An army marches on its stomach – and its arsenals


According to Task & Purpose, “Russia is hammering Ukraine with up to 60,000 artillery shells and rockets every day“.

The Russians are using indiscriminate and overwhelming artillery strikes to grind Ukrainian defenders down, underscoring how the Russian military’s approach to firepower prizes volume over accuracy.

The war in eastern Ukraine has been described as an artillery duel, and the Russian military has superior numbers of cannons and rocket artillery systems. Right now, the Russians are currently blasting the Donets Basin – known as the Donbas – with up to 60,000 artillery shells and rockets per day, one unnamed senior advisor to the Ukrainian military told The New York Times recently.

. . .

It appears the Russians are currently preserving their precision-guided munitions, said Glen Howard, a Russia expert and president of the conservative Jamestown Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C.

In fact, experts are debating exactly how many precision-guided weapons the Russians have left because the Russian military has started using older Kh-22 cruise missiles, which first entered service in the 1960s, Howard told Task & Purpose.

There’s more at the link.

The figure of 60,000 may be an exaggeration;  certainly, it wasn’t the case at the start of the war, when Russia deployed more smart weapons – albeit in a very non-smart way! – and had fewer conventional artillery units on the front lines.  However, as Russia was driven back in the north and shifted its operational focus to the Donbas and Luhansk regions and surrounding areas, it reverted its operational doctrine to that used from the Second World War, through Afghanistan, to the battles in Chechnya in the late 1990’s – artillery barrages with “dumb”, unguided shells, designed to obliterate opposition in an area rather than target defenses with pinpoint accuracy.

To do that requires a very deep reserve of artillery ammunition.  Russia has that.  It produced vast quantities of artillery shells since World War II, and continued to do so every year, probably on the basis that conventional artillery rounds are relatively cheap and easy to produce in comparison to “smart” weapons.  Once a factory is producing (say) a hundred thousand artillery shells every year, it’s easy to just let it go on doing so, keeping people employed and adding to the stockpile.  Provided trains and trucks can move those stockpiles to where they’re needed (along with rations, fuel and everything else an army needs), they’ll be just as deadly as a “smart” weapon if they go off close enough to a target.

What’s more, the artillery pieces and self-propelled cannon that fire those shells are still stored in their tens of thousands.  In combat in Angola in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we faced obsolete and cast-off Russian cannon by the hundreds.  We captured so many of them that we fully equipped UNITA with them, plus more ammunition than they could shoot, all courtesy of the Angolan army.  The ammunition was sometimes a nightmare to handle.  Some dated back to WW2, and didn’t take kindly to being left out in stacks in the unrelenting heat of the African sun.  I recall an artillery officer bringing forward some trucks to take away captured ammo.  He took one look at the dates on it, gingerly felt a shell to see how hot it was, hurriedly snatched his hand away before it could be burned, and said (in so many words) “Forget it!  This stuff’s so old and decrepit, it’s too dangerous for the Angolans to shoot, never mind us!”  We placed demolition charges on it and headed out.  A short while later, a thunderous blast and a roiling, rising cloud of smoke behind us showed that the threat had been removed.

The same problem affected rockets, land mines and other munitions.  I’ve handled a SA-7 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile that was more than 20 years old.  Its battery pack had run down heaven knows how long ago, and the person carrying it hadn’t bothered to replace it, so it wouldn’t have worked even if he’d pulled the trigger.  We had fresh batteries, but again, an ordnance specialist looked at it, went pale, and muttered something about “not wanting that old warhead anywhere near his head” (the rocket tube was shouldered to fire it).

I guess Russia is drawing down all those decades-old stockpiles of artillery shells, and using them up in Ukraine.  They’re freely available, cheap, and don’t cost money to replace, because many of the old artillery pieces shooting them are no longer front-line equipment.  The defense budget can thus be reserved for (much more expensive) “smart” weapons.

However, the artillery tactics used by the Soviets in World War II will still produce results in this day and age.  A pulverized defensive line is still pulverized, no matter what caused the damage.  Josef Stalin called artillery “the god of war”.  Here’s archival Soviet propaganda footage of their artillery during World War 2.

Whilst current artillery barrages in Ukraine probably aren’t of that intensity, it’s still a mighty unpleasant experience to be on the receiving end.

I wonder how extensive US artillery ammo stockpiles are right now?  If we go into action in Europe, how long will they last?  After sending so many artillery shells to Ukraine, that’s not a bad question to ask, no matter how politically incorrect it may be.  I rather suspect Russia has a lot more in its stockpiles than we do . . .



