The EU has provided Ukraine with half as many shells as it promised, and with a significant delay: Media explain why

Production of ammunition for Ukraine

The European Union is overestimating its capacity to produce 155 mm artillery shells. Actual volumes may be half as much as EU officials claim, which is why they cannot fully fulfill their promises to supply Ukraine with ammunition.

Radio Liberty's Schemes project, in cooperation with a consortium of European journalists, has been investigating for several months whether the public statements of EU officials about the growth of ammunition production capacity and the volume of shells supplied to Ukraine are true. The journalists found out that European manufacturers can produce about half as much ammunition as stated in Brussels.

As of June 2024, the EU had provided Ukraine with half the number of shells as it had promised, and with a significant delay.

In March 2024, the European Commission announced that its work had brought European production capacity for 155-mm shells to 1 million rounds per year in January. Three months later, in June 2024, a senior European Commission official, Thierry Breton, made an even more loud statement that by the end of the year, EU producers would be able to produce 1.7 million shells a year, and this figure would continue to grow.

However, according to a senior source in the European arms industry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the current capacity is only a third of that figure.

"This is definitely less than 500,000 missiles for 2024. That's what the joint capabilities are. This is a far cry from the 1.4 million or 1.7 million that Borrell and Breton talked about. It's a very bad idea to convince ourselves that we have three times the production capacity and make decisions based on that. And then it may suddenly turn out that nothing comes out of the factories, and you cannot supply (with shells – Ed.) Ukraine and the NATO alliance," an informed European industry representative told The Investigative Desk on condition of anonymity.

Two other documents estimated the European industry's capacity at the beginning of the year at about half a million shells a year. According to a December 2023 public report by the Estonian Ministry of Defense, the EU's production capacity is about 600,000 rounds per year. This information also coincides with the estimate of the German manufacturer Rheinmetall from January 2024. An internal company document obtained by journalists claims that at the beginning of the year, all Western European arms manufacturers together were capable of producing about 550,000 rounds per year.

In response to journalists' questions about the discrepancy between the statements of EU officials and actual data, the European Commission said that their assessment of European production capacity is based on "facts" and takes into account current investments in the industry.

Reasons for the slow increase in ammunition production capacity

The journalistic consortium, which includes Schemes, German Die Welt, and Czech Investigate.CZ, Polish Vsquare, and Frontstory.PL, Finnish Iltalehti, Slovak Ján Kuciak Investigative Center, Dutch The Investigative Desk, and Estonian Delfi Estonia, have found out the reasons for the slow increase in European ammunition production capacity.

Representatives of arms companies say that the problem lies in the global shortage of gunpowder and explosives, as well as in insufficient funding for the industry due to the reluctance of Western countries to sign long-term contracts with the industry.

High-ranking sources in EU governments and the arms industry, whom Skhemy and media partners spoke to, blame bureaucracy and EU slowness for delays in the supply of ammunition to Ukraine. The EU's inadequate assessment of its production capacities is also cited as one of the reasons for the reduction in supplies.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is purchasing ammunition on its own with limited funds and plans to start its serial production of 155-mm shells in the second half of 2024, which is essential to deter Russian aggression. Minister of Strategic Industries Oleksandr Kamyshyn notes that Ukraine will never be able to meet its domestic demand for shells on its own.

There is a shortage of NATO-standard ammunition primarily because Ukraine uses it during hostilities faster than the EU can replenish its stockpile. Representatives of the European arms industry also recognize that the EU is not able to meet Ukraine's defense needs. The EU is taking steps to support the industry. However, these efforts seem to be insufficient.

"The experience of the war in Ukraine shows a huge demand for artillery ammunition. The existing production capacities in the Western world do not meet these volumes," said Rheinmetall, one of the leading European arms manufacturers, in June.

The EU countries are also keeping the ammunition for themselves, as they have to replenish their stockpiles after the transfer of the shells to Ukraine. In addition, they are trying to fulfill NATO's requirement to have a sufficient number of shells in their warehouses.

The journalists' consortium also found that the EU has delivered half as many shells to Ukraine as it promised and with a significant delay. In March 2023, the EU pledged to send Ukraine 1 million shells during the year, but as of the end of May 2024, Ukraine has received only more than 500,000 rounds of ammunition from the EU, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine told Schemes. This figure was confirmed by the European Commission in June.

The situation is similar to the so-called Czech ammunition procurement initiative, which in February 2024 provided for the purchase of 800,000 shells for Ukraine. The first batch arrived only in mid-June.

"Last week, the Czech minister said that the first batch, which is 40-50 thousand shells, should be here by the end of today," Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur told Delfi Estonia on June 18. A senior source in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed the arrival of the first shipment but clarified that it was less than 50,000 shells.

A foreign source familiar with the Czech initiative told Radio Liberty that of the 15 countries that have agreed to jointly purchase ammunition for Ukraine, as of mid-June, only six have transferred funds, while the remaining nine have only promised to do so. Former Defense Minister Reznikov believes that bureaucracy may be another reason for the delay in deliveries.

"I think that some programs are under-implemented not because someone did not want to, but because there are discussions within the organization – who produces, who pays whom, whether all obligations to put money into the 'common cash register' have been fulfilled. Someone says, 'I gave everything, compensate me,' or one country is blocking everything," Oleksii Reznikov told Schemes.

Since the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine has experienced a critical shortage of ammunition three times, most recently this spring. The deficit was caused by a $60 billion delay in U.S. aid. Ukraine also purchases and produces ammunition on its own, but the volume of national production and purchases is much lower than that of its Western partners.

As reported by OBOZ.UA, Rheinmetall has received the largest order in its history. It is a €8.5 billion contract that provides for an increase in ammunition stocks for the Bundeswehr and its allies, including Ukraine. Supplies of ammunition will begin in 2025.

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