Western Supply Chain Needs To Ramp Up Production To Replenish Domestic Stocks And Supports Ukraine War

AS90 Braveheart is a 155mm self-propelled howitzer which entered service with the British Army in 1992.

Far from the battlefield of Ukraine, a new conflict is taking shape that could determine the future of the war – one between Western governments and the global arms industry. 

Nato member states gathered in Brussels have conceded that Western militaries are in danger of running out of the ammunition Kyiv needs to win the war, but also protect themselves going forward.

Ukraine’s armed forces are burning through artillery shells at a rate of 6,000 a day – more than a smaller European country’s orders in an entire year in peacetime.

For months, officials briefed on the discussions within Nato have warned the issue of ammunition – particularly 155mm artillery shells – would soon come to a head, unless producers agree to move to a war footing.

Delivery schedules have slipped in recent years, increasing from 12 months to 28 months for some high-calibre ammunition, as production lines were shifted to a peacetime schedule.

Governments have little option other than to convince arms firms they need to boost production to levels not seen for more than a decade.

It is no secret that Western militaries are eating into their own stockpiles in order to sustain their support for Ukraine at a time when the country is facing a large-scale offensive from Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region.

Of course, military strategists have suggested Ukraine could do more on the battlefield with less, adopting a Nato-standard style of fighting.

But that does not address whether the military alliance’s members will have sufficient stockpiles in place to potentially fight an Article 5 – Nato’s collective defence clause – war in the future.

“If we are really posturing towards collective defence, we need to have more things sitting on the shelf and we need to have things to backfill the things we give away to Ukraine,” a US administration official said.

One major fear is that governments are so keen to support Ukraine that they are “giving away everything”, the official added.

Denmark has donated its entire fleet of French-designed Caesar artillery cannons, while the Estonians have sent all of their own howitzers to Kyiv.

In a bid to avert a potential ammunition shortage, Nato allies have opened discussions with arms manufacturers about opening new production lines.

Talks have become so granular, suggestions have even been made that factories could simply start working double shifts, or even on weekends.

Industry, however, has warned it is not as easy as simply scaling-up production to meet the needs of Ukraine and to replenish Nato stockpiles in the short term.

Business leaders want cast-iron guarantees of orders, for perhaps decades to come, before they agree to undertake the multi-million-pound work to transform their production lines to meet demands.

The last time ammunition production lines were operating for “just-in-time” supplies was over two decades ago when Western governments were fighting wars in the Middle East.

Logistical operations, supply chains and procurement were set up almost entirely to service that market.

Firms would need to build almost completely new systems to ensure the same level of deliveries to Ukraine.

The likes of the US, France, Germany and Norway have already signed new long-term contracts with arms manufacturers in the hope of convincing the industry to ramp up production.

But more needs to be done in the eyes of Nato’s top officials.

The European Union could be co-opted into the effort, with the Estonians proposing that the bloc’s coronavirus vaccine procurement system be adopted to negotiate and sign long-term contracts for the procurement of 155mm artillery shells, giving the industry extra confidence it can ramp up production.

While Nato stockpiles have not yet hit dangerously low levels, without quick fixes they may do shortly.

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