  1. IIRC, we did something like that back in Gulf War 1, burned up a lot of very old ordinance to get it out of inventory and to make the Iraqi's lives very unhappy.

  2. Don't know about artillery shells but I understand that the US Military had not ordered new stinger anti-aircraft missiles for over 10 years so the assembly line was dismantled.

    This came up when Raytheon was given a multi-billion order for replacements now that the entire European stinger supply and most of the US CONUS supply had been shipped to Ukraine.

    Oh, and China is our supplier for Stinger tracking systems. Thank you, Bill Clinton.

    Nothing like outsourcing your military chips and such.

    Take that as you will. Information from both Barrons and Forbes.

  3. "Oh, and China is our supplier for Stinger tracking systems. Thank you, Bill Clinton."

    So, can they be remotely controlled or "safed"? I can't imagine that they wouldn't have looked into doing something along this line.

  4. IF the Russians are smart (and they do seem to be) they are saving the high-precision stuff for when NATO/Biden stumbles over the line and gets involved directly instead of just by proxy.

  5. One has to wonder if Russia is using the old stuff because they already went through most of their new stuff, as many so called experts are saying. Or, is Russia just using up their old stuff while fighting a second rate (at best) army, and saving their new stuff for when they have to fight the US and NATO. I tend to think the latter is closer to being true.

  6. It helps if you outnumber the enemy 5 to 1 like in June 44. The two weeks of heavy Artillery fire on the Somme in 1916 was supposed to clear the wire and kill all the Germans. The Commonwealth forces were to have leisurely crossed No Man's Land and then On to Berlin. Instead 20,000 died in the first few hours.

  7. Yes, the Russians have overwhelming artillery (per pound and round) superiority, but all that is blasting proto-mud into finer proto-mud and ruining the landscape for any vehicle travel. It's not like pounding the dry, dusty Afghan or Iraq land. It's more like blowing up semi-drained swampland and exposing the shallow surface water to fresh mud.

    Grind away, Russia, grind away. All you are doing is making it harder for yourself to advance.

    Which, come to think of it, may be what they are doing. Making the border unpassable by Ukrainian forces. Hmmm.

    Either way, they've reentered the trench-warfare era.

  8. Yeah, we're low on ANY tech weapons… and the lines are gone or in storage. And the techs who ran them have moved on.

  9. Scot Ritter on arty use in Ukraine… FTA: More telling, however, is what the numbers say about NATO’s combat strength versus Russia. If NATO is being asked to empty its armory to keep Ukraine in the game, one must consider the losses suffered by Ukraine up to that point and that Russia appears able to sustain its current level of combat activity indefinitely. That’s right — Russia just destroyed the equivalent of NATO’s main active-duty combat power and hasn’t blinked.

  10. These dumb old shells are not so dumb when you can fly your cheap old DJI COTS drone up over whatever you're bombarding and spot your shots.

  11. This one of the reasons I take reports in western media with a large grain of salt. The Russians inherited most of the stockpiles of the USSR, which more or less drained the aral sea making guncotten. They have enormous stores of everything.

  12. Ritter puts the "anal" in "analysis": A total dearth of actual numbers, and a ton of prognostication pulled from his underpants.

    Russia is firing 10x more artillery shells than Ukraine?
    To what effect?
    Nothing earth-shattering, and they're making molasses moving uphill, in winter, appear agile by comparison with their gains.

    I'll leave it to the architect of victory on Guadalcanal and Peleliu summarize the value of all that artillery:
    "…what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count."

    So, what is all the Russian artillery hitting?
    The rubble they bounced yesterday.

    Much like their air forces, making noise isn't the same as winning. They can fly anywhere, and they can shoot hundreds of shells, but it isn't translating into the ability to decisively defeat the other army in the field, except at a glacial pace, and they're burning up in hours stocks of supplies and ordnance they cannot replace in years. It's not 1970 in Russia anymore, and there's a reason the Soviet Union went broke.

    When prognosticators like Ritter can answer (which he has yet to attempt) what Russia started with on 2/24, and what they've lost or expended in men and material since that date, versus what they still have available for use now, then we can talk about who's winning what.
    Until then, his take tells us more about Ritter than it does about Russia.
    And he's one of those intelligence officers taken totally by surprise when they woke up one morning to find the Soviet Union didn't exist anymore, after telling everyone for decades that they stood ten feet tall in their boots, and were invincible.
    If he came out and said what's actually true: "I have no wild idea how long Russia can sustain this, because I have no idea about any relevant number of things necessary to make that determination", there would be no point to even refer to him, and none at all for him to even offer an opinion on the topic. Because "I Don't Know" can be said in that many words.

