By Hlib Parfonov*
While the Kremlin stubbornly contends that the Russian defense industry will have no issues in replenishing those munitions that have been heavily depleted in Ukraine, closer analysis of the production rates within the industry reveal otherwise. First and foremost, Russia’s heavy shelling of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure has led to a growing shortage of artillery and Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) shells. And the Russian defense industry’s capacity may not be enough to sustain the current rate of fire. (For Part One click here)
In truth, how many artillery shells could be produced by the Plastmass Plant and Research Machine Building Institute? Roughly speaking, the number of shells can be obtained by dividing the manufacturer’s revenue by the cost of one shell (see Part One). However, it is not clear what share of this production involves the ammunition we are primarily interested in—the 152-millimeter (mm) shells. Given the insignificant share of 203 mm ammunition being used in Ukraine, this type of projectile was ignored, and 122 mm ammunition was also not taken into account.
From the sources mentioned in Part One, it is known that both plants produced a wide range of products, both civilian and military (see Part One). Here again, the bold assumption was made that the share of 152-mm ammunition as part of total revenue is close to 50 percent. In reality, the true share is most likely much smaller, but without more accurate data, we will use this rate.
Thus, to maintain the amount of ammunition produced from 2014 to 2016, the revenues from both the Plantmass Plant and Research Machine Building Institute were combined, then averaged out and divided by the cost of 152-mm ammunition for the corresponding year. It was more difficult to estimate the volume of ammunition production starting from 2017 due to a lack of revenue data. Here, we made another assumption that the growth rate for output would be no more than 15 percent annually.
Overall, how adequate is this rate? In 2017, the general director of another enterprise in the same industry, NPO Splav, set the goal of achieving a 20-percent increase in production rates, but that was regarding the overall growth rate for production over the next few years (Militarynews.ru, January 4, 2017). Based on this, it should be assumed that the annual production growth rate of 15 percent is also overestimated.
The evaluation results are displayed here.
|Year||Revenue From Shell Production (in Rubles)||Cost of the 152-mm Projectile (in Rubles)||Number of Shells||Weight (in Tons)|
|2014||4.48 billion ($69.24 million)||28,863 ($446)||155,337||7,767|
|2015||6.81 billion ($105.26 million)||32,142 ($497)||211,855||10,593|
|2016||13.23 billion ($204.48 million)||36,291 ($561)||364,560||18,228|
As the table shows, for the period between 2014 and 2021, Russia’s defense industry produced approximately 3.5 million units of 152-mm shells, with a total weight over 177,000 tons. Such an assessment seems quite optimistic, since it involves the production of the cheapest projectile—that of high-explosive fragmentation. Therefore, it is likely that a significant part of the overall number of produced units fell on shells of other, more expensive varieties.
As for MLRS shells, here, estimates of their production volumes is even more difficult. Their manufacturer, NPO Splav, is engaged in the production of not only ammunition but also the rocket systems themselves and actively manufactures industrial equipment and special chemicals. The range of ammunition for MLRS is also much wider and includes at least three main types: 122 mm (Grad), 220 mm (Uragan) and 300 mm (Smerch), which each differ significantly in cost.
In addition, after a more detailed study of open sources, it seems that the most actively used 122-mm shells for the Grad MLRS were not produced at all on a large scale, at least until 2020. In 2017, the general director of NPO Splav announced: “In 2015, the president [Putin] set the task of resuming the production of shells for the Grad MLRS. Today, they are in great demand by the Russian Armed Forces. The task has been successfully solved. The plans for the next two years are to restore their mass production … In 2017, as part of the investment program at NPO SPLAV, the Breakthrough project was launched, aimed at expanding production capacities. A new workshop was acquired as part of the project. Its commissioning is scheduled for 2019. Serial production of projectiles for the latest Tornado-S MLRS will be launched at this site. On the basis of the new workshop, the production of regular shells for the Grad MLRS will also be launched” (Bastion-karpenko.ru, accessed December 10).
For 2019, no information about the opening of any new workshop at NPO Splav could be found. Only in July 2020 did Rostec announce the opening of such a workshop with a total area of more than 3,400-square meters, the capabilities of which could produce products for the Smerch, Uragan and Tornado systems, among others. Investments in the workshop amounted to 150 million rubles ($2.32 million) (Rostec.ru, July 24, 2020)
Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to resume mass production of shells for the Grad MLRS, the main consumable materiel in his war against Ukraine, was completed only in July 2020.
