Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Near Peer Warfare Requires Technically Advanced, Mass Scale, Industrial-age Production Capability

rusi  | The war in Ukraine has proven that the age of industrial warfare is still here. The massive consumption of equipment, vehicles and ammunition requires a large-scale industrial base for resupply – quantity still has a quality of its own. The mass scale combat has pitted 250,000 Ukrainian soldiers, together with 450,000 recently mobilised citizen soldiers against about 200,000 Russian and separatist troops. The effort to arm, feed and supply these armies is a monumental task. Ammunition resupply is particularly onerous. For Ukraine, compounding this task are Russian deep fires capabilities, which target Ukrainian military industry and transportation networks throughout the depth of the country. The Russian army has also suffered from Ukrainian cross-border attacks and acts of sabotage, but at a smaller scale. The rate of ammunition and equipment consumption in Ukraine can only be sustained by a large-scale industrial base.

This reality should be a concrete warning to Western countries, who have scaled down military industrial capacity and sacrificed scale and effectiveness for efficiency. This strategy relies on flawed assumptions about the future of war, and has been influenced by both the bureaucratic culture in Western governments and the legacy of low-intensity conflicts. Currently, the West may not have the industrial capacity to fight a large-scale war. If the US government is planning to once again become the arsenal of democracy, then the existing capabilities of the US military-industrial base and the core assumptions that have driven its development need to be re-examined.

Estimating Ammo Consumption

There is no exact ammunition consumption data available for the Russia–Ukraine conflict. Neither government publishes data, but an estimate of Russian ammunition consumption can be calculated using the official fire missions data provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense during its daily briefing.

Number of Russian Daily Fire Missions, 19–31 May

Although these numbers mix tactical rockets with conventional, hard-shell artillery, it is not unreasonable to assume that a third of these missions were fired by rocket troops because they form a third of a motorised rifle brigade’s artillery force, with two other battalions being tube artillery. This suggests 390 daily missions fired by tube artillery. Each tube artillery strike is conducted by a battery of six guns total. However, combat and maintenance breakdowns are likely to reduce this number to four. With four guns per battery and four rounds per gun, the tube artillery fires about 6,240 rounds per day. We can estimate an additional 15% wastage for rounds that were set on the ground but abandoned when the battery moved in a hurry, rounds destroyed by Ukrainian strikes on ammunition dumps, or rounds fired but not reported to higher command levels. This number comes up to 7,176 artillery rounds a day. It should be noted that the Russian Ministry of Defense only reports fire missions by forces of the Russian Federation. These do not include formations from the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist republics, which are treated as different countries. The numbers are not perfect, but even if they are off by 50%, it still does not change the overall logistics challenge.

The Capacity of the West’s Industrial Base

The winner in a prolonged war between two near-peer powers is still based on which side has the strongest industrial base. A country must either have the manufacturing capacity to build massive quantities of ammunition or have other manufacturing industries that can be rapidly converted to ammunition production. Unfortunately, the West no longer seems to have either.

Presently, the US is decreasing its artillery ammunition stockpiles. In 2020, artillery ammunition purchases decreased by 36% to $425 million. In 2022, the plan is to reduce expenditure on 155mm artillery rounds to $174 million. This is equivalent to 75,357 M795 basic ‘dumb’ rounds for regular artillery, 1,400 XM1113 rounds for the M777, and 1,046 XM1113 rounds for Extended Round Artillery Cannons. Finally, there are $75 million dedicated for Excalibur precision-guided munitions that costs $176K per round, thus totaling 426 rounds. In short, US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.

The US is not the only country facing this challenge. In a recent war game involving US, UK and French forces, UK forces exhausted national stockpiles of critical ammunition after eight days.

Unfortunately, this is not only the case with artillery. Anti-tank Javelins and air-defence Stingers are in the same boat. The US shipped 7,000 Javelin missiles to Ukraine – roughly one-third of its stockpile – with more shipments to come. Lockheed Martin produces about 2,100 missiles a year, though this number might ramp up to 4,000 in a few years. Ukraine claims to use 500 Javelin missiles every day.