    What we do know, beyond any question, is that considering they outnumber the Ukrainian Army on paper by 10:1, the Russians are taking an awfully long time to not gain very much ground against such a pitifully weak opponent.

    He should try explaining why that obvious fact is so, instead of pulling conclusions out of his underpants after a seance with the ghost of Kyiv and of Marshal Zhukov.

  13. Enjoying the expert play by play military sports calling Aesop.

    Pity the fools on the ground in Ukraine dying for your amusement. They and their families (what's left of them) will enjoy OUR sending Advisers, rebranded troops and more weapons and ammo into the fray. Your own words, Aesop that they will not be rebuilding for decades that damage.

    Oh, yeah and our economy taking a beating FOR THE UKRAINE according to the Propaganda arm of the Democrat and Rino alliance.

    Even the Bidenites are saying the quiet thing out loud. We have to suffer economically so the Liberal New World Order can be achieved.

    Our Military and NATO are mercenaries for the New World Order against Russia. Good news, eh?

  14. Russian rocket artillery (MRLS) are terribly inaccurate, area denial weapons. Their artillery, on the other hand, is mostly capable of dropping rounds into or adjacent to trenches. At least, it is if given good spotting and fire direction. This is the true power of drone warfare.

    I'm somewhat amazed that we haven't seen more drone-on-drone fighting yet, like the progression of air power in WWI.

  15. @McChuck: Wait until you've been under a Stalin Organ bombardment. It'll give you a whole new frame of reference about their effectiveness. If you can wipe out everything above ground in an entire grid square, you don't have to be overly concerned about the accuracy of individual rounds. Add to that the screaming whine/moan of the rockets' arrival, and you have a very demoralizing, very effective weapon system (when it's properly used).

  16. In both WWI and WWII the German tactic was to move out of front line positions during bombardment, then re-occupy them before the enemy assault began. Huge amounts of munitions fired but with less than optimal results.

    While artillery maybe called the king of battle, it does not take or hold ground.

  17. "Enjoying the expert play by play military sports calling Aesop."
    Hissing and frothing ad hominem is not an argument. Your selfsame dearth of any supporting facts is noted as well, which explains your love of Ritter's diaper-spackle analysis. While you were raging to no good point, it evidently escaped your notice that I merely pointed out Ritter told you absolutely nothing he can substantiate objectively. The game is won on the field, and the tally is on the scoreboard. Ritter is the loudmouth drunk in the bleachers, based on all available evidence, who confuses beer goggles for binoculars. Well-played..

    "Pity the fools on the ground in Ukraine dying for your amusement. They and their families (what's left of them) will enjoy OUR sending Advisers, rebranded troops and more weapons and ammo into the fray."
    50% of whom are Russian dead, dying for Ukraine's amusement. The more of those, the merrier. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, are pleading for those weapons. Not for so much as a single adviser. Those details seem to have escaped your notice.

    "Your own words, Aesop that they will not be rebuilding for decades that damage."
    Kind of a moot point, as at the moment, the Russians seem to be keeping nearly all the destroyed real estate. How clever of Vlad to utterly ruin – for decades – the very parts of Ukraine he claims to love so much he's willing to cripple his own military to get it. I wonder why it is that ethnic-Russian Ukrainian support for him and the invasion in Donbass and Luhansk is running at -100%. Quite the poser there.

    "Oh, yeah and our economy taking a beating FOR THE UKRAINE according to the Propaganda arm of the Democrat and Rino alliance. Even the Bidenites are saying the quiet thing out loud. We have to suffer economically so the Liberal New World Order can be achieved."
    Stick with Reality: Our economy was taking a mega-beating before a single shot was fired in Ukraine. To buy into your analysis, you'd have to acknowledge that gas prices are Putin's fault, rather than decades of Treasury printers going Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. You can't have it both ways. Pick one cause and stick with it, or put on a clown nose and floppy shoes.

    "Our Military and NATO are mercenaries for the New World Order against Russia. Good news, eh?"
    Pure fanciful spin that assumes facts not in evidence anywhere. So you're 0 for 5 on this one, Michael. Good talk.

