The West is still lagging in Russia’s arms race, as the aggressor state intensifies arms production and gears up for at least three to four more years of war, the UK newspaper The Telegraph said on Jan. 26.
Moscow’s war effort is even seeing bakeries, shopping malls, and other civilian facilities converted into arms factories producing weapons to kill Ukrainians.
For example, the Russian Italmas Mall, which still has H&M and McDonald's advertising on its facade, is now the Italmas Scientific Research Centre, and produces Lancet attack drones.
The Russian government is also calling on citizens to work six days a week and volunteer at military factories as part of an intensified war effort. Russian TV shows children learning to assemble munitions parts at schools, said The Telegraph.
These are just the most visible parts of an economic mobilization that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin hopes will decisively turn the tide in his favor.
“We’re currently in a scenario where Russia is spending 40% of GDP on this war - that’s more than health and education,” said The Telegraph, citing a Western official.
Defense experts warn that this situation could eventually give Russia the overwhelming materiel superiority it needs to win the war against Ukraine. Although the urgency of the situation is widely recognized behind the scenes, Western governments are simply not keeping up.
“It is f*ing insane,” one UK defense insider said, asking for anonymity in order to speak frankly,and referring to institutional barriers to expanding Western arms production.
The secrecy of Russia’s defense industry, and the tendency of officials to massage figures for propaganda purposes, make it difficult to assess the true extent of Russia’s shift to the war economy, The Telegraph said.
Almost all experts, however, agree it is real, dangerous, and well underway.
Russia has officially increased military spending from 2.7% of GDP in 2022, to 3.9% in 2023 and to 6% in 2024, which will account for approximately a third of all Russian budget spendings.
Russia produced 1,530 tanks and 2,518 armored fighting vehicles in 2023, said Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defense minister.
Shoigu announced an increase in tank production by 560% since February 2022, combat vehicles by 360%, and armored personnel carriers by 350%.
This would only be enough to replenish the equipment already lost on the battlefield, rather than expand its army, the article says.
Furthermore, Russia is on track to manufacture two million artillery shells a year, the New York Times reported, citing data from Western officials. This is twice as much as previous estimates by Western intelligence services.
Combined with deliveries of shells, missiles, and drones from Iran and North Korea, and a picture emerges of a Russia that is beginning to reassert the material superiority it had at the beginning of the war, the article says. The battlefield impact is immediate and obvious, and this should be a clarion call for Ukraine’s Western allies to act with more urgency than they have thus far.
January research published by security think tank RUSI showed that Ukraine was firing 7,000 artillery rounds a day during its summer counter-offensive, much more than Russia’s 5,000.
Now the Russians are firing 10,000 shells, and Ukrainian numbers have fallen to 2,000.
“That doesn’t just limit Ukraine’s ability to launch fresh offensives,” The Telegraph said.
“It means artillery units are struggling to suppress the Russian guns with counter-battery fire, and leaves infantrymen in the trenches without desperately-needed fire support in the face of Russian assaults.”
European production was estimated at only 300,000 rounds per year by February 2023, two years after the start of the full-scale war.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius admitted in November that the EU's pledge to provide Ukraine with a million shells by March 2024 would not be met.
“Is Russia able to outproduce the West in terms of building submarines or frigates?” said Dmitri Alperovitch of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think-tank.
“No, but is it able to outproduce the West in artillery shells? Yes.”
Russia quickly put itself on a war footing when it comes to defense industrial production, which the West has not done, he said.
"We’ve been slow with long-term contracts, we’ve been slow in ramping up manufacturing production," the expert said.
While Russian production may not provide enough material for a major offensive in 2024, the Kremlin is reportedly making plans beyond the end of 2024.
“They are talking about mobilizing their defense industry over the next three years, which implies they are looking to fight the war for at least three to four years,” said a defense insider.
The article suggests that if the West does not act, Ukraine may lose the war, and Moscow is already signaling further territorial ambitions in Europe.
Pistorius warned of a potential war between NATO and Russia within the next five to eight years. The German tabloid Bild published a theoretical scenario considered by the German military chiefs, envisioning a potential Russian attack on the Suwalki Gap, a strategically sensitive land corridor on the Polish-Lithuanian border.
Russia has successfully launched its military-industrial complex and adjusted to the wartime economy, the report said. Putin has reliable suppliers of military equipment in North Korea and Iran, which, unlike Western nations, do not prioritize the well-being of their people, said former chairman of the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs, Norbert Röttgen.
Analysts attribute the slow response from the West to political and cultural factors. While Russia retains a largely state-controlled arms industry, Western countries rely on contracts with private-sector defense firms. These firms are hesitant to invest in new production lines without assurance of returns.
Evading Western sanctions adds extra costs to each component but for Russia, this is not an issue as long as the supplies continue, The Telegraph said. For instance, in their cruise missiles, Russians use general-purpose electronic components, not necessarily military grade.
It would be wrong to paint the Russian war machine as an unstoppable juggernaut, the report said. It is plagued by a shortage of skilled labour, poor quality parts, and a scale of warfare that not even a Soviet-legacy military-industrial complex can keep up with.
Many produced missiles are sub-par because of a shortage of skilled engineers, leading to a high failure rate. Despite increased production (some sources say Russia had gone from 40 to 100 missiles a month by last summer), the factories can barely keep up with demand. Fragments of missiles fired at Ukrainian cities in January were reportedly manufactured in December 2023.
“This means they’re going straight from the production line and they have virtually no stockpiles left,” said Aleksei Parnowski, a senior researcher at Kyiv’s Space Research Institute.
“For this reason, the attack rate this winter is much, much lower than last winter. We were expecting much worse. This didn’t happen. They have to accumulate missiles for several weeks and then they can do one or two attacks.”
Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine