In an interview published on January 15, Major General Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, or GUR, provided assessments of Russia’s production rate for certain key munitions. These assessments offer further evidence that Russia’s defense industry has significantly increased output but still struggles to meet demand. Although Moscow has turned to foreign partners to help bridge the gap, the Kremlin also needs Washington to undermine Ukraine’s defenses by withholding critical aid.
Despite export controls on Western-made components, Russia’s defense industry has increased production of missiles. FDD’s Long War Journal first observed this trend in December 2022 with respect to the Kh-101, Russia’s workhorse long-range air-launched cruise missile. American, European, and Ukrainian officials later confirmed that Russian missile production had risen beyond prewar levels.
During his interview, Skibitskyi said Russia is currently making around 115 to 130 missiles with a range of at least 350 kilometers each month, along with 100 to 115 shorter-range missiles. This estimate echoes other recent GUR assessments. According to the GUR, Russia is producing, among other things, 40 Kh-101s per month as well as 30 ballistic missiles fired by the Iskander-M system. In late 2022 and early 2023, by contrast, Ukrainian officials put Russia’s monthly Kh-101 production at 13 to 30. And as late as May 2023, Ukrainian officials asserted Russia was making just a handful of Iskander ballistic missiles every month.
Nevertheless, Russian missile production still cannot sustain Moscow’s desired usage rate, let alone replace the thousands of missiles launched since February 2022. To supplement its stocks, Russia has looked to North Korea and Iran. Moscow has received “several dozen” short-range ballistic missiles from Pyongyang and has begun employing them in Ukraine, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby confirmed in early January. Meanwhile, Russian-Iranian negotiations, begun in 2022, are now “actively advancing,” Kirby said. U.S. officials predict Moscow could receive close-range ballistic missiles from Tehran as early as this spring.
These foreign missiles — especially if provided in greater numbers — can help Russia stretch Ukraine’s air defense coverage. Ukraine has few systems that can reliably intercept ballistic missiles. Kyiv is well protected, but other regions less so. Russia has exploited this vulnerability in recent weeks as part of a series of strikes that mainly targeted defense-industrial sites.
Ukraine must also cope with a paucity of interceptor missiles for its air defense systems. The Ukrainian military sees Moscow’s ongoing strike campaign as aimed in part at exhausting these interceptor stocks. This would both leave Ukraine vulnerable to deep strikes and allow the Russian Air Force to better support ground forces. “We need more supplies . . . regular supplies” of interceptors, Ukraine’s Air Force spokesman stressed following a January 13 barrage.
The U.S. Congress, however, has yet to pass a bill to fund Ukraine aid for fiscal year 2024. This inaction jeopardizes Kyiv’s supply of interceptors, including for its Patriot batteries, Ukraine’s best defense against ballistic missiles.
Another way Moscow has supplemented its long-range strike arsenal is with Shahed one-way attack drones from Iran. According to Kyiv, Russia has launched nearly 4,000 Shahed-136s and Shahed-131s since summer 2022, when the drones first appeared in Ukraine. Most of them came directly from Iran. But in mid-2023, Moscow’s forces began employing Shahed-136s made at a factory in Russia’s Tatarstan region.
Back in early November, another GUR official said Russia was producing just several dozen Shaheds per month as well as assembling an unspecified number using Iranian-supplied parts. But according to Skibitskyi, Russia can now make 330 to 350 Shaheds per month, depending on its access to necessary components. Russia launched nearly 800 in December 2023 alone, he said.
If Skibitskyi is correct, Russia is exceeding its reported monthly production target. The Washington Post previously reported, citing leaked documents, that the Tatarstan factory projected it would reach full-rate production of 226 Shaheds per month by early 2024. While LWJ cannot independently confirm Skibitskyi’s assessment, open-source evidence does suggest Russia has assembled or produced over 1,100 Shaheds.
Skibitskyi also said that while Moscow’s Shaheds will continue to rely on foreign-made microelectronics, Russia can now manufacture the drone’s starter, airframe, warhead, engine, and parts of its navigation system. American and Ukrainian officials had previously warned that Russia, with Iran’s help, was developing a new engine to increase the Shahed-136’s range and speed. The leaked documents revealed that the Tatarstan factory planned to begin making Shahed engines in early 2024. Skibitskyi’s statement indicates those plans are on track, although he and other Ukrainian officials have said Russia still gets some of its engines from China.
The Russian and Ukrainian militaries are both artillery centric. Throughout the war, relative availability of artillery ammunition has proven to be a key determinant of battlefield outcomes.
According to Skibitskyi, Russia in 2023 produced roughly 2 million 152mm and 122mm artillery shells, the main calibers used by Russian forces. His assessment, if accurate, suggests Russia has already exceeded some Western expectations. In September, a Western official said Russia might manage to increase annual output within the next couple years to around 2 million shells. The previous July, the chief of the UK Defence Staff said Russia could make just 1 million shells per year “at best.”
Whether those assessments account for refurbishment of old shells is unclear. A paper published by the Estonian Defense Ministry in mid-December assessed that “Russia’s total production and recovery of artillery ammunition will reach 3.5 million units in 2023, representing a more than threefold increase from the previous year’s production.” This number will rise to 4.5 million in 2024, the ministry predicted.
Even that more ambitious figure, however, pales in comparison to Russia’s peak consumption rate. During their spring-summer 2022 campaign in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Russian forces crept forward thanks to withering volumes of artillery fire. By year’s end, Russia had expended upward of 10 million rounds, burning through most of its prewar stocks while pulling large quantities of ammunition from Belarusian warehouses.
That rate of fire was unsustainable, and Russian shell expenditure dropped in 2023. Moscow’s forces are currently thought to be firing somewhere around 10,000 rounds per day. In part to reduce consumption, Russia has increased its reliance on precision-guided shells such as the Krasnopol-M2. Both sides have also ramped up their use of loitering munitions, most commonly FPV (first-person view) drones, which provide a partial offset for artillery.
But the Russians still face an ammunition shortage. Skibitskyi put the 2023 deficit at 500,000 shells, predicting Moscow will face a similar shortfall in 2024.
To compensate, Russia has relied on deliveries from Iran and particularly North Korea. Skibitskyi said Moscow has received around 1 million artillery munitions from Pyongyang, which has extensive stocks. He may have been echoing a report from South Korean intelligence, which had assessed that North Korea sent Russia 1 million artillery rounds from August through October. Satellite imagery indicates deliveries continued into December, and the South Koreans now believe Russia has received over 2 million shells from the Hermit Kingdom. Seoul says North Korean factories are running at maximum capacity to meet Russian demand.
The influx of North Korean ammunition comes as deliveries of Western shells to Ukraine are reaching their nadir. Ukrainian troops have already been forced to tighten their belts. So far, however, Russia has little to show for it.
Despite increased production and foreign supplies, Russia’s shell consumption rate almost certainly will not return to its 2022 peak. Absent such enormous volumes of artillery fire, Russia’s heavily degraded forces will probably continue to struggle to make significant gains — so long as Ukraine receives even relatively modest amounts of U.S. assistance. Much therefore depends on the aid bill still stuck in Congress.