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One-way ticket

Pavel Luzin on why Russia’s military capabilities have suffered irreparable losses after four months of war

Photo: Scanpix

According to figures that can be confirmed, after four months of the war against Ukraine Russia has used up or lost armaments in amounts unheard of in its recent history. According only to open sources backed by photographs, Russia has lost over 2,000 tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) altogether, several dozen aircraft and helicopters and many other military vehicles. In addition, since the beginning of its aggressive campaign, Russia has expended over 2,500 different cruise and tactical ballistic missiles.

Against this backdrop, Moscow obviously has to scale up its military expenditure dramatically. Despite the fact that the Ministry of Finance has almost fully restricted access to data on current federal budget spending since May 2022, the item ‘National Defence’ is still accessible. Thus, in January-April about RUB 1.6 trillion out of a planned RUB 3.85 trillion was spent on national defence. Meanwhile, the entire 2022 federal budget amounts to about RUB 26 trillion. For comparison, in 2021 nearly RUB 3.6 trillion was spent on national defence (the entire budget was RUB 24.8 trillion), but the bar of RUB 1.5 trillion was crossed as late as June. If the pace of spending seen in March-April is maintained — RUB 500 billion a month instead of an average of RUB 300 billion a month — by the end of the year spending on national defence may well reach RUB 5.0−5.5 trillion, or 19%-21% of the federal budget.

Nevertheless, even if this were to happen, the Russian armed forces would no longer be able to restore their capabilities in the foreseeable future, as the military industry would not be able to catch up with the demand.

AFVs

Russia inherited a stockpile of thousands of different models of tanks (T-64, T-72, T-80, etc.) and tens of thousands of AFVs of various types from the Soviet Union. And despite the fact that in the post-Soviet decades Russia has conducted development in this area, and even began production of some new models, such as T-90 tanks, BMD-4 amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, etc., its AFV arsenal is being renewed mainly by repairing and upgrading Soviet models. For example, T-72 tanks are upgraded by replacing the engines and installing Thales thermal weapon sights, other solutions and communication systems.

The bulk of the modernised and new AFVs were received by the Russian Armed Forces during the implementation of the 2011−2020 State Armament Programme (SAP), which continued with the 2018−2027 SAP (the overlapping of the SAP 2020 and the SAP 2027 is due to Russian bureaucratic logic). Each year, Russian industry supplied an average of about 650 tanks and other AFVs. Of these, tanks alone were supplied in numbers of no more than 160−170 T-72B3/B3M units per year under the 2011−2020 SAP from the UralVagonZavod (UVZ) facilities in Nizhny Tagil and Omsk (in 2021, only 34 of these tanks were supplied), and no more than 45−50 T-80BVM tanks were supplied from the Omsk plant in 2017−2021. Altogether about 1,900−2,000 upgraded tanks out of about 3,300 units were combat-ready before the attack on Ukraine. This is not counting the tanks that remained in storage. The rest were other types of AFVs. And if one considers that the armed forces had at least 16,000 AFVs of various types just before the war, the proportion of those produced or upgraded since the early 2010s was little more than a quarter of the total fleet.

In addition, in war conditions the natural life cycle of AFVs is reduced even if they are not damaged in combat. For example, the service life of the V-84 and V-92 engines and their variations installed on the T-72B3 and T-72B3M does not exceed 1,000 hours before overhaul. Taking this and the inevitable breakdown of other equipment into account, it is safe to assume that most Russian tanks involved in the current war will require an overhaul by the end of 2022 in a manufacturing facility rather than in the field. This assumption is also supported by data from the much less intensive Chechen campaign of 1994−1996. At that time, 65 Russian tanks were lost in combat, while the total losses amounted to about 200 tanks, the lion’s share of all tanks involved in that campaign. Thus, technical malfunctions may have a bigger impact on military capability than losses on the battlefield. And they also require effort and resources to repair and/or upgrade inoperative tanks and get them back on track.

However, these resources are limited not only by the embargo on components and industrial equipment. Since the early 2010s even tank engine components have been imported. Human resources are also limited. For example, the fact that UVZ is now working three shifts (around the clock) to refurbish AFVs only means that the staff are sent there from idle manufacturing facilities that produce railcars. Similarly, a year before the war, the railroad tank car division worked three shifts.

The problem with this kind of emergency production in a state-owned enterprise is that it increases costs, makes the plant less efficient and reduces the quality of output. All these conclusions are also true for the production, upgrading and repair of AFVs.

It is also noteworthy that UVZ was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2016 and that Kurganmashzavod, the only manufacturer of tracked AFVs, was about to go bankrupt at the end of 2017. The debts of these two companies were paid off by the government, and they both became part of the state-owned Rostec corporation, but there was no significant improvement in their economic efficiency. In such circumstances, a sharp increase in government spending on repairing damaged or disabled AFVs as well as on upgrading and restoring the combat readiness of vehicles removed from long-term storage will give rise to cost-push inflation in these companies. Each successive tank or other AFV will become more and more expensive to repair or upgrade, and the speed and quality of these efforts will diminish.

Therefore, after four months of war, it would take a minimum of 4 years to restore Russia’s armoured vehicle capacity to early 2022 levels, even with conservative estimates of combat losses. If the war continues, by the end of the year it will take 7−10 years of plant operations (and that’s leaving aside the effect of the embargo on industrial equipment and components, which can be estimated later). That is, Russia will face a shortage of AFVs in the army, whose structure and number of servicemen is determined with thousands of tanks and other AFVs of available models in mind. In other words, the Russian army should be organised and trained differently, and the technical and technological quality of available AFVs should be much higher to make do with fewer of them. That said, Russia cannot yet count on sufficient production of the new generation of Armata tanks and Armata-based heavy armament combat vehicles.

