It is one of the tragic ironies of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that politicians, officials and military officers around the world have been reminded of two truisms. Firstly people live on land and wars are fought and decided by armies and secondly that ammunition is necessary to fight a war. For decades key data driven digital enablers that provide situational awareness have taken the lions share of investment whilst ammunition stockpiles have been allowed to dwindle to levels that are now perilous. Without ammunition knowledge of situational awareness is interesting information for withdrawal rather than advance.
It is clear that NATO, particularly its European members, is taking extraordinary steps to transfer complete stocks of 155mm ammunition to Ukraine. This leaves the European industrial base with a challenge to not only provide ammunition directly to Ukraine but also to build sufficient stocks that may act as a deterrent to future Russian aggression.
In response there has been a flurry of announcements of money to be spent on ammunition. Germany intends to use several billion Euros from its €100bn ‘Zeitenwende’ fund to procure ammunition; the EU has taken up the challenge from Estonia to procure one million 155mm rounds¹; UK has made two commitments of £560m and £2bn to replenish ammunition stocks. This is all welcome news although it has the feeling of buying insurance just as the fire brigade are dousing the embers on the ruins of your house. The funding is a challenge for the nations and for the European industrial base. The ammunition manufacturing capacity in Europe has been sized in response to the reduced demand. Not only is the production volume severely constrained but also there are several single points of failure in the supply chain that make it vulnerable. There is a risk that the the nations will attempt to force the tidal wave of funding through the extant supply chain. This is likely to lead to, if not disaster, then poor outcomes.
The flood of funding that is about to wash over the European ammunition industrial base is an opportunity to design a supply chain that is technologically capable; able to rebuild and sustain stockpiles; and has resilience based on redundancy. It will be tempting to utilise the current industrial base and to trust the market to deliver. This would be an error, as the companies in the market will seek commercial advantage that is likely to lead to imbalances in the supply chain. Whilst there is a strong desire to get on with it, in parallel to manufacturing immediate deliveries for Ukraine the European nations should take stock and consider how a future industrial base could be configured. In this regard the UK and EU should cooperate closely as UK has something to offer and to leave the UK capability outside the EU project would reduce the benefits for NATO. As with all urgent actions there are opportunities, it would be a pity if the chance to design a capable and resilient European ammunition supply chain was missed.
There is a question as to whether EU nations have sufficient artillery pieces to utilise 1m rounds. There are also questions and to which rounds will be procured.
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