Precision-guided missiles have been one of the weapons of choice for the Russian Armed Forces since invading Ukraine in late February.
These domestically produced missiles have been responsible for some of Russia’s most deadly attacks in Ukraine, including on the Ukrainian port city of Odessa and on a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, where a Tochka-U missile reportedly killed 57 and injured at least 100 fleeing civilians.
In total, Russia has fired 2,154 missiles at Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion, according to a statement last week by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But these attacks have become rarer in recent weeks, leading to speculation from Western officials, analysts and media reports that Russia’s missile stocks are running low.
Russian tactics in the first months of the war mean that their stocks of precision munitions are now seriously depleted, according to some analysts and Western officials.
“There are no volleys of long-range cruise missiles anymore, and there are almost no Iskander strikes,” independent military analyst Pavel Luzhin told The Moscow Times.
A U.S. official told journalists in a briefing earlier this month that Russia is “having inventory issues with precision-guided munitions.”
These reports are corroborated by a change in Russian tactics, particularly an increasing use of conventional unguided bombs, notably in the port city of Mariupol. Unguided munitions were allegedly used for attacks in Mariupol on the Azovstal steel factory, defended by Ukrainian soldiers, as well as on a maternity hospital and a theater.
Can’t Russia just produce more missiles?
Many analysts believe that Western sanctions mean Russia will struggle to replace its reserves of precision missiles.
In particular, the guidance systems for precision missiles require semiconductors and transistors that are neither manufactured in Russia nor available from China, according to expert Lewis.
“So, unless the Russians have planned ahead and stockpiled munitions or Western microelectronics, or ramped up production pre-war, they’re going to run out of gas when it comes to precision-guided munitions,” Lewis said.
What happens if Russia runs out of precision weapons?
Falling stocks of precision munitions will likely mean Russia looks to alternatives.
For example, there has been a recent uptick in Russian air sorties, with pilots conducting operations in Ukrainian airspace with unguided munitions.
This will likely mean a corresponding uptick in civilian casualties, analysts said.
Zelensky said that 60 civilians were killed last week in Russian air strikes, including one that hit a school in the village of Bilohorivka where 90 civilians were sheltering.
“They’re going to use the Air Force to hit ground forces… [and use] unguided munitions, which will cause a lot of collateral damage,” said Dara Masicott, a senior policy researcher at the U.S.-based Rand Corporation.