August 27, 2022
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 (Kompromat1.pro, 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 (T.me/guberniaband, 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 (Cyberleninka.ru, 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
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).
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.
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.