On February 24, 2022, Vladimir Putin launched what is estimated by the US military to be the largest land war in Europe since World War II. Despite stunning the world with the size and intensity of initial operations, and breaking preconceived notions about military power in the region, one aspect which caught many commentators off guard was the Russian military’s failure to achieve air supremacy over Ukraine. Ukraine’s foothold slowly faltered, as well, and with neither side being able to dominate the air, the war shifted to a predominantly artillery-based conflict, focused heavily on attrition. According to some estimates, 80% to 90% of all casualties on both sides of the war can be attributed to artillery.
During the grueling and often chaotic early days of all-out war, Ukraine had to use vast stocks of Soviet-era ammunition. By early summer 2022, projections estimated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had almost none of its pre-war ammo stocks left.
The situation reached critical levels by mid-summer 2022, with Russian forces able to advance under the onslaught of mass artillery fire, occupying and often razing vast swaths of Ukrainian land.
Ukraine’s allies scrambled to supply whatever forms of heavy ordinance they could find, with 82mm and 120mm mortar bombs, 122mm and 155mm howitzer ammo, 125mm tank shells, and various artillery and anti-air munitions finding their way into Ukrainian Armed Forces stocks during the course of the invasion.
With attrition often outpacing supply from typical allies like the US and Poland, armaments from other more unusual sources have slowly begun to appear in Ukrainian arms stocks. With the aid of OSINT, Offbeat Research was able to identify many of these unique and unusual ammunition types and trace down their country of origin.
The above armaments used by the Ukrainian armed forces come from a diverse set of sources, including countries often perceived as neutral, friendly, or even allied with Russia. Yet despite these superficial alliances, complicated and often informal supply chains mean tank shells from Iran, missiles from North Korea and Serbia, and mortar shells from Azerbaijan often hit Russian forces inside Ukrainian territory.
Some of these ammo types were transferred via 3rd parties with the knowledge of the producing country’s governments, primarily for financial or economic reasons – while other ammo types were captured by the USA or its allies from sanctions-evading countries and illegal arms transfers, by nations such as Iran and North Korea.
The quality of the ammo is also significantly variable, depending on the country of origin, factory of origin, and even the specific batches made on the production line. Ammunition such as the Serbian 122mm Grad 2000 is typically reliable and has an extended firing range of approximately 40km, while ordnance from Pakistan and North Korea is often reported to be of bad quality, with poor accuracy and a high dud rate.
As the slow attrition of artillery-based conflict continues, one thing remains certain: ordnance supply chains will remain a core component of conflict, and parties will be forced to rely increasingly on munitions from uncommon and unique sources.