As reports come in of massive explosions at an ammunition depot in Crimea, the prospects for effectively increasing ammunition production in Russia are unclear (Meduza, August 16). Overall, the costs of replenishing ammunition at the current rate of use in Ukraine will be quite substantial. Estimates have exceeded 3 trillion rubles ($50 billion) if the war carries on until February 2023—much higher than the State Defense Order’s annual amount and comparable to the total amount Moscow spent on national defense during peacetime. In this regard, the situation is looking incredibly bleak for the Kremlin, in the short run, to fully compensate for the loss of main range ammunition for artillery and multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS).
In truth, the exhaustion of Russian ammunition stocks will not serve as the sole factor in turning the course of the war. However, if active hostilities do not end within the next few months, the Russian army will need to change its tactics and move to a more targeted use of rocket and artillery weapons, as well as increase the use of guided ammunition. In turn, if Moscow stops its mass shelling, the Armed Forces of Ukraine may try to leverage their numerical superiority, with supplies being backed by weapons deliveries from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members.
Based on an approximate consumption rate of 5,000–6,000 shells per gun per year, on average, artillery systems tend to fire up to 20 shells per day. Given this baseline, we can estimate the following statistics regarding ammunition consumption for the first five months of the Ukraine war (150 days from February 24).
|System||Number of Systems||Consumption Per Day (Pieces)||Consumption for Five Months (Pieces)||Cumulative Weight of Shells (in Tons)|
|122 millimeter (mm)||400||8,000||
Based on these rough estimates, the Armed Forces of Russia use approximately 67,000 units of rocket and artillery ammunition per day. Approximately, this corresponds to data from the Ukrainian side, according to which Russian forces fire about 50,000–60,000 shells per day (NV.ua, June 14).
As of January 1, 2014, the total stock of usable main artillery shells (122mm, 152mm and 203mm) and MLRS rockets (122mm, 220mm and 300mm) possessed by the Russian army amounted to 1.3 million tons (Arsenal-otechestva.ru, August 30, 2013). In total, over the nine years from 2014 to 2021, the Russian military industrial complex produced up to 230,000 tons of ammunition annually in the form of shells for 152-mm artillery systems and MLRSs. Even if we consider this to be a low estimate, even by half, then high-end estimates of these types of ammunition in 2022 would not exceed 500,000 tons.
Recall that, as of January 1, 2014, stocks for the same basic ammunition were estimated at approximately 1.3 million tons (see EDM, August 16). This is compared to the general estimate for the Russian army’s optimal ammunition of up to 3 million tons, as voiced by Russian General Dmitry Bulgakov. Therefore, according to estimates, the 2014 stock of munitions only accounted for about 50 percent of the preferred quantity (Old.redstar.ru, February 2, 2012).
As of January 1, 2022, the Russian army’s reserves reportedly contained approximately 1.3–1.5 million tons of shells for 152-mm artillery systems and MLRSs. Assuming that up to 600,000 tons of such ammunition were used in the first four full months of fighting, only between 700,000 and 900,000 tons may currently remain in supply warehouses. As such, this amount may only be enough for another four to six months of fighting at the same rate and intensity.
Can the Russian military industrial complex maintain the use of ammunition at such a high volume? Based on a rough estimate of the possible production volumes of similar ammunition in 2021, currently, production volumes are well below what is needed on the front lines. Yet, can the industry significantly increase the production of ammunition? Here, it is critical to consider two highly consequential factors: costs and resources.
The cost factor involves an estimate for the production of certain munitions to maintain the current rate of use in Ukraine (i.e., only to compensate for losses). This assumes the preservation of the current composition of forces but not their increase.
Table 2. Approximate costs of Russian ammunition used in the invasion of Ukraine.
|System||Number of Systems||Consumption Per Day (Pieces)||Consumption for 12 Months (Pieces)||Cost Per Piece (in Rubles)||Cost for 12 months (in Rubles)|
|152 mm||1600||32,000||11,680,000||47,905 ($800)||560 billion ($9.3 billion)|
|203 mm||33||660||240,900||95,811 ($1,600)||23 billion ($385 million)|
|Tornado MLRS||150||6,000||2,190,000||221,407 ($3,700)||485 billion ($8.1 billion)|
|Grad MLRS||650||26,000||9,490,000||33,451 ($560)||317 billion ($5.3 billion)|
|Uragan MLRS||133||2,128||776,720||885,629 ($15,000)||688 billion ($11.5 billion)|
|Smerch MLRS||66||396||144,540||6.5 million ($107,640)||932 billion ($15.6 billion)|
|67,184||25 million||3 trillion ($50.2 billion)|
Thus, to replenish the current costs of main artillery and MLRS ammunitions for the rest of the year, Russian industry needs to spend approximately 3 trillion rubles ($50.2 billion) while producing up to 1.8 million tons of ammunition. Accounting for all other types of ammunition, the total cost of reproducing the exhaustive need for supplies would exceed 6 trillion rubles ($100.4 billion).
In this context, Russian forces are also being supplied somewhat with ammunition from Belarus. As Russian domestic production is not running at the required volume and the severe depletion of and attacks on ammunition depots near the Russian-Ukrainian border continue, munitions deliveries from Belarus are becoming increasingly critical. Indeed, in the first few days of August 2022, a train carrying ammunition (25 cars) was recorded arriving at the Bryansk-2 railway station; the stock was originally sent from the Orsha railway station in Belarus. Other trains carrying ammunition and storage infrastructure have been sent from the Gomel railway station in Belarus through Klintsy (Bryansk Oblast) to Gukovo (Rostov Oblast).
In general, Belarus’s military-political leadership plans to move about 12,000 tons of ammunition from long-term storage to Russian territory (T.me/AFUStratCom, August 4). (According to preliminary data, it will be sent to the Southern Military District.)
The heavy destruction of critical infrastructure by Russian and Ukrainian artillery, combined with the complete lack of mechanized logistics, makes for a completely different story with trucking logistics. This has huge consequences, given the extensive Ukrainian campaign to destroy Russian warehouses via artillery. According to the chief of staff of the US Army, the latest versions of the American guided MLRS (GMLRS), as fired by the Ukrainians with HIMARS, can hit targets up to 85 kilometers away with a circular probable deviation of three to seven meters. Essentially, the revamped GMLRS will push Russian tactical trucks well beyond the one-day round-trip supply range (Twitter.com/TrentTelenko, July 5).
This means that Russia will have to rely on railways much more than ever before; and Moscow was already overly reliant on railways for munitions supply and logistics. While not all that effective, the easiest way to get around the limited ability to deliver supplies by truck is to load up tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery near railroad tracks. Yet, this could make these elements much easier to target. Nevertheless, as the Ukraine war enters a more protracted phase, the Kremlin will need to solve its supply and logistical problems before Ukrainian forces, backed by Western weapons, leverage these shortages to turn the tide of the conflict in Kyiv’s favor.