a number of problematic issues with the overall supply system (YouTube, August 17, 2016).

During the reformation of the accumulation and maintenance of stocks of material resources, the amount of stocks was optimized, the echeloning of stocks was changed and new organizational and staff structures were created in 2017. The warehouse base of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation contained an excess amount (20–25 percent) of material resources stored above established norms.

The main measure of the new system of maintenance was the creation of centers for material and technical support (CMTO) for military districts, and the total number of military facilities was reduced by 260 units (from 584 to 324).

In the specified period, new organizational and staff structures for the material and technical support of constant readiness were created (MTO brigades functioning in the army’s interests, MTO battalions of motorized rifle and tank brigades and so forth). These structures will include bathing and laundry facilities, as well as field warehouses.

In mobilizing special parts of logistics support for wartime (logistic brigade, bridge brigade, road commandant’s brigade, etc.), bases for the storage of military equipment and property (BKhVT) were organized, which contain the necessary stocks of equipment and material.

In connection with the creation of CMTOs, certain difficulties arose in the improvement of the logistics management system. This entailed a number of transformations in the entire logistics supply chain. Thus, the schemes for providing troops with necessary materiel, including ammunition, are changing significantly. In organizing troops’ material support, the role of the logistics heads of the military districts has been diminished.

The status of the supply services chiefs in the new MTO conditions for military districts remains unclear. On the one hand, they are responsible for providing troops with necessary supplies, but on the other, warehouses with stocks of materiel, such as fuel, are subordinate to the head of the CMTO (, accessed August 15).

The estimated consumption for the main categories of artillery ammunition and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) during the first five months of the war could be as much as 600,000 tons.

At the beginning of the war, stocks of these main categories of ammunition in Russia hardly exceeded 1.3–1.5 million tons; that is, if the current rate of consumption is maintained, the reserves would be enough for no more than four to six months of active war.

And, although no official data is being released on the production of ammunition in Russia, based on rough estimates, it can be assumed that, until 2022, the production of shells for artillery and MLRS systems was several times less than the current rate of consumption for these types of ammunition—which have become ever more consequential for the conflict in Ukraine.

*To read Part Two, please click here.