S HOPPNER, R BOSEN
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had sounded the alarm ahead of this week’s meeting of defense ministers, saying that the Ukrainian army was consuming significantly more ammunition than could be produced in the West.
“The current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production. This puts our defense industries under strain,” he said, adding that the alliance needed “to ramp up production.”
Frank Sauer, a security expert at Universitat der Bundeswehr Munchen (University of the Bundeswehr in Munich), told DW that he also thought the shortage of ammunition was the “fundamental problem” at the moment — much more than the much-debated air defense systems and tanks.
Increasing production capacity is of the utmost importance, agreed Nico Lange, a military expert from the Munich Security Conference and former chief of staff at the German Defense Ministry. “From my point of view, (the ammunition shortage) is more important than any symbolic discussion,” he told DW, explaining that this was related to Russia’s military strategy. Russia’s attack tactic — “frontal attacks on the front line in many sections — can only be successful if Ukraine runs out of ammunition,” he argued, adding that this should be avoided at all costs with Western support.
Ukrainian commanders are being forced to make “very tough decisions” on the use of ammunition said DW correspondent Nick Connolly. “I’ve met commanders of howitzers, of artillery pieces, who’ve told me that they don’t know how long they can keep doing their job, if they will be forced to withdraw and move away from positions and wait for more artillery,” Connolly said in Kyiv. “This is a very real problem.”
Sauer argued that Germany and the West should have reacted much earlier. “Figures probably started circulating towards the end of summer, there was talk of five- to six-digit figures for artillery ammunition per month,” he said. That was when Germany should have switched gears and realized it was time to take urgent action, Sauer said, adding that he was not sure why those in charge had not reacted at the time. He said that production had started rather late in the US too.
According to German news outlet tagesschau.de, the US has delivered or promised to deliver more than one million artillery shells. They ran into supply issues, so they probably had to fall back on ammunition depots in Israel and South Korea. According to experts, that shows that neither the US nor Europe are prepared for conventional wars.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has also said that there was “only” talk of tanks and that the issue of ammunition is only now gaining momentum: “This is important and necessary and hopefully not too late because it’s about air defense and providing replacement supplies of ammunition and missiles for the Ukrainian army’s air defense systems.”
Pistorius has urged the German defense industry “to ramp up all capacities to the maximum as quickly as possible.” A deal with defense contractor Rheinmetall to resume production of ammunition for German-made Gepard (or cheetah) anti-aircraft tanks was an important first step, he said. “The contracts for the production of Gepard ammunition have been signed,” the minister confirmed. He said that Germany had decided to take that step so it would not be dependent on Switzerland.
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