EU Fails to Meet Shell Pledge for Ukraine, Questions Remain About Capacity

France Opposes Buying Shells Outside EU, Delaying Deliveries to Ukraine.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

In February, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry announced that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were experiencing a shell shortage. According to President Vladimir Zelensky, the decision to evacuate Avdiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, was justified by the shortage of munitions. He said that a challenging situation has emerged in various front sections.

According to a Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) source, for every shell fired by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, there are ten Russian ones. According to Western officials and military experts cited by the New York Times, without American assistance, the Ukrainian army will face a “rapid collapse” at the front by the end of 2024; however, by March, Ukraine will be able to carry out local counterattacks with difficulty, and by the beginning of summer, repelling Russian offensives will be challenging. According to experts, the journal reports that the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces may soon face a situation in which the expense of defending the country outweighs any advantage of causing harm to the adversary.

On February 24, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba revealed that the EU aims to equip Kyiv with over 170,000 shells by the end of March. Following conversations with EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell, he stated on social network X that artillery shells were “an absolute priority.”

When politicians and academics predict the outcome of the Ukrainian conflict, they frequently reference several figures, notably 60 billion: the amount of Congress-blocked US dollars in help that Kyiv requires as artillery shell supplies dwindle.

The White House indicated this week that the takeover of Avdiivka by Russian forces earlier this month was a direct result of Ukraine’s lack of ammunition as Congress considers the aid package.

Another figure worth noting is four million: the number of artillery shells that Russia is supposedly capable of producing in Ukraine this year. This raises the question of whether Europe and the United States can match this, regardless of how much money they invest. If not, is the conflict lost?

The figure was provided by specialists at the RUSI analytical centre in the United Kingdom, who noted in a recent report that the Russian industry aims to boost 152mm shell production to 1.3 million this year and 800,000 122mm rounds during the same period.

Adding the two million 122mm shells from North Korea, Moscow will have slightly over four million shells, plus whatever it can extract from current supplies.

Despite the significant employment of drones, missiles, and tanks in the fight, artillery fire has claimed 70% of all lives.

So, can the West stockpile four million shells? The European Union announced on January 31 that it had failed to satisfy its promise to furnish one million shells per year made in March 2023.

Instead, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced that member states will provide 524,000 shells, or 52% of the pledged batch, by March 2024.

Shells are coming from existing stocks and individual and combined acquisitions by member states under the so-called EU plan, which allows for the use of €2 billion ($2.2 billion) to buy stocks and make new purchases.

“Work is ongoing,” Borrell said. However, he said, member states are getting to work, and another 630,000 shells will arrive this year.

This assessment is part of the Biden administration’s case for extra assistance to Ukraine, as another package is stuck in Congress.

When asked why the one million target was unmet, a European weapons industry representative stated that countries would face significant consequences.

In comparison, Russia’s state-coordinated economy allowed Moscow to transfer numerous industrial capacities to the state conglomerate Rostec last year to optimise and speed up the production of munitions.

Efforts in Europe to improve production, according to general recognition, were visible this month: Nammo, a Norwegian-Finnish ammunition manufacturer, has switched to round-the-clock production, and German Rheinmetall announced a new plant in Germany that will produce 200,000 shells per year, and a plant in Ukraine with a local partner to produce a six-figure amount of 155mm shells per year in the future.

The United Kingdom, which has already delivered 300,000 rounds of various calibres to Ukraine, has pledged to increasing its production capacity for 155mm rounds by eightfold, with new BAE Systems production lines set to be online by 2025.

However, it is unclear what this indicates in terms of manufacturing volume.

Despite all efforts, the West continues to assess its industrial capacity and order fulfilment timelines. This is suboptimal.

Russia will have four million shells this year, more than Ukraine can hope for. This is more than Europe, NATO, and the United States can provide, let alone their own reserves. By 2024, Russia will have an artillery superiority.

Searching Ammo Outside EU, But With Objections

One proposal, supported by the Czech Republic this month, is for Europe to buy munitions beyond its borders.

Germany is seeking sources of shells for Ukraine; countries in Africa, Asia, the Balkans, and elsewhere may have stockpiles. Berlin is privately contemplating a compromise with New Delhi, which does not want to ruin relations with Russia openly, reports Spiegel.

India possesses hundreds of thousands of artillery shells in its stockpile; Germany is in secret negotiations with it to purchase munitions for Ukraine through intermediaries since Indian officials do not want to sell them openly due to links with Moscow, writes Der Spiegel, citing sources.

Similar agreements might be reached with Arab countries, some of which have significant projectile stocks. Experts believe that several African and Balkan countries have the required reserves or perhaps the ability to manufacture ammunition.

According to the publication, German intelligence services estimate Ukraine will run out of shells by June, if not sooner.

Unfortunately, artillery and anti-aircraft munitions are not so readily available on shelves worldwide, confesses Brigadier General Christian Freuding, head of the German Ministry of Defense’s Ukraine situation department. His department is constantly looking for new sources to obtain shells. According to the general, there is no scarcity of funds for these purposes: the German government will spend €7 billion in 2024 alone on armaments for Ukraine.

Despite the current situation, the EU is wrangling over money: France wants ammunition and weaponry to be acquired with EU funds only from European companies, not from third-party vendors that could make speedy delivery.


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