Artillery types

We think we know why Russia wants North Korea’s shells and rockets

Why would Russia need artillery shells and rockets from North Korea? Last week, the United States revealed that it had intelligence showing that Russia has reached out to North Korea to buy artillery shells and unguided rockets. Although US officials did not provide further details, they were quick to claim that the Russian request demonstrates the Effectiveness of Sanctions and Export Controls levied against Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

The argument of the effectiveness of sanctions may have some merit, but in a roundabout way. Russia reportedly asked North Korea unguided rockets and howitzer shells. These types of artillery are quite easy to produce because they do not have guidance systems. Even under sanctions, Russia should have the industrial capacity and materials to produce such munitions.

Western sanctions are probably more effective in reducing Russia’s ability to replenish more complex guided weapons like long-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Accurate long-range weapons have more advanced components, especially for navigation, and Russia has imported materials for these components from more technologically advanced countries. Conflict Armament Research, a group that tracks weapon systems in conflict around the world, identified “a total of 144 non-Russian manufacturers of more than 650 single-component models of Russian hardware used in the war against Ukraine.” This included technology used in the satellite navigation systems of Russian land attack cruise missiles.

For about six months, the Russian military fired more than 3,600 missiles and guided rockets in Ukraine, many of which likely contained electronic components manufactured outside of Russia. Many such components were already subject to sanctions or export controls before the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but escaped enforcement. Greater attention and resources devoted to sanctions enforcement since the invasion are likely limiting the flow of these systems and, in turn, making it more difficult for Russia to replenish its stockpiles of long-range guided weapons.

Strategically, Russia has little to show for its spending on advanced weapons. Early targeting of Ukraine’s command and control facilities and air bases caused damage but did not decisively eliminate Ukraine from the fight. Missile attacks against the Ukrainian defense industry and weapons storage sites have complicated Ukraine’s military operations, but Russia’s offensives have been slow and costly, and Russia is currently on the operational defensive as Ukraine launches counterattacks near Kherson and Kharkiv.

Russia’s greatest battlefield success so far in the war, the summer offensive in the Donbass, has used extensively massive and inaccurate artillery fire to regularly crush Ukrainian defensive positions. Advanced and accurate missiles and rockets played a role in this operation, but their use was not decisive. Now that Ukraine is mounting an offensive, Russia will likely continue to rely on massive but inaccurate artillery to hold onto its gains, especially as sanctions and export controls make it harder for them to replenish weapons. more advanced by limiting the supply of foreign-made weapons. Components.

The Ukrainian army, meanwhile, received a steady supply of accurate conventional weapons from the United States and, to a lesser extent, from other NATO countries. While mass artillery is still important for Ukraine, its conventional strike capability has become more accurate over time while Russia’s has become less accurate because Ukraine has a reliable external supplier of these. weapons, unlike Russia. Ukraine’s accurate conventional weapons have a shorter range than Russia’s, but Ukraine’s more consistent supply of ammunition, better reliability of that ammunition, and proximity to Russian supply lines and depots with the front line mean that Ukraine can use its weapons more effectively.

Ukrainian ‘Hurricane’ jet artillery guns fire during exercises at the firing range near the small village of Devichki, about 90 km west of kyiv, April 17, 1997.

In other words, Russia faces a perfect storm in the artillery duel. Its precise long-range weapons did not produce significant strategic advantages. Tougher sanctions and export controls make it difficult for Russia to replenish these weapons because they contained foreign-made components. Massive, unguided artillery has proven to be a valuable tool, but this forces Russia to deploy ordnance forward to continue supplying the shorter-range guns and rocket launchers. Ukraine effectively used the US-provided HIMARS, a precision-guided rocket system, to attack these forward-deployed munitions and other supply dumps, reducing the overall effectiveness of the massive Russian artillery.

This combination of factors explains why Russia is reaching out to North Korea, which has a large stockpile of Soviet-era unguided artillery, for more ammunition. Russia has very few good options for outside help while Ukraine is regularly armed by the United States.

Eric Gomez is a senior researcher at the Cato Institute (where this appeared for the first time). His research focuses on the military budget and posture of US forces, as well as issues of arms control and nuclear stability in East Asia.