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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Putin’s Biggest Fear: Russia Runs Out of Ammo to Fight Ukraine?

Russian MLRS firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Russian MLRS firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

A recent defense conference took on special significance regarding the war in Ukraine as speakers and attendees pondered the high rate of ammunition burn that Russia is enduring. Vladimir Putin’s forces may be running out of ammo at a high speed as the war reaches its winter phase.

While Russia’s military continues to struggle, allies are considering ways to keep the pressure on Putin. 

Security Conclave Highlights Russia Supply Problems  

The event happened between December 2nd and 3rd during the Reagan National Defense Forum at the former president’s library in Simi Valley, California. An intelligence official explained that Russian ammunition stocks are going down “quite quickly.” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that Russia’s homegrown defense industry is not able to keep up and must rely on other countries to make up for supply shortages.

Guided Missiles Are Running Out Fast

Precision-guided missiles that require Western microchips are being depleted the fastest. While Russia can receive howitzer shells from its rogue allies such as Iran and North Korea, advanced ballistic missiles would be more difficult to come by from North Korea but are more likely to be sent by Iran. There have been reports that Iran is already supplying ballistic missiles to Russia, but will those imports be enough? Plus, Haines does not believe the North Koreans are supplying cannon rounds to Russia in adequate numbers.

Daily Launches Deplete Missiles

Russia continues to launch missiles at Ukraine by targeting civilian infrastructure to destroy electrical power grids and water facilities. Former adviser to the Republic of Georgia’s National Security Council Giorgi Revishvili tweeted that Russia had launched 80 missiles on December 5 including Oniks and Kalibr models at Ukraine. 

Desperate Measures to Fire More Guided Munitions

Russia may be getting so desperate that they are removing nuclear warheads from missiles and firing those at Ukrainian targets. This shows Russia is gathering anything it can to launch at the enemy. Russia has started re-purposing surface-to-air missile systems such as S-300 and S-400 air defense batteries to fire at ground targets.

You Won’t Believe How Many Rounds Are Fired in Ukraine

Russia fires off an estimated 20,000 howitzer shells a day – a rate not seen since the Korean War. These are difficult for its defense industry to replace. Ukraine is also blowing up Russian ammunition dumps at the front using its own artillery and rocket launches. The war’s outcome could come down to which side has the best supplies of ammunition. 

Logistical Errors Hamper Ammo Supplies

Lack of logistical prowess has dogged the Russian side throughout the war. It was believed that Russia had the edge before the invasion when it came to producing war supplies, but the invaders have not been able to consistently deliver ammunition to frontline troops at a rate that would dominate Ukraine.

Shortages Happened In Other Wars

This is not a new problem. Russia faced shortages of 122mm and 152mm shells during the second war in Chechnya plus the short war against Georgia in 2008 and action in Syria. Moscow had always figured that its vast stocks of ammunition from the Soviet era would give it reserve amounts in follow-on wars. But the Russian military found out that artillery shells have a less-than-optimum shelf life and become ineffective with age.  

Pavel Luzin of the investigative web magazine The Insider wrote that at the current rate of firing, Moscow will have a shortage in howitzer rounds by the end of 2022 that could negatively affect military operations.

Howitzer Tubes Are Wearing Out

Russia, through its non-stop artillery fire, may also be wearing down its guns. Howitzer barrels often have to be replaced and it is not clear if Moscow has the means to send these to soldiers.

What About the Factories? 

Russia will have to lean on its homegrown military industry to supply it with shells and rockets. It is not clear if ammunition plants have the ability to scale up and hire more workers, plus Russia is not known for high productivity among its manufacturing employees. Russia has few allies and depending on North Korea for re-supply may not be a winning formula. The war could come down to which side has enough ammunition to carry the fight into 2023 as the conflict comes closer to the one-year mark. 

Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.