In the fight against Russia, is the Ukrainian military shooting more ammunition than can be produced?
NATO wants member states to quickly agree new supply contracts and defense companies to expand their manufacturing capabilities.
But is it that simple? What can NATO do to respond to the increased demand for ammunition?
How is the production of arms and ammunition currently managed?
Both weapon systems and ammunition are produced by defense industries on orders placed by governments.
NATO countries agree to supply a certain amount of weapons and ammunition to the military alliance. However, these quotas are only politically (but not legally) binding, Jamie Shea, former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General, explained to Euronews.
Even before the war in Ukraine, NATO members had to keep a month’s worth of ammunition on hand. It wasn’t until the Russian invasion in February of last year that it was revealed that many countries are actually unable to meet NATO quotas.
And because countries have invested more in developing new technology in peacetime than in producing ammunition for the weapons systems they already have, it may take a while to get the bullets and shells they need, Shea says.
Example from the German defense industry: orders are slow to arrive
Although Ammo consumption exceeds current production rate, putting pressure on defense policy (and yes, some defense companies are saturated), the industry could already afford the necessary capacity in some cases, Dr. Hans Christoph Atzpodien, CEO of the German Association, told Euronews of the Security and Defense Industry (BDSV). “The industry has made advance payments,” Atzpodien said.
Last December, for example, defense contractor Rheinmetall announced plans to build new ammunition production facilities in Germany. Now the underlying contract for the production of “Gepard” ammunition has also been signed, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius announced on Tuesday.
But in most cases, it is precisely these official orders that are missing, said the head of the BDSV, describing the situation from the point of view of the defense industry. “What we need are orders that allow for better long-term planning and create opportunities for higher returns on investment.
Where are the NATO ammunition reserves?
Following the Cold War, global defense budgets dwindled and more and more countries reduced their militaries.
In order to respond more flexibly to the demand for arms and ammunition, and because it was cheaper and safer, the reserves were kept at the national level.
This is slowly changing, Shea explained, pointing to examples such as the permanent redeployment of US troops in Poland, NATO forces in the Black Sea and the reopening of the British Sennelager military base.
“There is no use sending tanks to Eastern Europe if you don’t send the ammunition at the same time”said.
Can the EU coordinate the production of ammunition?
Similar to the joint purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, as well as the EU’s Head of Foreign Policy, Josep Borell, They have now proposed controlling the joint purchase of ammunition for EU countries.
By itself, this makes sense, Shea says, “the larger the contract, the lower the price that can be asked”. However, this process would take a long time due to the validation phases at EU level. Another obstacle, he says, is the different weapon systems European countries operate with: 176 different systems, most of which use different ammunition.
“As long as we have 176 different weapons systems, compared to 35 in the United States, we are not going to be able to carry out any type of mega-standardization on a certain type of projectile or caliber”Shea added.
How can NATO quickly get the ammunition it needs?
A solution in which NATO countries produce enough ammunition for their own supplies and the needs of the Ukrainian forces “will not happen overnight,” the former NATO official said.
This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that the industry cannot respond as quickly, by having to hire staff and expand manufacturing facilities. On the other hand, the interruption of global supply chains also affects components such as electronics or the explosives needed to manufacture ammunition.
The interim solution
The key to the rapid ammo issue lies in a stopgap solution, says Jamie Shea: NATO has already begun to approach countries outside of Europe that use Western military equipment to order or buy back ammunition.
Additionally, the industry may be canceling or deferring customer contracts to focus on ammunition production.
Stoltenberg recently traveled to South Korea and Japan to order Western ammunition for Ukraine.and in that context he also spoke of a “logistics war or a race against time”, because Russia is doing the same as NATO.
But, Shea adds, NATO has to be quick because ammunition plays an important role in warfare: “The Ukrainians will need more to counter a Russian offensive, and they will need a good supply if they are going to launch an offensive of their own.”
Source: Euronews Español