As for other types of MLRS munitions (Smerch, Uragan and Tornado-G), no data is available in open sources regarding any efforts to resume their production. This can be considered evidence that production of these types of munitions was most likely launched by NPO Splav no earlier than July 2020 as well. However, for the sake of this analysis, an attempt was made to estimate the possible maximum number of produced MLRS shells based on their cost and the 50-percent share of NPO Splav’s revenue, as completed earlier.
While the costs for the Smerch and Uragan rockets can be estimated using earlier data, the costs of production for Tornado-G shells is more difficult to determine. It is known that these MLRS shells (for example, the high-explosive fragmentation 9M538 rocket) are a significant improvement on conventional shells for the Grad MLRS, and therefore, they should cost more. But how much more? This was remedied by taking the cost-to-weight ratio of the Uragan rockets and applying it to the Tornado shells, with those being four-times large than the Uragan projectiles.
The calculated results are shown here.
|Year||Revenue From Production of MLRS Shells (in Rubles)||Cost of Uragan Shells (in Rubles)||Cost of Hurricane Shells (in Rubles)||Cost of Tornado-G Shells (in Rubles)||Number of Uragan Shells||Number of Tornado-G Shells||Weight (in Tons)|
|2014||9.62 billion ($148.69 million)||133,398 ($2,062)||533,592 ($8,247)||3.89 million ($60,124)||4,505||619||4,279|
|2015||13.32 billion ($205.87 million)||148,552 ($2,296)||594,209 ($9,184)||4.33 million ($66,924)||5,603||769||5,322|
|2016||18.45 billion ($285.16 million)||167,730 ($2,592)||670,921 ($10,370)||4.89 million ($75,580)||6,875||944||6,530|
Thus, based on these rough estimates, for the period from 2014 to 2021, the Russian defense industry only produced approximately 66,000 tons of MLRS shells, while the most commonly used munition—Grad MLRS shells—most likely was not produced in large batches until 2020.
It cannot be ruled out that, in 2021, a decision was made to increase the output of ammunition by several times in connection with the predicted re-invasion of Ukraine in 2022. This seems unlikely to this author, as such an arrangement would have required multiple increases in investment in fixed assets and the number of Russians employed in the defense industry, which was not observed according to open sources. In addition, the course of the first weeks of the war showed that the Russian leadership was counting on a blitzkrieg and clearly did not plan the consumption of millions of tons of ammunition, according to the norms of World War II.
It is difficult to digitize all these factors, however, it can be conservatively assumed that production volumes during the 2014–2021 cycle only made up for the loss of ammunition and did not lead to a significant increase in Russian stockpiles.
Recalling the assessment of the optimal stocks of Russian ammunition to be 3 million tons, the ammunition considered here, according to the proposed assumptions, could account for up to 50 percent of that stock—that is, 1.5 million tons. Thus, to replenish the current costs of the main artillery and MLRS ammunition used this year, the Russian defense industry would need to spend approximately 3 trillion rubles ($46.39 billion) while producing up to 1.8 million tons of ammunition. It should be noted that we are talking about only part of the munitions being depleted on the Russian side in this war. Other ammunition of note includes mortar mines, tank shells, small-arms cartridges, aircraft rockets and bombs, as well as cruise missiles. The production cost of all these munitions would be at least equal to, and even exceed, the estimated cost of production for the artillery and MLRS shells considered here. In addition, the range of production of the other ammunition may include more expensive products, which will increase the overall production costs (see EDM, August 18)
If we take into account all other types of ammunition, then the total cost of reproducing the entire range of munitions used during the active hostilities in Ukraine this year would exceed 6 trillion rubles ($92.74 billion). As compared to the total Russian defense spending in 2021, such an enormous figure will put additional strain on an industry that is already flailing in the face of growing demands for increased production (see EDM, November 17).
*About the author: Hlib Parfonov is a graduate of the National Aviation University (Kyiv) and a flight engineer. Since 2020, he has headed security policy at the Doctrine Center for Political Studies, in Kyiv. He is broadly engaged in open-source intelligence (OSINT) projects as well as research into the role of intelligence agencies in politics and hybrid threats
Source: This article was published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 186