Russian President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine has seen a level of destruction of equipment not seen since the Yom Kippur War. Russia has lost more than 700 tanks, and 1,200 armored vehicles have been damaged or taken over the last nearly two months. Israel lost around 200 tanks (over half of the Israeli tanks that were removed from the battle were repaired on the field and then returned to combat) during its two-week war in 1973.
As Russia prepares to enter the second phase of its war to take over Ukraine, it is struggling to meet its shortages in equipment. Some equipment can be pulled from storage depots. However, most depots are said to not regularly maintain components, such as optics, which are being auctioned off on the black market and the majority of available vehicles are outdated. The process of bringing them up to operational readiness could be an obstacle for Russia's defense. And it's going to be more difficult due to the consequences of sanctions.
According to reports, two of the largest tank-manufacturing facilities in Russia have been unable to find foreign-made components. Sanctions imposed on Russia to reduce its economic growth could be beginning to affect the country’s military capabilities. The primary armored-vehicle maker has run out of components to repair and build tanks, as per a Facebook message posted by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In its report, it cited “available information” and stated that the state-owned firm Uralvagonzavod that builds tanks such as the T-72B3 was forced to suspend production for a time at Nizhny Tagil. Alongside Uralvagonzavod, which is among the largest tank makers worldwide with a reported 3,000 employees this year, the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant ran out of foreign-made components.
“The specified companies specialize in the manufacturing and repair of tanks, as well as other armored equipment needed by the Russian Federation armed forces,” the General Staff wrote in its Facebook post.
Western allies, such as the United States and the European Union, have demanded a total stop to the export of specific parts, such as microchips, to Russia as part of an escalated package of sanctions. These so-called products with dual-use have been banned because they are used for both military and civilian uses.
“Our aim is to reduce the Kremlin's capacity to wage war on its neighbor,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated earlier in the month.
Some will be skeptical as the report comes from the Ukrainian military command. But highlighting these issues is not in Ukraine's best interests when trying to persuade those who are reluctant to contribute, such as Germany, to give from the till. Therefore, they should not be dismissed without a second thought. The Russian press, for example, has published reports on the closure of the Uralvagonzavod plant and has attributed it to the sanctions (use Google translate).
Russian auto and truck makers are also shutting down due to the absence of foreign-sourced components. The weaknesses in Russia's auto industry have been evident for some time as civilian vehicles made in Russia are utilized to fill in the gaps left by the destruction of or damage to military vehicles. The shortages of components are exacerbating the problem that was already a serious issue at the beginning of the Russian campaign when the Russian army didn't have sufficient trucks to support a swift army invasion of Ukraine.
The situation has become a lot worse. As the conflict in Ukraine begins its sixth week and continues to escalate, Ukrainian troops and allied services have destroyed 485 Russian trucks. This is more than a tenth of the trucks belonging to the Russian army's 10 “material-technical support” brigades, which transport supplies, ammunition, or fresh troops from railheads and front-line formations. A deficiency of trucks, getting worse as Ukrainians take out more vehicles, was apparent at the beginning of the conflict when Russia began bringing civil vehicles to the conflict zone, likely in an effort to compensate for the losses of the trucks used by the military.
The embattled Russian logistics forces are scarce. “Reluctance to maneuver cross-country, lack of control of the air and limited bridging capabilities are preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel,” the U.K. Defense Intelligence Agency explained.
A desperate effort to make gains by taking over civilian trucks can create more new problems than it solves existing ones. There's a reason why armies purchase custom-designed trucks instead of civilian models painted in green or brown. A military truck is stronger than a normal truck. It is more reliable and could even have armor to safeguard its passengers. Military trucks usually use diesel instead of gas as some civilian trucks do. Militaries buy the same types of trucks in massive quantities to make it easier for maintenance and repair.
It is impossible to swap, for instance, a civilian Ural-375D for a military Ural-4320 and expect the same results under the harsh conditions of a mechanized conflict. Also, swapping various random civilian vehicles into a single-model military fleet will bring an entirely new set of maintenance issues. The effects are felt in issues such as night-vision goggles and ammunition that are heavily dependent on parts manufactured in both the U.S. and Western Europe. A study conducted by the Royal United Services Institute found that the Russians' most advanced precision weapons relied on Western and Chinese components. According to a section on the 11th page of the report, 9M727's cruise missile launched from the Iskander-K is an example of Russia's most advanced weapon systems that can maneuver at low altitudes to reach the target and then strike with great accuracy. To accomplish this, the missile has to be equipped with an electronic system that can ingest information from various inertial and active sensors, as well as command links, and convert these into instructions that can be used to control it. The authors personally inspected a sample of a computer, which was found in a damaged 9M727, when they were conducting fieldwork during April. The computer is approximately equivalent to an A4 piece of paper and is enclosed in a heat shield, which is able to stand up to pressure when the missile is accelerated, and the heat is absorbed by the system. The computer needs to be exceptionally sturdy, and its components are capable of functioning regardless of the way in which the structures around them are altered by temperature changes. This is a requirement for highly specialized materials and parts. Of the seven points of attachment to sockets that allow data to pass via the heat shield, one is of Soviet design and is manufactured in Russia. Six of them are manufactured by US companies. The rails that connect circuit boards to computer housing, which keeps the components aligned under the rigors of immense force, also originate from US manufacturing–these circuit boards originate from the US.53.
The 9M727 isn't unique in its dependence on components manufactured by foreign companies. Inspection of the technical aspects of Russian vehicles and weapons, carried out through the Central Scientific Research Institute for Armaments of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Armed Forces, shows the existence of a common pattern that is evident across all important Russian weapons systems found on the battlefield. The 9M949 guided the 300mm rocket that serves as the foundation of Russian precision artillery used as a munition in the Tornado-S multi-launch rocket system utilizing a made-in-the-USA fiber-optic gyroscope for inertial navigation. The Russian air-defense system TOR-M2, an extremely effective short-range air defense system around the globe, relies on an oscillator designed by British engineers inside the computer that operates the platform's radar. This is the case for the Iskander-M cruise missile as well as the Kalibr cruise missile and the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile and many others. It's also the case with much of the combat equipment for tactical use. A study by the technical laboratories of the Ukrainian intelligence community of the Aqueduct family focused on Russian military radios (R-168-5UN-2, R 168-5UN-1 and R 168-5UT-2) and R-168-5UT-2, which are the foundation of the Russian military's tactical communications, for example, shows crucial electronic components made by countries such as the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Japan. The pattern is common to all. The majority of Russia's current military equipment relies on sophisticated electronics that are brought from the U.S. as well as the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Israel, China, and further afield. The munitions they used were great in the days when foreign-made components were easily available.
As the war continues, the Russian situation is becoming more unstable. The frontline armor vehicles destroyed in Ukraine cannot be reconstructed in factories or depots. Russia hasn't demonstrated the capability or willingness to fix the vehicles and restore them to use. There's no way to look at the number of captured or abandoned Russian vehicles without feeling that whenever a vehicle is damaged, the team leaves it behind and continues to move ahead. The idea of deploying civilian vehicles to command the military mission is, at the very least, an insignificant step. The majority of civilian vehicles' drivetrains and suspensions aren't built to function in a war situation, so repairing them is not possible.
This is what makes the next few weeks extremely important for Russia. While Ukraine is able to be resupplied by its security partners, Russia is completely on its own. Russia has to make efforts on the ground to bring Ukraine back to the table, or it's time to implement plan B, regardless of what that plan might be.