Aviation

By the start of its aggressive campaign against Ukraine, Russia had 900−1,000 fighters, fighter-bombers, bombers and attack aircraft. Of these, more than 130 Sukhoi Su-30M2 / Su-30SM fighters, 97 Su-35 fighters and 124 Su-34 fighter-bombers were delivered during the 2010s, more than 350 aircraft in total. Thus, at the peak of its financial and industrial capabilities, Russia was producing an average of 30−35 military aircraft a year.

It also had about 400 attack helicopters, of which over 130 Kamov Ka-52 helicopters, over 100 Mil Mi-28 helicopters and over 60 Mi-35 helicopters (a modification of the Mi-24) were produced during the 2010s, a total of around 300 units. That is, production capacity during the 2010s was on average 25−30 new attack helicopters a year. It should be kept in mind that the Russian armed forces received a total of up to 200 new and upgraded aircraft of all types per year. In other words, in quantitative terms, the upgrading and repairing of aircraft and helicopters play a decisive role in Russia.

Meanwhile, plans for 2021−2027 envisaged the delivery of some 150 new aircraft of all types, including 76 Su-57 fifth-generation fighters and at least 20 Su-34 fighter-bombers. There are serious problems with these plans too, as Riddle wrote earlier, but the sanctions imposed against Russia since the beginning of the war make them even more difficult to implement.

It turns out that Moscow has a choice to make. Either it should revise its plans and try to make up for the losses of aircraft and helicopters delivered in the 2010s through additional production in the coming years, or it should rather stick to the policy adopted earlier and opt for quality instead of quantity even under the technology embargo. However, with each subsequent month of war the first option seems more and more likely. True, the ability to produce aircraft and helicopters at the same rate as before to replace those that have been shot down or forced out of action or that are out of service for technical reasons is also questionable. But in any case, and even under the most favourable circumstances for Moscow, the potential of Russian military aviation will remain below February 2022 levels until at least 2025. With the protracted war and ongoing losses, it is unlikely to recover in principle.

Precision-guided munitions (PGM)

The number of cruise missiles and tactical ballistic missiles of all types available in Russia just prior to its attack on Ukraine is difficult to estimate. Today, however, there is a consensus that Moscow faces an acute shortage after having used over 2,500 of these missiles. Moreover, just before the war it had several hundred of both Kh-555 and Kh-22 cruise missiles, which were produced back in the USSR and are not manufactured today, just like the Tochka-U tactical ballistic missiles, which are no longer produced. Still, despite having managed to rearm with the more advanced extended-range Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile systems by the early 2020s, the Russian army has used Tochka-U missiles in the ongoing war. In addition to Iskander-M missiles, Russia produces ship- and submarine-launched Kalibr cruise missiles of various types and the ground-launched Kalibr 9M729 variant, whose development and deployment put an end to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019. Russia also produces P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, used against targets on Ukrainian soil, and Kh-101 (which replaced the Kh-555), Kh-32 (which replaced the Kh-22) and Kh-59 air-launched cruise missiles. There are also the Kh-35 anti-ship missiles, which can be launched from sea, land and air and have a range of up to 260 km in their latest variant.

And while in previous years Russian industry produced up to 55 P-800 Oniks missiles and up to 50 Iskander-M ballistic missiles annually, the production of the remaining missiles mentioned above depends on the availability of engines. The fact is that in Soviet times there was a family of R95−300 turbojet engines for cruise missiles. These engines were produced by Ukrainian enterprises. Therefore, after the collapse of the USSR, Russia started working on a replacement for them. However, even the early (pre-2014) variants of Kalibr missiles were probably equipped with these types of engines, which were removed from retired Soviet missiles.

Consequently, from the 1990s to the mid-2010s Russia managed to develop three turbojet engines for its cruise missiles: the R125−300 engine, a simplified version of the R95−300 with reduced thrust, and two variants of the TRDD-50 turbojet. And while the R125−300 is suitable for the Kh-35 missiles, the two variants of the TRDD-50 give the missiles a range of up to 1,000 km and 2,500 km (or even more), respectively. The former variant is installed on most Kalibr missiles, as well as the 9M729 and Kh-59 missiles. The latter is installed on sea-launched Kalibr-NK and air-launched Kh-101 missiles, with serial production of this variant launched as late as in 2014−2015. Here, it can be added that workforce productivity at the United Engine Corporation’s facilities is 6 to 11 times lower than at the US companies Williams International and General Electric, which are also involved in the production of engines for cruise missiles. As a result, the annual production of TRDD-50 turbojets can be estimated at 45−50 units in each of its two variants. That is, the total annual production of the Kalibr, Kh-101, 9M729 and Kh-59 cruise missiles is unlikely to exceed 100 missiles.

Serial production of the Kh-32 air-launched anti-ship ballistic missile, which was developed to replace the Kh-22, did not start until 2019, when the production of liquid-propellant rockets for it was launched. Taking into account a contract worth RUB 5.26 billion (about $ 84 million), the characteristics of the Kh-32 missile, and the cost of missile engines with parameters similar to those of the liquid rocket for the Kh-32, it can be concluded that we are talking about no more than 20 engines produced a year.

Thus, in total, Russia can manufacture no more than 225 cruise and tactical ballistic missiles a year (not including the Kh-35 missiles). And at the current rate of production, it needs at least 10 years to make up for the losses.

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