Russian Ball Bearing Shortage
In recent years, there have been many shortages, seemingly random products were in high demand yet missing from store shelves. Russia is becoming all too familiar with the scarcity of one product you would not expect, ball bearings. These rolling element bearings are increasingly hard to come by even though they are in extremely high demand.
The Scramble for Ball Bearings
Tanks and other military vehicles require large numbers of ball bearings to operate effectively making them crucial to both Ukrainian and Russian forces. Russian forces need to produce at least 150 new or restored tanks every month to maintain their front-line strength. Small stockpiles of ball bearings were available when the war in Ukraine began, but those reserves are rapidly declining.
There are currently not enough ball bearings to maintain the steady production of new military vehicles. As a result of the shortage, Russia has resorted to refurbishing 1960s-vintage T-62s and 1950s-vintage T-55s, which require fewer modern components and ball bearings. The shortage has exacerbated production and maintenance delays for the Russian military.
Why a Ball Bearing Shortage?
The shortage has been attributed to several factors: economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and an increased demand for ball bearings in various industries.
One of the major impacts on Russia’s shortage is the reluctance of Western manufacturers to supply bearings. In the spring of 2022, SKF, the world’s largest bearing manufacturer, ceased all operations in Russia. Other manufacturers in the Americas and Europe followed suit.
Historically, Russia imported most of its bearings from Western manufacturers. Of the $419 million worth of ball bearings imported to Russia in 2020, 55% were from manufacturers in North America and Europe.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the shortage is affecting Russia’s ability to manufacture new tanks and restore older ones. The nation may look to China and Malaysia to supply ball bearings, but those bearings are of significantly lower quality than the ones produced in America or Europe. While these bearings may be able to act as a substitute, the lower quality steel will significantly impact reliability.
The ball bearing shortage could have significant implications for the country’s tank production, there is no doubt the bearing industry will play a critical role in the future development of Russia’s economy and defense capabilities.
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