Europe rushes to Ukraine with weapons, but is running low on ammunition | Popgen Tech
Europe, home to some of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers, is struggling to produce enough munitions for Ukraine and for itself, jeopardizing NATO’s defense capabilities and its support for Kiev, officials and industry leaders say.
A lack of production capacity, a lack of specialized workers, bottlenecks in the supply chain, high costs of financing and even environmental regulations are putting a brake on efforts to increase output, presenting the West and Ukraine with a new challenge for next year .
The war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine is now turning into a rearmament race between Moscow and European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who are scrambling to strengthen their own defenses in the face of the growing threat posed by the Kremlin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted the bottleneck during his visit to Washington, DC, on Wednesday. “The occupiers have a considerable advantage in artillery. They have an advantage in ammo. They have many more missiles and aircraft,” he told Congress.
The latest US aid package for Ukraine, worth about $1.8 billion, includes the first Patriot anti-missile battery sent to help Kiev. Also in the package is equipment that converts unguided shells into precision-guided munitions, artillery and mortar rounds and longer-range rockets.
Yet Ukraine’s military fortunes also depend on European countries, such as Germany, which let their defense industries atrophy in peacetime and struggle to catch up as they focus on securing energy supplies.
Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion is consuming ammunition at a rate not seen since World War II. Kiev’s forces have been firing about 6,000 artillery shells a day and are now engaging anti-aircraft missiles amid a relentless air assault by Russia, according to experts and intelligence officials. At the height of the fighting in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, Russia used more ammunition in two days than the entire stockpile of the British army, according to the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.
No country in NATO except the US has either a sufficient stockpile of weapons to fight a major artillery war or the industrial capacity to create such reserves, said Nico Lange, a former top official at the German defense ministry. . This means that NATO would not be able to defend its territory against major adversaries if it were to be attacked now, he said.
“Governments have been cutting contracts for decades, so companies are shedding production lines and employees,” Mr. Lange, a senior fellow at the Munich Security Conference, a global security forum, said.
The current shortage of shells and missiles is largely due to a shift in the military doctrines of NATO allies in recent decades: Instead of planning for World War II-style ground battles, they have focused on targeted, asymmetric warfare against unsophisticated opponents, said Morten Brandtzæg. , CEO of Nammo AS, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers.
“We need orders of magnitude more industrial capacity,” says Mr. Brandtzæg, whose company is co-owned by the governments of Norway and Finland.
Ukraine uses up to 40,000 artillery shells of the NATO caliber 155 mm every month, while the entire annual production of such projectiles in Europe is about 300,000, according to Michal Strnad, owner of Czechoslovak Group AS, a Czech company that has about 30 % of Europe’s output of such ammunition.
“European production capacity is largely insufficient,” said Mr. Strnad said. Even if the war were to stop overnight, Europe would need up to 15 years to resupply its supplies at current production rates, he said.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in an interview with British media that an extra 500 million to 600 million pounds, roughly equivalent to $604 million to $725 million, had been added to the British budget to start replenishing ammunition stocks. French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this year that the war meant France had to increase its military capacity and manufacturing speed. In a recent speech, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “we have made the wrong decisions regarding ammunition supply in recent decades.”
Right now, Germany does not have enough ammunition to last more than two weeks in the event of a Russian attack, German officials said, falling far short of NATO requirements that members have enough ammunition for at least 30 days of combat. continue.
This is because, despite the fact that Germany is one of the top five arms exporters worldwide, Germany does not have a large-scale arms industry, Wolfgang Schmidt, chief of staff to Mr. Scholz said.
The country’s once large-scale manufacturing has now been reduced to a high-end workshop with small capacity, Mr. Schmidt said.
Germany must invest 20 billion euros, or about $21.2 billion, just to meet NATO’s 30-day ammunition requirements, Mr. Schmidt said. However, Ministry of Defense officials said that the current budget envisages just over €1 billion for munitions in 2023.
One obstacle to rapid rearmament is recent European Union legislation that declared arms manufacturing unsustainable, cutting it off from certain private funding, said Hans Christoph Atzpodien, head of the German Defense Industry Association.
Some efforts are being made to expand production across Europe. Germany will co-finance the renovation and expansion of a Soviet-era factory in Romania to produce both NATO-standard shells and types compatible with Soviet-standard weapons used by Ukraine, according to German and Romanian officials. The project, which was not previously reported, could be unveiled by the end of this month.
Companies are also ramping up production and sometimes anticipating government orders. Nammo, the Norwegian conglomerate, is working to produce 10 times its normal artillery warhead output, according to its chief, Mr. Brandtzæg. The Czechoslovak Group will double its output of 155mm shells to 100,000 in 2023, its owner Mr. Strnad, said. BAE Systems PLC recently signed a £2.4bn contract to supply the UK’s Ministry of Defense with ammunition.
Germany’s Rheinmetall AH
made a €1.2 billion bid for Spanish ammunition manufacturer Expal Systems SA; the acquisition, if approved by antitrust authorities, would help Rheinmetall boost production, the company said. It will also build a new production line to make 35mm shells for the Gepard air defense systems that Germany donated to Ukraine.
“The best way Europe can support Ukraine is to increase production of artillery shells now – that will be the single biggest issue next year,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a American think tank.
—Alistair MacDonald contributed to this article.
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