After more than three months of its undeclared war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia fired over 2,100 cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles at targets inside the embattled country. Now it is facing a growing deficit of these types of stand-off weapons (Twitter.com/DefenceHQ, June 11). And military observers and strategists are increasingly questioning how long it will take or even if Russia will ever be able to fully restore its depleted missile arsenal.
Throughout this conflict, Russia has used eight major types of missiles against Ukraine: a) the Kalibr family of sea-based long-range (more than 600 kilometers) cruise missiles; b) Kh-555 air-launched long-range cruise missiles, converted from Soviet-era Kh-55 cruise missiles that were manufactured in Ukraine; c) Kh-101 air-based long-range cruise missiles, which Russia developed on the basis of the Kh-55/Kh-555 missiles; d) Kh-22 and Kh-32 air-launched, long-range, liquid-fueled supersonic cruise missiles, carried only by Tu-22M3 bombers; e) Iskander-M ground-based tactical ballistic missiles (up to 500 km range) and probably Iskander-K ground-based long-range cruise missiles (also known as 9M729 missiles and part of the Kalibr family); f) Tochka-U Soviet-era tactical ballistic missiles (up to 120 km range); g) Oniks ground-based, anti-ship, long-range scramjet cruise missiles, which are being used against ground targets; and finally h) Kh-59 and presumably Kh-35 tactical cruise missiles (with a range below 300 km).
By June 2022, Russia had used up most of its missile stockpile. Moreover, hundreds of Soviet-era Kh-555 missiles and Kh-22 missiles are apparently close to exhaustion and are non-reproducible. Tochka-Us are also no longer possible to build. Consequently, understanding Russia’s problem with resupplying its rocket-artillery and air forces boils down to its manufacturing rate of modern missile varieties.
During the previous decade, Russia produced up to 55 Oniks (Zvezda, January 31, 2020) and no more than 50 Iskander-M missiles (Dfnc.ru, January 27, 2019) annually. The manufacture of Kalibr, Kh-101 and 9M729 missiles depends on building jet engines for these types of self-propelled munitions. During the 1990s–2010s, Russia worked to develop its own engines in order to replace the Soviet-era and Ukrainian-made R95-300 cruise missile jet engine used in Kh-55/Kh-555, Kh-59, Kh-35 and early versions (made before 2014) of Kalibr and Kh-101 missiles. The Russian models included, namely, at least two variants of the TRDD-50 (a direct counterpart of the R95-300) and the R125-300, a smaller and lighter version with a lower thrust (Voennaya Mysl, No. 4, 2019).
The R125-300 engine is intended presumably for the shorter-range Kh-35 cruise missiles. The two variants of the TRDD-50 come in different masses and thus offer diverging ranges for the missiles they power. A lighter, 82-kilogram dry mass version (compared to the original Soviet-era R95-300’s 95 kg of dry mass) was developed in the early 2000s. The standard one precisely matches the mass of the R95-300. In this way, the lighter TRDD-50 Russian engine variant should give a maximum range of up to 1,000 km, depending on the type of missile it is installed on (but it is also used with the shorter-range Kh-59 air-launched cruise missile); the more sophisticated standard (95 kg) variant gives an extended range of 2,500 km (or longer for air-launched cruise missiles).
These Russian missile engines are produced at three United Engine Corporation subsidiaries of the state-owned defense corporation Rostec: ODK-UMPO in Ufa (R125-300) and two plants belonging to ODK-Saturn, in Rybinsk and Omsk (TRDD-50 family). This diversification, however, means that Russia is not able to produce sufficient quantities of advanced engines for its long-range cruise missiles. For instance, the engine plant in Rybinsk, ODK-Saturn (formerly known as NPO Saturn), was only able to begin serial manufacturing of standard TRDD-50 engines in 2014–2015, a decade after their initial design and development (Npo-saturn.ru, accessed June 16). More recently, the Rybinsk facility has been merged with the plant in Omsk to try to expand the manufacturing of the entire TRDD-50 engine family (Uec-saturn.ru, April 4, 2018).
Labor productivity at the ODK-Saturn company (Uec-saturn.ru, accessed June 16), calculated as the ratio of revenue to the number of employees, is six times lower than the labor productivity at Williams International (Business Wire, March 16) and eleven times lower than the labor productivity at General Electric’s aviation engine division (Ge.com, accessed June 16). As a consequence, the Russian rocket engine industry can hardly produce more than 40–50 units of each TRDD-50 variant per year. Therefore, the total number of Kalibr, Kh-101, 9M729 and Kh-59 cruise missiles that Russia produces every year is about 100 units or even less.
Another important Russian long-range cruise missile is the Kh-32, a modernized version of the Soviet-era liquid-fueled Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missile. Despite at least two decades of development, serial manufacturing of Kh-32s started no earlier than in the fall of 2018, when the Proton-PM rocket engine factory in Perm received the contract from the Dubna Machinery Plant, the manufacturer of Kh-32 anti-ship cruise missiles (Kommersant, September 5, 2018). The contract was worth 5.26 billion rubles (almost $84 million), and its terms were supposed to end in 2020. The Proton-PM factory was meant to supply engines that use liquid high-temperature propellant. These new engines presumably derive from the Soviet-era R201-300 engines that were used on the Kh-22 cruise missile. The cost of each engine may be estimated today as no less than $2 million, based on the price of the 11D58M Russian space engine, which also uses liquid high-temperature propellant and generates the same level of thrust (Kommersant, October 24, 2006; Zakupki.gov.ru, accessed June 16, 2022). As such, the estimated number of Kh-32 missiles that Russia is able to produce per year is limited to probably no more than 20 units.
Taken together, Russia’s current maximum annual production capacity is likely no higher than 225 Oniks, Kalibr, Kh-101, 9M729 and Kh-59 cruise missiles, and Iskander-M tactical ballistic missiles. Increasing this number seems doubtful given the country’s deficit of human capital and embargo on supplies of industrial equipment. Even if Russia is able to maintain this level of productivity for the foreseeable future, it will take it at least ten years before it can restore its pre-war stockpile of precision-guided stand-off munitions. In these circumstances, Russia may be limited to carrying out singular but regular missile strikes designed mostly to have a psychological effect, while every few months or so, firing off salvos of tens of missiles against industrial and/or infrastructure objects. But of course, these Russian tactics will have to undergo further change if Ukraine obtains advanced air- and missile-defense systems in sufficient numbers from the West.