Arms shortages prompt tough choices for Ukraine’s allies

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Top defense officials in Europe say arms shortages among Ukraine’s western allies are forcing difficult conversations about how to balance support for Ukraine with concerns, Russia could target them next.

NATO members who have sent billions of dollars worth of arms and equipment are discussing stockpile levels they need to meet their obligations under the mutual defense treaty. The decisions they now face could have consequences for their own security and for Ukraine, in its fight to repel the Russian invasion by nine months.

“When you continue to give ammunition to Ukraine and you have to assess and evaluate the risk you are taking for your own readiness, you will have to take into account the threat,” said the chairman of the military committee of the NATO, Adm. Rob Bauertold the Halifax International Security Forum this weekend.

The pressure on stocks is “widespread” and particularly strong for ammunition, he said. In the years before some countries donated to Ukraine, they kept stocks at half capacity or less because they saw little risk or couldn’t afford more, and took an approach “just in time, just enough” for the defense industry. .

“So the urgency is now seen and understood, I think in most countries,” Bauer said.

While Russia’s battlefield losses of soldiers, tanks and planes have reduced its threat, Ukraine’s allies must make complicated calculations about the capacity and pace at which Russia can replenish its forces. , Bauer said.

“The Russians have the same problems as us in terms of stocks,” Bauer said.

Addressing the forum by videoconference, the President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against giving Russia a break right now. Amid divisions among Ukraine supporters over whether Ukraine should start peace talks, Zelenksy rejected the idea of ​​a short truce with Russia.

“The cessation of war as such does not guarantee peace. Russia is now looking for a short truce, a respite to regain strength. Some may call it the end of the war, but such a break will only make things worse,” Zelensky said.

Canada’s Chief of the Defense Staff, Gen. Wayne Eyresaid balancing Ukraine’s lethal and non-lethal aid needs with Canada’s military needs “is something that keeps me awake at night.”

“It’s a constant calculation of where we can give and what we need to keep for our force generation, what we need to keep for future contingencies and what the industry can produce,” Eyre told the forum. ‘Halifax.

Mindful of Canada’s ammunition levels after Ottawa donated M777 howitzers and more than 25,000 artillery rounds earlier this year, Eyre said he visited General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems earlier this month to see what was possible to increase the production of 155 mm ammunition.

“It’s not easy when you’re dealing with production lines that require significant retooling to get the different [equipment] we need,” Eyre said. “It’s not easy when you have very complicated supply chains, especially for the ammunition components that are needed.”

For countries whose armed forces have suffered repeated budget cuts since the end of the Cold War, a sharp turnaround is underway. Seismic changes are brewing in Sweden, whose NATO bid this year has raised fears of Russian retaliation.

“In my armed forces, we worked for 30 years in a situation of downsizing and downsizing, and a lot of time but no money,” said the Supreme Commander of the Swedish Army, General. Micael Byden, said in an interview. “Now the ambitions are there, the budget is racing. Ambitions and demands are high; time is limited.

One of the challenges, Bydén said, is that almost all Western countries look to the defense industry to simultaneously meet their defense needs.

“If you end up too far down the row, you won’t get what you need, you won’t get deliveries,” Bydén said. “We are in close dialogue with the defense industry, where the needs outweigh the surge capacity – if we continue as we have.”

The Pentagon is discussing with industry how to increase both production of new weapons and coordination among allies. Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged allies at a NATO meeting in Brussels last month to “dig deep and provide additional capabilities”.

This is an acute challenge for some of NATO’s smaller members, such as the Netherlands, which, even before its donation of more than $800 million in aid to Ukraine, struggled to meet their obligations to NATO. General Onno Eichelsheim, chief of defense of the Netherlands, says Dutch stocks were “not so high” when the Netherlands chose to send 155mm howitzer ammunition to Ukraine and air defense missiles.

“We started with stocks that weren’t completely filled, that weren’t completely ready, that didn’t have all the hardware to support what we needed for NATO,” Eichelsheim said. “That means I have to fill inventory immediately by securing industry contracts, which we luckily launched a year ago.”

The Dutch government and other European allies have been in discussions with industry about their long-term supply plans to encourage production increases – and how to prioritize deliveries based on which country is most needed. of a weapon. One of the objectives is to build the European defense industry and not to depend too much on the United States

“We need to coordinate better – especially within the European continent – because we need to ensure some strategic autonomy in Europe,” Eichelsheim said. “You can’t just rely on the United States or other partners if the need is so high. Because the United States will not be able to completely accelerate for us, which we thought in the past. That’s not the truth.

The gray area between forward-looking defense companies and governments actually spending money is increasingly part of the post-invasion conversation.

In Halifax, Bauer criticized defense companies, saying that after NATO members increased their military budgets in response to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, the industry failed to expanded its production lines to match and charged more.

“Due to the increase in demand and the lag in production capacity compared to demand, prices have increased. As a result, we started paying more for the same thing, which wasn’t the reason we were increasing those defense budgets,” Bauer said. “It had nothing to do with Russia and Ukraine. It had to do with our own system, our own societies.

Beyond increasing orders, Bauer said, Western allies must find ways to fund the defense industry, strengthen supply chains and also engage military suppliers in a discussion on “values” on their role in safeguarding the rules-based international order.

Eric Fanningthe chief executive of the US-based Aerospace Industries Association said that while European and US defense industrial bases may differ, companies generally bear risk in response to “clear signals” from their military customers.

“These companies have shareholders. They can’t build up excess capacity or stockpile things in anticipation of something,” Fanning said. “The ministry needs to send a clear signal about what it wants, and the industry will respond.”

Fanning said the industry’s ability to increase munitions production depended on the companies securing contracts, which he said the Pentagon was slow to grant.

“They’re not crayons,” Fanning said. “Even older munitions like Javelins and Stingers are complex and have very elaborate supply chains that power them. All of this takes time to line up and restart, and it’s very expensive if customers don’t buy not. “

Joe Gould is the Pentagon’s senior reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He was previously a congressional reporter.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *