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Exclusive: Russia producing three times more artillery shells than US and Europe for Ukraine




Russia appears on track to produce nearly three times more artillery munitions than the US and Europe, a key advantage ahead of what is expected to be another Russian offensive in Ukraine later this year.

Russia is producing about 250,000 artillery munitions per month, or about 3 million a year, according to NATO intelligence estimates of Russian defense production shared with CNN, as well as sources familiar with Western efforts to arm Ukraine. Collectively, the US and Europe have the capacity to generate only about 1.2 million munitions annually to send to Kyiv, a senior European intelligence official told CNN.

The US military set a goal to produce 100,000 rounds of artillery a month by the end of 2025 — less than half of the Russian monthly output — and even that number is now out of reach with $60 billion in Ukraine funding stalled in Congress, a senior Army official told reporters last week.

“What we are in now is a production war,” a senior NATO official told CNN. “The outcome in Ukraine depends on how each side is equipped to conduct this war.”

Officials say Russia is currently firing around 10,000 shells a day, compared to just 2,000 a day from the Ukrainian side. The ratio is worse in some places along the 600-mile front, according to a European intelligence official.

The shortfall comes at perhaps the most perilous moment for Ukraine’s war effort since Russia first marched on Kyiv in February 2022. US money for arming Ukraine has run out and Republican opposition in Congress has effectively halted giving any more.

Meanwhile, Russia recently took the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka and is widely seen as having the initiative on the battlefield. Ukraine is struggling not just with ammunition but also growing manpower shortages on the front lines.

The US and its allies have given Ukraine a number of highly sophisticated systems, including the M-1 Abrams tank and, soon, F-16 fighter jets. But military analysts say the war will likely be won or lost based on who fires the most artillery shells.

“The number one issue that we’re watching right now is the munitions,” the NATO official said. “It’s those artillery shells, because that’s where Russia really [is] mounting a significant production advantage and mounting a significant advantage on the battlefield.”

Russian war machine in ‘full gear’
Russia is running artillery factories “24/7” on rotating 12-hour shifts, the NATO official said. About 3.5 million Russians now work in the defense sector, up from somewhere between 2 and 2.5 million before the war. Russia is also importing ammunition: Iran sent at least 300,000 artillery shells last year — “probably more than that,” the official said — and North Korea provided at least 6,700 containers of ammunition carrying millions of shells.

Russia has “put everything they have in the game,” the intelligence official said. “Their war machine works in full gear.”

A rough equivalent in the US would be if President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, a US official said, which gives the president power to order companies to produce equipment expeditiously to support the nation’s national defense.

A Ukrainian serviceman holds an artillery shell near the town of Kreminna, Ukraine, March 4, 2024.
A Ukrainian serviceman holds an artillery shell near the town of Kreminna, Ukraine, March 4, 2024. Inna Varenytsia/Reuters
Russia’s ramp-up is still not enough to meet its needs, US and Western officials say, and Western intelligence officials do not expect Russia to make major gains on the battlefield in the short term. There is also a limit to Russian production capacity, officials say: Russian factories will likely hit a peak sometime in the next year.

But it’s still far beyond what the US and Europe are producing for Ukraine — especially without additional US funding.

Competing with Putin’s managed economy
European nations are trying to make up the shortfall. A German defense company announced last month that it plans to open an ammunition factory in Ukraine that it said will produce hundreds of thousands of 155mm caliber bullets each year. In Germany, the same company broke ground on a new factory expected to eventually produce around 200,000 artillery shells per year.

US and Western officials insist that although Russia has been able to jump-start its factory lines, in part because it has the advantage of being a managed economy under the control of an autocrat, capitalist western nations will eventually catch up and produce better equipment.

“If you can actually control the economy, then you can probably move a little bit faster than other countries out there,” Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, the deputy commander of US European Command, told CNN in an interview last week. But, he said, “the West will have more sustaining power.”

“The West is just starting their ramp-up of building the infrastructure to add in the munitions capability that is needed.”

When the money was still flowing, the US Army expanded production of artillery shells in Pennsylvania, Iowa and Texas.

“Russia’s output is 24/7. I mean, huge, immense,” one European lawmaker said. “We should not underestimate their will to outlast us with patience, and with resilience.”

Intelligence officials believe that neither side is poised to make any large gains imminently, but the overall math favors Moscow in the long run — particularly if additional US aid does not materialize.

“It’s not going well, but it all depends,” said one source familiar with Western intelligence. “If aid restarts and comes quick, all is not lost.”

Targeting Ukraine’s weapons production
Russia has also recently targeted Ukraine’s domestic defense production with its long-range weapons.

“If we were talking about this last fall, we would have talked about how they were targeting critical infrastructure,” the NATO official said. “Now what we see is some critical infrastructure targeting, but also a lot of targeting the Ukrainian defense industrial base.”

According to the senior NATO official, Russia is producing between 115 to 130 long-range missiles, and 300 to 350 one-way attack drones based on an Iranian model provided by Tehran, each month. Although before the war, Russia had a stockpile of thousands of long-range missiles in its arsenal, today it is hovering around 700, the official said.

The Russians have lately conserved those weapons to use in large volleys to try to overwhelm Ukrainian missile defenses. And they have compensated by increasing their use of drones, sending out on average four times as many drones per month as they did last winter.

Destroyed Russian tanks near the village of Bohorodychne in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 13, 2024.
Destroyed Russian tanks near the village of Bohorodychne in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 13, 2024. Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto/Reuters
Perhaps Russia’s biggest challenge has been in tank and other armored vehicle production. It is churning out about 125 tanks a month, but the vast majority are older models that have been refurbished. About 86% of the main battle tanks Russia produced in 2023 were refurbished, the NATO official said. And although Russia has about 5,000 tanks in storage, “probably a large percentage of those can’t be refurbished and are only good for cannibalizing parts,” the official said.

Moscow has lost at least 2,700 tanks, more than twice the total number that they deployed initially to Ukraine in February of 2022, when the invasion began.

Russia’s ‘transformed’ economy
Officials are also closely watching Russia’s economy for signs of how the interplay between a super-charged defense sector, Western sanctions, and Putin’s efforts to gird his economy for war impact Russia’s ability to sustain the conflict.

The war has absolutely “transformed” Russia’s economy, the NATO official said, from the post-Soviet period when oil was the leading sector. Now, defense is the largest sector of the Russian economy, and oil is paying for it.

That creates some long-term imbalances that will likely be problematic for Russia, but for now, it’s working, the NATO official and Basham, the US European Command official, both said.

“In the short term — say, the next 18 months or so — it may be unsophisticated, but it’s a durable economy,” the NATO official said.

The Pentagon is weighing whether to tap into the last remaining source of funding it has — but it has previously been reluctant to spend any of that remaining money without assurances it would be reimbursed by Congress, because taking from DoD stockpiles with no plan to replenish that equipment could impact US military readiness, CNN has previously reported.

“If no more US aid coming, do the Ukrainians change how they feel about negotiating?” the source familiar with Western intelligence said.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting.

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