Ukrainian troops do not have enough artillery ammunition. Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov sounded the alarm to his northwestern allies but the problem has few short-term solutions that they do not spend less while they have to defend a front approximately 1,000 kilometers long from the constant hammering of the Russian artillery, which for now is well supplied by its industry.
He Ukrainian problem is one of manufacturing capacity more than money. The European and American defense industries, with a much smaller production force than at the end of the Cold War, are unable to produce howitzers at the rate Ukraine consumes them, so the European governments, Canada and the United States, have been pumping out of their arsenals.
Since the war began, almost two years ago, European and American military leaders conveyed to their political leaders the need to produce more weapons and more ammunition and to do it faster.
Already in the summer of 2022, a year and a half ago, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a meeting in Ramstein, Germany, that Ukraine's partners were discussing “how to make our arms industries better able to equip future forces.” Ukrainians with the capabilities they need.”
Since then heProduction increased, but is still very far away for the two great needs of the moment: refilling empty arsenals and continuing to arm kyiv.
The 31 NATO armies (32 when Sweden includes) do not all have the same weapons, but they are compatible, so they can act together and arm themselves with the same ammunition. They are 155 millimeter artillery howitzers, the NATO standard. At the beginning of the war, American industry only had one factory capable of producing them, in Pennsylvania. I managed to get 14,000 a month when Ukraine spent that in three days.
Ukrainian soldiers fire a mortar during military exercises in the kyiv region. Photo: REUTERS
Production increased strongly but remains insufficient. The Europeans promised kyiv that between March 2023 and March 2024 they would deliver one million artillery shells. Already this week, European diplomacy recognized that there will be just over 500,000.
Ukraine has also launched factories to produce these howitzers (their location is one of the best kept secrets of this war) but European diplomatic sources assured this week that Ukrainian production does not even cover a quarter of its consumption.
To further complicate the situation, the political blockade in the US Congress prevents approval of a multi-million dollar military aid package that should be used, among other things, to buy those howitzers that Ukraine so badly needs. His Defense Minister acknowledged this week at NATO, during a meeting with his counterparts from the Atlantic Alliance, that his troops fire one howitzer for every five or ten that the Russians fire.
At the rate that the Ukrainians would have to fire to do so as many times as the Russians would need the entire northwestern military industry to allocate the entirety of its howitzer production to kyiv and it would still be insufficient. What is the solution? No more plans came out of this week's NATO meeting to accelerate military production.
Meanwhile, the European Commission begins to promote ideas that would serve the medium and long term, not to give air to Ukraine.
The European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, proposes to the bloc's governments the creation of a fund of 100 billion euros destined solely to boost the manufacturing capacity of the European military industry. May it recover its glory days, back in the 70s and 80s of the last century, in some of the most tense moments of the Cold War.
Russia produces many more howitzers because It never dismantled its munitions factories like the Europeans did, but you also begin to see how they are stretched to the limit by the pace at which their troops fire.
The difference is that Russian industry is prepared for a long war, the country has never spent so much on Defense in the last three decades and tanks, drones, artillery pieces and howitzers are coming out of its factories at a rate higher than that of Europe. And what is missing, diplomats in Brussels denounce, is bought from North Korea and Iran.