Unexploded Missile Suggests Moscow Is Rushing Weapons to the Front

A recently manufactured Russian missile recovered by Ukrainian forces suggests the invading army is running low on stocks of some advanced weapons, and is having to produce them more quickly to maintain the intensity of its war.

(Bloomberg) — A recently manufactured Russian missile recovered by Ukrainian forces suggests the invading army is running low on stocks of some advanced weapons, and is having to produce them more quickly to maintain the intensity of its war. 

The finding of a rocket with an unusually late production date was revealed by pictures analyzed by StateWatch, a Ukrainian non-governmental organization, and Bloomberg News. It adds to other evidence that the Russians are under pressure to fire missiles as soon as they roll off manufacturing lines to defy international sanctions and Western predictions they would run out.

Almost 18 months after President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, there is no sign the war is nearing an end. Russian forces are entrenched in the occupied territories while Ukraine’s counteroffensive has made limited ground. That means supplies of ammunition and advanced weapons — including precision-guided missiles and rockets — will remain critical to both sides. 


“Russian defense firms have found themselves adjusting to a new reality, wherein they often have to downgrade their technical benchmarks and employ tactics to evade sanctions,” said Maria Shagina, an expert in economic sanctions at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. That “might not ensure the best quality of Russian weapons, but it still serves the purpose for the Russian military to wreak maximum havoc on the battlefield,” she said. 

Ukrainian forces have been edging toward barriers of prepared Russian defenses in the south of the country since early June, while targeting artillery and supply lines to create weak spots that might enable a breakthrough. Success, should it come at all in the current campaign, might see the make up of the battlefield change quickly. 

Yet the time frame is beginning to narrow, with rain and mud likely to interfere with wheeled vehicle movements from about November. And Western defense officials and analysts have said the kind of complex attack needed to break through Russia’s defensive methods such as minefields, trenches and tank traps would be extremely challenging without air superiority, something neither side has been able to achieve.

“Combined arms operations are hard, even for the best Western militaries, and even when the enemy isn’t actually shooting at you,” Mark Hertling, a retired Lieutenant General who served in Iraq and commanded US forces in Europe from 2011 to 2012, said in an Aug. 9 post on the Bulwark website. “I know, I’ve done it.” 

Missile Oddities

The missile found in Ukraine’s northern Sumy province in June came from a Tornado-S Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Casing markers show the projectile was made just the previous month, on May 19. According to StateWatch, batches normally go through several months of tests before they are used and appear on the front line.

The casing also showed an unusually close expiry date of Sept. 12 this year, according to StateWatch, another possible indication that Russian manufacturers are cutting corners to rush missiles to the front line.

As the device didn’t explode, researchers were able to view its motherboard and other components, which were not of the ready-made specification expected, StateWatch said. Some parts had been soldered manually, while components were manufactured by both Russian and U.S. companies, including Intel Corp-owned Altera Corp. and Analog Devices Inc.

Both companies have said they don’t sell to Russia and comply with all sanctions. Analog previously told Nikkei it has put extra effort into combating unauthorized resales while noting that it’s extremely difficult to stop such shipments entirely.

Though it’s not known when Russia imported the parts found in the retrieved missile, the country has been able to get around some of the US and European sanctions by importing banned technologies via intermediaries in third countries such as the United Arab Emirates and nations in Central Asia, or stripping household white goods such as washing machines of their chips. 

Read More: Russia Is Getting Round Sanctions to Buy Key Chips for Its War

“The use of non-traditional spares certainly would attest to the fact that Russians are having to adapt to disruptions of their supply chains” from sanctions and trade restrictions, said Sidarth Kaushal, a research fellow for sea power and military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank.

Inconclusive Evidence

That said, Russia’s ability to produce guided missiles is allowing it to continue near daily long-range attacks across Ukraine. The relatively small number of rockets retrieved intact mean it’s hard yet to draw conclusions as to what impact the situation is having on the war more broadly, according to Kaushal.

A western intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also cautioned against reading too much into the Tornado-S projectile’s signs of hasty build, as Russia’s approach to standards has been less than rigorous even without the pressures of war. 

But the official also sees wider indicators of Russian battlefield shortages, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to North Korea in July, while a general in charge of Russia’s 58th army in southern Ukraine was sacked the same month after he criticized a lack of counter-battery equipment. 

Budget Soars

While Russian pronouncements on the war have proven unreliable, the chief executive officer of Russia’s state arms conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said in an Aug. 7 meeting with Putin that his company increased production across the board last year. He cited the example of helicopters, saying 296 were built in 2022, up from 134 the previous year. 

Ukraine’s supply lines face their own risks, with US requests for further funding assistance in Congress no longer a given, as election campaigning for the US presidency begins soon. 

Ukraine’s allies have, meanwhile, increased their focus on tackling sanctions circumvention. On Aug. 8, the UK announced what it described as its largest sanctions package to date aimed at the Russian arms industry, including companies in Dubai, Slovakia, Switzerland and Turkey.

“The Russian military-industrial complex relies on western tech and we can see that even in the most recently produced Russian ammunition,” said Glib Kanievskyi, chairman of StateWatch. “It is therefore, essential for sanctioning countries to pay particular attention to enforcement and strict liability.”

–With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska.

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