A New Kremlin ‘Committee’ Won’t Accelerate Production Of Weapons For Russian Troops In Ukraine

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Russia’s own news reporting acknowledges that many of the 300,000 reservists it recently mobilized to fight in Ukraine don’t have basic equipment like flack-jackets or medical kits, let alone weapons. Vladimir Putin aims to fix Russian military production shortfalls with a newly organized committee.

The Associated Press reported that Putin chaired the new committee on Tuesday, urging its assembled government and industry members to accelerate the production and delivery of weapons and supplies for Russian troops, stressing the need to “gain higher tempo in all areas.”

The fact that Russia cannot sustain a high tempo expending precision munitions in Ukraine was illustrated by its missile strike attack against 20 cities, including Kyiv, on October 10, the Washington DC-based Institute for the Study of War said in a release earlier this month.

The Institute cited a report from the Ukrainian General Staff stating that Russian forces launched over 84 cruise missiles and 24 drone attacks, 13 of which were carried out with Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. Ukrainian air defenses claimed to have shot down 43 cruise missiles, 10 Shahed-136 drones, and 3 unspecified drones.

Further precision munitions launches from Russian strategic bombers and Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems in/near southern Ukraine as well as Shahed drones from the Crimea and Belarus were not sustained following the initial barrage.

Despite the tragic loss of civilians and some civilian infrastructure in these and other attacks, among the Institute’s “key takeaways” was that “Russian forces cannot supply mobilized forces, likely due to years of supply theft by contract soldiers and commanders.”

As far back as last August, Latvia’s Insider newspaper claimed that western sanctions have hampered Russian munitions production to the point that “the [Russian] military should run out of weaponry by the end of the year.”

While that may be exaggeration, Russian manufacturers of artillery and ammunition will likely face near-term stagnation and mid-term production cuts thanks to shortages of materiel and especially electronics from the West. The Kremlin committee and the Putinesque-theater surrounding it are unintended confirmation of the problems Russia’s defense-industrial sector is experiencing.

Analysis from the U.K.’s Royal United Services Institute concludes that Russia’s war in Ukraine has relied on western electronics. The report which contains an examination of the components and functioning of 27 of Russia’s most modern military systems – including cruise missiles, communications systems and electronic warfare complexes – asserts that “the degradation in Russian military capability could be made permanent if appropriate [sanctions] policies are implemented.”

Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) international security program makes an important point in calling attention to the limited arms production capacity Russia had before it rolled into Ukraine.

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“I think the Russians are facing the same problem we are,” he says. “They had a defense industry geared towards peacetime production. It’s not able to produce equipment at wartime rates. We [the U.S.] can’t do that either.”

Cancian references America’s own struggle to replace the stockpile of weapons it has shared with Ukraine from Javelin anti-tank missiles to anti-aircraft Stingers and M-777 Howitzers. Concerns about the dwindling U.S. precision munitions stockpiles prompted signals from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this month that deliveries of high-end munitions to Ukraine could slow.

Asked during a press conference whether the U.S. and its allies could continue to supply critical munitions with their own stocks depleting, Austin said, “Well, it certainly is not a question of lack of will.”

But as mentioned, western sanctions have made the problem worse for Russia. Cancian says that the lack of electronic componentry is a problem for lower-level systems like ground communications, vehicle guidance, Russian made ISR drones and others as well. However, he notes that Russia was producing these at low rates prior to the war.

“They’ve fired thousands of missiles, of artillery shells. Even without the sanctions, they would be having trouble.”

Russia’s use of Iranian strike drones and Iranian personnel – who the Pentagon assesses have been training Russian forces in Crimea – is regarded by most observers as a sign of the inability of the country’s defense-industrial complex to keep up with demand. In a timely coincidence, The War Zone reported Monday that former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (currently Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia) was dispatched to the country’s main tank plant at Nizhny Tagil to light a fire under its management and workforce.

Medvedev commented on his visit, which he noted came at the direction of Putin, via the Telegram social media network writing an ominous post saying; “The goal has been set for a scrupulous execution of the government’s defense contracts in all of its key parameters, [and] prevention of disruptions in the supply of equipment. Attention has been drawn to the fact that all contractors could be held to account, including on criminal charges… Supervision over the execution will continue.”

To the extent that Iranian drones are being used to substitute for cruise missiles and strike aircraft, their use indicates Russian desire to preserve what stocks and combat aircraft they have left, Cancian says. The drones can be effective but not as effective as a deep stock of cruise missiles.

“Their warhead is something like 80 pounds and their cruise missile has a warhead of up to 1,000 pounds. The drones appear to have been reasonably effective against [portions of] the Ukrainian electrical grid but at the end of the day the Russians just don’t have enough deep-strike cruise missiles, aircraft or drones to really make a difference.”

Can a Kremlin committee help close the gap? While Cancian acknowledges that it’s difficult to say with certainty, he again notes that the U.S. government is doing much the same thing, meeting with industry to understand lost capacity, hand out new contracts and urge more rapid production of systems like HIMARS, high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs) or M982 Excalibur artillery rounds.

“Like a lot of things that [Russia] does, dedicating a committee to look into [production] is sensible. But the question is, can the machinery of the Russian government execute? They’ve shown clearly that they’re not very good at that.”

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