The Russian military is quickly running out of artillery and rocket ammunition, Pentagon officials said Monday, and the Russian army can only sustain its current rate of attack in Ukraine until early next year.
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters on a conference call that Moscow is increasingly turning to Iran and North Korea to replenish its “rapidly dwindling” stockpiles of rocket and artillery rounds, which have been crucial to Russia’s months-long assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
The Russian military has relentlessly attacked Ukrainian civilian targets across the country in recent months ahead of the looming winter season, but the current pace may only be sustainable for another few weeks or months at best.
“At the rate of fire Russia has been using its artillery and rocket ammunition … they could probably do that until early 2023,” the senior defense official said.
That reality, the official said, is forcing Moscow to rely on ammunition that the U.S. classifies as being in a “degraded” condition.
“This essentially puts Russian forces in a position to make a choice about what risks it is willing to accept” in its attacks, the official said.
For example, Russia already is pulling from stockpiles of ammunition manufactured during the Soviet era, with some rounds more than 40 years old. That ammunition is highly prone to failure, defense officials said, and often doesn’t explode when it reaches its target or in some cases doesn’t fire at all.
“You cross your fingers and hope it’s going to fire, or when it lands that it’s going to explode,” the U.S. official said, referring to the Russian approach.
In more extreme circumstances, the old ammunition may explode as it is being loaded or fired, meaning the substandard rounds could put Russian troops in harm’s way.
Still, U.S. officials said it’s clear that the current Russian war plan relies heavily on artillery and rocket fire, meaning the Russian army has little choice but to rely on Soviet-era ammunition absent major shipments from Iran, North Korea, or another ally.
“We have seen that since February, since the invasion, they have drawn from its aging ammunition stockpile, which does indicate they are willing to use that older ammunition, some of which was originally produced more than 40 years ago,” the senior U.S. military official said.
In addition, Russia also has found itself highly reliant on Iranian-made drones as its own fleet has been depleted over the course of the nine-month war.
Russia’s defense industry, hamstrung by severe Western economic sanctions, has struggled to produce the material its military needs to maintain the current rate of operations in Ukraine.