Paris (AFP)- Ammunition stocks are quickly becoming essential in the war in Ukraine as artillery units burn through tens of thousands of shells a day, testing the ability of both sides to replenish dwindling reserves.
Experts say the Russian and Ukrainian armies have entered a war of attrition where access to ammunition – ranging from rifle bullets to howitzer shells and ballistic missiles – is as important as manpower and weapons systems. armament, and where it is imperative to avoid running out of ammunition before the enemy.
“The question of supplies and stocks is the big question at the moment,” said a senior European officer asking to remain anonymous.
“The extremely high expenditure of ammunition of all calibers is the hallmark of a high-intensity conflict,” the officer told AFP.
According to RUSI, a British defense studies body, Russia currently fires around 20,000 rounds of the 152mm type used in Soviet-era howitzers per day, and Ukraine 6,000.
While Russia can count on several ammunition production sites on its territory and the supply lines are stable, Ukraine only has its existing stocks and supplies from Western factories.
With the conflict concentrated in eastern Ukraine, “Russian supply lines are shorter than those of Ukrainians whose stocks are in the west of the country, or even outside the country,” said the European officer.
Another advantage for the invading army is that Russian ammunition is designed for Russian-made weapons, while Ukraine has to juggle an assortment of weapons ranging from old Soviet equipment to Western equipment from tip, all requiring different types of ammunition.
“The delivery of modern heavy weapons is more of a complication than a help for Ukraine,” said Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political and Military Analysis.
RUSI suggested that “Ukraine’s partners should streamline the support they provide around a small number of platforms.”
Ukraine’s goal of reclaiming lost territory “cannot be achieved through the piecemeal delivery of a large number of different fleets of equipment, each with distinct training, maintenance and logistical needs”, did he declare.
A big unknown is each side’s ability to produce ammunition at the required speed and volume, on which the AFP could not obtain precise data.
Moscow appears to be deploying its guided munitions, ballistic missiles and supersonic missiles with great caution, some analysts say, although it is not short of these types of weapons as some predicted a few weeks ago.
The ability of Russia’s defense industry to produce the artillery shells needed to replenish stocks is “significant”, RUSI said.
On the side of Ukrainian allies, the United States could help the Kyiv army increase its daily artillery firing capacity to 10,000 shells a day, but only if it ramps up production at home in America, and even then only for a few months, said Philippe Gros, a former French military intelligence officer and now at the strategic research organization FRS.
“Stocks are running out”
Unlike Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has fully mobilized the arms factories, Western countries are not official belligerents in Ukraine and cannot put their economies on the war footing necessary for the mass production of weapons.
In the west, “stocks are running out and factories are not producing huge quantities,” said Vassily Kashin of Moscow’s HSE University.
“It would be a mistake to think that NATO has unlimited reserves to help Ukraine, even if you take into account the United States,” he said. “Russia’s war industry is bigger than Europe’s.”
As Ukraine’s Eastern European allies rapidly deplete their remnants of Soviet-era weaponry they sent to Ukraine, Western economies are groaning under the impact of war.
The French Ministry of Defense said this week that the delivery of 18 155mm Caesar-type guns had cut its entire stock of Caesars by a quarter. The production time for each of the guns is 18 months, according to its manufacturer, Nexter.
NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana acknowledged this week that there are “active concerns” about how long the flow of arms and ammunition can be sustained.
But “there is an effort to boost the capacity and creativity of builders,” he told AFP in an interview.
At the same time, Khramchikhin noted, Russian factories “have been working night and day since the fighting began.”
Meanwhile, attacking and destroying enemy stockpiles can be an interesting use of firepower in the absence of greater production, and Moscow and Kyiv regularly claim such hits.
Janes, a British defense intelligence team, said Ukraine was capable of destroying such important targets.
“It will most likely make things more and more difficult for the Russians over the next few weeks,” Janes told AFP.
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