Russia produces three times more artillery shells for Ukraine than the United States and Europe combined

(CNN) — Russia appears to be on track to produce nearly three times as much artillery ammunition as the United States and Europe, a significant advantage ahead of another Russian offensive expected in Ukraine later this year. .

According to NATO intelligence estimates on Russian defense production shared with CNN, as well as sources familiar with Western efforts to arm Ukraine, Russia is producing about 250,000 artillery weapons per month, or about 3 million per year. . A senior European intelligence official told CNN that collectively, the United States and Europe have the capacity to produce only 1.2 million pieces of munitions annually to send to Kiev.

The US military aims to produce 100,000 artillery rounds per month by the end of 2025, less than half of Russian monthly production, and this even after $60 billion of funding for Ukraine was blocked in Congress. The numbers are now out of reach, a senior Army officer said last week.

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

Officials say Russia is currently firing about 10,000 projectiles per day, while Ukraine is firing only 2,000 projectiles per day. According to a European intelligence official, the ratio is worse in some places along the 960-kilometre front.

Russia produces three times more artillery shells for Ukraine than the United States and Europe combined

A 122 mm D-30 howitzer was fired in the Donetsk region. (Credit: Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA Images/SOPA USA)

The drawdown comes at perhaps the most dangerous time for Ukraine’s war effort since Russia first invaded Kiev in February 2022. US funding to arm Ukraine has ended and Republican opposition in Congress has effectively blocked any further shipments.

Meanwhile, Russia recently captured the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka and is widely seen as having taken the initiative on the battlefield. Ukraine is not only struggling with ammunition, but also with a growing shortage of personnel on the front lines.

The United States and its allies have provided Ukraine with several highly sophisticated systems, including M-1 Abrams tanks and, soon, F-16 fighter jets. But military analysts say the war will likely be won or lost depending on who fires the most artillery shells.

“The number one issue we’re looking at right now is ammunition,” the NATO official said. “It’s those artillery shells, because that’s where Russia really has a significant advantage in production and a significant advantage on the battlefield.”

Russian war machine at “full power”

The NATO official said Russia was operating the armament factories “24/7” in 12-hour shifts. About 3.5 million Russians now work in the defense sector, up from 2 to 2.5 million before the war. Russia is also importing ammunition: Iran sent at least 300,000 artillery shells last year — “maybe even more,” the official said — and North Korea sent at least 6,700 artillery shells carrying millions of shells. Provide gunpowder containers.

“Russia has put everything on the line,” the intelligence official said. “Their war machine is running at full power.”

A rough equivalent in the United States would be when President Joe Biden invokes the Defense Production Act, a US official said, giving the president the power to order companies to quickly produce equipment to support the country’s national defense .

artillery russia ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier places an artillery shell near the city of Kreminna, Ukraine, on March 4, 2024. (Credit: Inna Varenitsia/Reuters)

U.S. and Western officials say Russia’s advances are still not enough to meet its needs, and Western intelligence officials do not expect Russia to make major advances on the battlefield any time soon. Officials say there is also a limit to Russian production capacity: Russian factories are likely to reach their peak sometime next year.

But this is still far more than what the United States and Europe are producing for Ukraine, especially without additional funding from the United States.

Competing with Putin’s economy

European countries are trying to fulfill this deficiency. A German defense company announced last month that it plans to open a munitions factory in Ukraine that it says will produce hundreds of thousands of 155 mm caliber bullets each year. In Germany, the same company began construction of a new factory, which is expected to produce about 200,000 artillery shells per year.

American and Western officials insist that although Russia is able to turn over its own production lines, partly because it has the advantage of having an economy run under the control of a dictator, Western capitalist nations will eventually catch up and have better equipment. will draw. ,

“If you can really control the economy, you can probably move a little faster than other countries,” Lt. Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, told CNN in an interview last week. But, he said, “the West will have more holding power.”

“The West has begun to accelerate the construction of infrastructure to add the necessary munitions capacity.”

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

One European lawmaker said, “Russia’s production is 24/7. I mean, huge, huge.” “We should not underestimate their desire to excel with grit and resilience.”

Intelligence officials believe neither side is ready to make major advances immediately, but the overall math favors Moscow in the long run, especially if additional U.S. aid does not arrive.

“It’s not going well, but it all depends,” said a source familiar with Western intelligence. “If aid is restarted and arrives quickly, all is not lost.”

Targeting Ukraine’s arms production

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

“If we were talking about this last fall, we would be talking about how they were targeting critical infrastructure,” the NATO official said. “What we’re seeing now is some critical infrastructure has been targeted, but the Ukrainian defense industrial base has also been targeted.”

According to the senior NATO official, Russia is producing between 115 and 130 long-range missiles and between 300 and 350 single-strike drones based on Iranian models provided by Tehran every month. Although Russia had a stockpile of thousands of long-range missiles in its arsenal before the war, today it stands at about 700, the official said.

The Russians have recently put those weapons to use on a larger scale to try to overwhelm Ukrainian missile defenses. And they have compensated for this by increasing drone use, sending out an average of four times more drones per month than last winter.

Destroyed Russian tanks near the village of Bohorodichne in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on February 13, 2024. (Credit: Maxim Marusenko/Nurfoto/Reuters)

Perhaps Russia’s biggest challenge has been the production of tanks and other armored vehicles. They are producing about 125 tanks per month, but most are older models that have been refurbished. The NATO official said 86% of main battle tanks produced by Russia were to be refurbished in 2023. And although Russia has about 5,000 tanks in storage, “probably a large percentage of them cannot be refurbished and they are only good for scrap parts,” the official said.

Moscow has lost at least 2,700 tanks, more than double the total number initially deployed to Ukraine when the invasion begins in February 2022.

Russia’s ‘transformed’ economy

Officials are also taking a close look at Russia’s economy to see how the interplay between a hyperactive defense sector, Western sanctions and Putin’s efforts to strengthen its economy for war affects Russia’s ability to sustain a conflict.

The war has “completely transformed” Russia’s economy, the NATO official said, the worst since Soviet times when oil was the leading sector. Defense is now the largest sector of the Russian economy, and oil is financing it.

This creates some long-term imbalances that will likely be problematic for Russia, but for the moment, it is working, said Basham, both the NATO official and the U.S. European Command official.

“In the short term – let’s say, the next 18 months or so – it may be crude, but it is a sustainable economy,” the NATO official said.

The Pentagon is considering whether to tap its last remaining funding source, but it has previously been reluctant to spend the remaining money without a guarantee that it will be reimbursed by Congress, because that equipment Taking Defense Department deposits without a replenishment plan could have a chilling effect on the US. Military preparations, CNN previously reported.

The source familiar with Western intelligence said, “If no further assistance comes from the United States, will the Ukrainians change their opinion about negotiations?”

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