Lacking precision missiles, Russia is increasing its use of drones, Ukraine says
Workers install a generator to provide electricity to a nearby office building in Kyiv, Ukraine on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.
By SHASHANK BENGALI
Russia is struggling to replenish its stockpiles of missiles but still has enough for more large-scale strikes and is rushing new munitions from the production line into use in the war, a senior Ukrainian intelligence official said in an interview published Wednesday.
The official, Gen. Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy intelligence chief, also said that Russia was compensating for its lack of missiles by increasing its use of drones, including those made by Iran, to strike Ukrainian infrastructure, according to comments published by news outlet RBC-Ukraine.
Russia’s strikes over the weekend could signal a new tactic of using a smaller number of high-precision missiles, especially in front-line areas, followed hours later by volleys of exploding drones, Skibitsky said. “They will combine means to maintain the pace of strikes on our civilian infrastructure facilities,” he added.
Skibitsky said that Russia was straining to produce enough long-range missiles to launch precision strikes, an account that generally matches public statements from American and British military officials, as well as from independent military analysts. The strikes that Moscow launched Saturday included 20 cruise missiles, Skibitsky said, compared with the 70 or more missiles it used in mass strikes beginning in October.
Moscow is able to produce about 30 X-101 cruise missiles and about 15 to 20 sea-based Kalibr cruise missiles per month, the general noted. Given its current stockpiles, he said, Russia has enough missiles for “two to three” major barrages of 80 missiles or more. His estimates could not be independently confirmed, although they roughly match those that he gave to The New York Times in an interview last month.
Skibitsky told RBC-Ukraine that fragments of Russian missiles found recently in Ukraine bore markings indicating that they were manufactured in 2022, especially in the third quarter. “This means that they immediately go to the army from production,” he said.
Russia’s increased use of the slow-moving Iranian drones has produced mixed results. Ukraine has become increasingly adept at shooting down the drones — downing all of the more than 80 fired its way over the New Year’s weekend, according to the Ukrainian air force. But many have caused damage, and over time, experts say, the drones could pose a severe challenge for Ukraine, in no small part because the weapons it uses to shoot down drones cost much more than the drones themselves.
Ukraine estimates that Russia has used about 660 Iranian-made Shahed drones so far in the war. Moscow had a contract with Iran for a total of 1,750, Skibitsky said, adding that a new batch of perhaps as many as 300 drones was now arriving as part of that contract. American officials have said that they are aware of reports that Russia and Iran are trying to set up a joint production facility for drones in Russia.
Russia’s goal is to use swarms of drones in such large numbers that they overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses, allowing some to get through to their targets, Skibitsky said. In the recent attacks, he added, so many drones were fired that Ukraine’s National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems — advanced air defense systems produced by the United States and Norway — had to be reloaded with missiles while the raids were ongoing, the first time that has happened in the war.
“If there are a very large number of drones in a particular direction, then they can simply break through the air defense system in that area,” he said. “In this way, they try to achieve their goal of destroying objects.”