  18. Hey Peter;

    Now I'm gonna mention the other Genie, Russia is going through a lot of ordinance from the old Soviet Union days, but how much smart munitions did they have, I don't think they had a whole lot, after the dissolution of the Soviet union, they went through a dry spell for a long time and despite the propaganda of Putins media, a lot of Russia Military still hasn't recovered from the bad old days and they have shown a lot of weakness and China needs resources and I bet she is eyeballing the Siberia area pretty well and with Russia an international pariah if China invades to scoop up Siberia and both have nuclear weapons and both don't care about collateral damage as much as the west does, it can be a dangerous thing and China is still eyeballing Taiwan and we have shown major weakness with that doddering old fool on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

  19. Aesop aside from showing off your massive vocabulary and ego your comments have no real backing.

    So far most of your Ukraine comments have been slowly ground down as Russian forces continue to crush the puppet troops of America.

    Time will tell.

    So could you share with us just how Putin has harmed you? Your abrasive hatred of him seems unreasonable.

  20. Folks, I've had about enough of ad hominem attacks and posturing. If you have a viewpoint concerning an article here, please state it. If others have different ones, and you disagree, please say so respectfully, without attacking the person holding those views. These basic rules of polite discourse will help all of us see the light, rather than feel the heat.

    If you can't keep to those guidelines, please start your own blog, so that you can run it as you see fit.

  21. Peter with respect, am I doing ad hominem attacks on Aesop?

    As Aesop has his own blog it seems you're talking to me?

    Please help me understand as I don't tell folks to stop sucking Putin's junk or your wearing clown shoes and nose (see above).

    Thank you for your time and blog efforts.

  22. It's Russia's Far East, not Siberia, that China is interested in.

    And while I wouldn't consider it impossible that China might take advantage to move in there if Russia becomes bogged down in Ukraine even more than currently, they seem to be content with demographic change through immigration and intermarriage. Already in some areas of the Far East, Chinese outnumber ethnic Russians.

    It would be ironic if at some point, majority-Chinese areas vote to secede. Turnabout being fair play and all that.

  23. Michael,
    I've suggested in the past here that perhaps you ought to focus your remarks on the information, rather than any poster of it, particularly myself.
    If you can't make a response without doing that, then it's probably past time for you to go look up the definition of "ad hominem".

    I have made no such reference to Putin's privates (and I don't mean his lowest-ranking soldiers)on Peter's blog, and the reference to clown shoes was conditionally based on your own choices. Which way you go on that is entirely your affair, and your free choice; I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt.

    As I noted earlier, tell us (and/or better yet, show us where you get it) how many troops and how much equipment Vlad started with on 2/24, and how much of each he has left now, and we can figure out for ourselves whether he's grinding out an actual victory, or just a prohibitively costly pyrrhic one.

    Any prognostication lacking that basic level of info is self-evidently just spin.

    Any serious analysis beyond gainsaying is thus forced to rely on the evidence on the ground, which I have done. To date, Vlad has spent over four months, at a rough cost of 1000-1500 troops/week KIA, and 2-4X that wounded, to reduce to rubble the bare part of Ukraine he claims overwhelmingly supports him, and against an enemy he outmatched on paper by 10:1. To do so little with so much for so long requires a level of military incompetence and ineptitude hard to imagine, and yet here he is, still struggling to achieve the Donbass, and doing so only by burning and blowing up everything in sight from the Russian border to his present limit of advance.

    The only reason posting on the topic has been light from me, is that anything that looks like actual news is as well.
    The World's Foremost Experts have already declared the war there over. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the Ukrainians, who are proving ferociously stubborn. Nor do the Russians, bouncing the rubble to no great effect day upon day, seem to have received the victory notice either.

    When people start offering information that accords with observed reality, rather than mere spin, I'll listen, instead of pointing a firehose at a tissue of fairytales. If that bothers you, I would respectfully suggest you might advance the general knowledge, and your own position, by finding better sources, and bringing better info.

  24. Time will tell Aesop; war historically has unplanned events.

    Meanwhile perhaps we should be prepared for brown outs and water shortages in our once fine Republic.

  25. @Peter – Completely agree, and that's the very definition of an "area denial" weapon. Completely inaccurate, completely effective at its purpose.

    Haven't been on the receiving end of one of those per se, but at the time I left (December 2004), my unit had been the recipient of the largest rocket/mortar attack in Iraq, with 49 rounds impacting in about a ten minute window. I had three land within about fifteen yards of me, one just on the other side of the wall I was laying beside. Two dead, five injured, one critically (lost an arm). And that was not the only attack that day. (It still annoys me that we were never allowed to shoot back, because "someone might get hurt". Then again, our artillery battalion was so wildly incompetent that they dropped a round on a house 3 kilometers from their target.)

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