Ukraine requested from its European allies a monthly supply of a quarter of a million projectiles in March of this year. The then-Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov estimated that its complete battle strategy required at least 350,000. At that time, Ukraine was forcing itself to ration 110,000 per month and required assistance from Europe to make up the shortfall.
A year later, the European Union contributed one million projectiles, which constituted one-third of the quantity requested by Ukraine. It had delivered 300,000 from the stockpiles of European armies by the end of November. It has four months to make up the shortfall, but additional shipments must originate from new production, according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
Despite nearly two years of conflict on European soil, the European Union has surprisingly not conducted an assessment of continental production capacity. “Today, we would like to know where we stand and what the production schedule for this second track might entail,” Borrell stated at a gathering of EU defence ministers on November 14.
Russia, too, has been launching an excess of projectiles beyond its capacity to produce, and in September it requested assistance from North Korea. North Korea delivered 1,000 containers of ammunition within a month, according to White House spokesman John Kirby. According to the head of military intelligence for Estonia, Colonel Ants Kiviselg, this equates to 300,000 to 350,000 projectiles — the exact quantity that the EU delivered to Ukraine in one month rather than eight.
North Korean Projectiles and Strategic Implications
The number was likely higher, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by The Washington Post, due to the fact that vessels had been traversing the route from the port of Rason in the North Korean free trade zone to the port of Dunai in Russia since August.
By rail, Russia might have obtained additional North Korean projectiles. Satellite imagery, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), indicates that rail traffic between Russia and North Korea has increased “dramatically” since September, when Russian President Vladimir Putin met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Yiorgos Margaritis, an emeritus professor of history at the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki specialising in the balance of artillery, Russia outperformed Western nations in attaining objectives externally, including those desired from China. “The ten million shells that North Korea has pledged is an incomprehensible quantity.” “They have already contributed a tenth of that.”
Russia’s Supplied Arsenal and Varied International Reactions
“[Russia] is adequately supplied, indifferent to the magnitude of losses, and without a doubt has the backing of third parties.” Journalist Jens Bastian of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs informed that the Ukrainian side does not possess identical versions of these three components.
The EU is currently struggling to find a response. According to Borrell, its defence sector is at risk of breaching contracts with international clients, who presently purchase forty percent of its output.
The response from the United States was more rapid and dynamic. It decided in February to increase artillery shell production by a factor of six, a level not seen since the Korean War, in order to build up supplies for future conflicts, replenish stockpiles sent to Ukraine, and supply Ukraine with more.
As reported by the New York Times, the monthly procurement of projectiles by the United States Army increased from 14,400 in September 2022 to 90,000 in January 2023, a threefold increase from September 2022. Notwithstanding this, US defence contractors will not achieve that production capacity until the conclusion of the following year.
What exactly is the dilemma in Europe?
By spring, the European Union aims to rival the United States’ annual orderbook for approximately one million rounds of artillery ammunition, including missiles.
At a November 14 meeting of EU defence ministers, EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton reportedly stated, “As the person in charge of ammunition production capacity. I can confirm that we can accomplish the objective of producing over one million ammunition rounds annually.”
He stated that governments must issue directives for this to occur.
“The member states are responsible for placing the order, producing, and ensuring that this ammunition is manufactured primarily for Ukraine.” “Everything in this is within the jurisdiction of the member states,” Breton stated.
Reuters reported that as of December 6, EU members had only placed orders for sixty thousand of the one million projectiles they had promised Ukraine. Doubts arise about the EU’s ability to deliver even the limited quantities placed by March due to the lengthy fulfillment time for orders. Rheinmetall, a German steel and munitions manufacturer, disclosed on December 3 that it had obtained a 142-million-euro ($156 million) order for shells designated for Ukraine; however, the delivery of said shells would not occur until 2025.
According to experts, the EU’s lamentable condition of defence coordination has numerous causes.
In contrast to domains such as transportation, green energy transition, and banking, which have witnessed EU member states implement closely coordinated policies under the direction of Brussels, defence and foreign policy continue to be matters of national competence.
Bastian stated, “Neither the European defence industry nor the European defence policy are integrated, and Ukraine has emphasised this for the past two years.” He stated, “Mr. Borrell is making it clear that the failure at the EU level is also the failure of individual nations that lack… the capacity to produce at scale within a specified time frame.”
Diplomatic Discord and Industry Shortfalls
Diplomatic lack of coordination is an equally formidable obstacle. “As a result of the lack of a unified, shared threat perception, countries have varying priorities,” said the Finnish Institute of International Affairs research fellow Minna Alander.
“Not everyone universally holds the notion that Russia poses an existential threat to Europe,” she explained.
The reduction in European investments in heavy industry, particularly in the production of metals, which peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic, played a role in the scarcity of raw materials required to manufacture weapons.
“China, India, and one or two other eastern countries will source eighty percent of the steel required to construct a bridge.” “The same holds true for the manufacture of weapons,” Margaritis stated. “In order to increase steel production, enormous changes must be implemented,” he said, referring to the availability of inexpensive energy and abundant labour.
Analysts assert that Europe’s security is in jeopardy if it does not maintain a minimum level of heavy industry self-sufficiency.
Tim Lawrenson, a consultant in the defence industry, and Bastian Giegerich, director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, recently opined, “Europe requires an epochal shift in political thinking, significantly increased defence spending, and a resolute effort to revamp public perceptions regarding the necessity for robust defence.”
At this time, none of these requirements appear to be assured. Notwithstanding their confrontation, NATO’s proclaimed deterrence might wail. A diminished perception of Europe’s formidable defenses might lead Russia to launch an attack against a NATO member.