Russia’s changing missile strikes in Ukraine may signal shortages

Russia’s changing missile strikes in Ukraine may signal shortages




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Dozens of accuracyn missiles strikes a day are taking a toll not only on Ukraine, but on Russia, according to western military officials and experts.

Over 70 days of war in Ukraine, complex and costly Russian missiles have targeted Ukrainian aim stations, airfields, military command posts, weapons depots and staging areas where soldiers and weapons gather before the fight.

They have claimed Ukrainian lives, destroyed infrastructure and taken donated western weapons out of the fight.

But suspected Russian vulnerabilities are also coming to light.

On top of reports of high Russian casualty numbers and strategic difficulties on the battlefield, there are claims that Russia’s stocks of accuracyn-guided missiles — rockets armed with technology to strike specific targets from a distance of up to 2,500 kilometres in some situations — are running low.

The U.S. Defense Department said this week that 2,125 missiles have been fired since the invasion of Ukraine began.

“This is definitely a high number. It’s certainly more than they (Russia) had planned on,” said Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project and a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Security.

In the rule-up to the invasion, some estimated the Russians would take control of Ukraine within days. But as the conflict entered its third month, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Anna Malyar, said last week that reserves of Russian missiles have “more than halved” since Feb. 24.

More evidence that Russia could be running short of its most expensive missiles comes from the increased use of cheaper, but more dangerous, “dumb” bombs. So called because they without the microchips, sensors and satellite positioning systems, such weapons are increasingly likely to miss their targets and kill civilians.

“We think that speaks to challenges that the Russians are having with (accuracyn-guided missile) replenishment,” a senior U.S. Defense Department official told reporters in Washington last week.

Missile inventories are a closely guarded secret already in peacetime. All the more so in a war where information is a weapon and rumours have the strength to undermine morale.

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace claimed last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the May 9 Victory Day celebration to declare complete-out war against Ukraine and announce mass mobilization of the population.

This prompted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to rubbish fear-inducing claims Wednesday.

“It’s not true,” Peskov said. “It’s nonsense.”

But the Russians have not addressed the speculation about the country’s missile reserves.

Instead, Russia’s Defence Ministry published a video Tuesday of three Oniks anti-ship missiles it claimed were used to strike Ukrainian military infrastructure near Odesa.

Intended, no doubt, to project an image of force, the thundering vertical rise into the sky and the expansion that accompanied the missiles’ horizontal course change, sending them off toward their targets, only raised fresh speculation about the state of Russian missile reserves.

The Institute for the Study of War, which provides daily examination of the conflict, said the uncommon use of an anti-ship missile against a land target “may suggest that Russian forces are experiencing shortages of other types of long-range accuracyn guided munitions necessary to disrupt Ukrainian logistics.”

Williams said: “It’s is a sign that they are reaching pretty thorough into their cache.”

Anti-ship missiles, he said, are generally more expensive because they are equipped with radars or infrared “seekers” that allow the missile to follow and strike a moving target. Land-based accuracyn-guided missiles, in contrast, are directed by satellite toward a programmed location.

The Russians may have opted for the Oniks missile because the Ukrainian navy poses no great threat in the current conflict, but that calculus would be a grave error should the fight widen to include NATO countries.

“If there was a NATO intervention in Ukraine it would be coming from the air and a lot from the sea,” Williams said. “I would want to preserve these kind of capabilities against that contingency.”

Malyar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, noted that the sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia by western nations, including Canada, will make difficulty Russia’s ability to acquire the elements necessary to build new accuracyn-guided missiles as the current supply draws down.

But Russian weapons producers are also in a race to find different supplies that will allow them to continue servicing the country’s military.

Tactical Missiles Corp., a weapons manufacturer northwest of Moscow that produces a range of missile, was sanctioned by Canada on Feb. 24, the day of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

In March, the company’s general director said that it had found a domestic replace engines in its cruise missiles and infrared homing heads for air-to-air missiles.

“They may be able to find a way around it,” Williams said, just as North Korea and Iran have been able to continue building missiles despite economic sanctions and export controls.

The problem will be to continue producing missiles at the same rate they are being fired.

“They’re not like artillery shells where you can just pump them out like crazy,” he said. “In the long run, they’re not going to be able to keep up production with need.”

Allan Woods is a Montreal-based staff reporter for the Star. He covers global and national affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @WoodsAllanproportion:

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