EU Must Spend $4 Billion on Ammunition for Ukraine, Estonia Says

(Bloomberg) -- European Union nations should invest around €4 billion ($4.3 billion) to jointly procure the 1 million rounds of ammunition that Ukraine says it needs this year to beat back Russia’s invasion, according to a proposal by Estonia sent to the bloc’s member states.

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Russia is currently firing the same amount of ammunition in a single day in Ukraine that Europe can produce in a month. The EU urgently needs to increase its defense industrial capacity to help Ukraine’s military sustain the fight, Estonia argued in a paper sent to member countries and seen by Bloomberg.

“We must make an extraordinary effort toward rapid decision-making and implementation of the initiative, as soon as possible, already in 2023 – this is what the severity of Ukraine’s situation requires,” the document says .“The price of any delay is very high, and it is going up each day.”

The plan would allow Europe’s industry to increase its capacity as much as seven-fold and to produce over the next six months the 1 million 155mm shells Ukraine has pleaded for, as Kyiv seeks to fend off a potential large-scale offensive by Russia, the proposal says. The additional €4 billion to jointly purchase the munitions could be bolted on to the EU’s existing European Peace Facility, currently used to refund nations for their military support to Ukraine.

“This is the strategic direction we need to get to as a minimum,” said Kusti Salm, permanent secretary at Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, adding Europe was currently unable to meet that production. “We are fairly confident that the industry is capable of doing this when the demand signal and the contracts are there. The only way to resolve this is to make investments and to make them now.”

Ukraine is currently using on average between 60,000 and as many as 210,000 rounds of ammunition per month, but the European defense industry only has the capacity to produce as many as 25,000 shells in the same time frame, Estonia says in the paper, adding it would currently take as long as four years to meet Kyiv’s needs. Meanwhile, Russia is firing around 20,000-60,000 shells a day.

Stockpiles Pressured

Sourcing ammunition has become a critical factor in Ukraine, as Kyiv’s forces counter a renewed Russian offensive and prepare a potential counteroffensive of their own in the spring. With both sides burning through vast amounts of ammunition, the war has pressured NATO allies’ stockpiles and exposed gaps in production.

NATO countries are seeking to boost production capacity and have agreed to raise stockpiling guidelines for ammunition to better plan for a potential future conflict. Still, European countries in particular have been slow to fire up production lines with companies complaining they lack contracts. And while Russia’s stockpiles are also under pressure, its capacity is multiple times that of Europe’s, with its industry in a position to annually manufacture 1.7 million 152mm artillery shells before the war, according to Salm.

Other European nations, including the Netherlands, have also called for more joint procurement of weapons and ammunition as a way to keep prices low but also to send a clear signal to industry to speed up production. The proposal would benefit European defense in the longer term as it would provide predictability for the industry and create capacity needed to renew stocks, the Estonian document says.

Asked about EU joint weapons procurement, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said this week it could be done but added “the question is whether this is faster and when it will help.” Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, he said allies must “continue our efforts to get ammunition and spare parts wherever we can get them” and “above all to talk to the industry about how quickly they can increase production capacities.”

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called on EU leaders last week to urgently explore procurement proposals to purchase ammunition from their industries to support Ukraine. European Council President Charles Michel said after the summit in Brussels that the bloc would aim to provide a proposal by March when leaders next meet. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said this week the topic would be discussed when foreign ministers gather in Brussels on Monday.

An effort by Europe to provide Ukraine with 1 million shells this year would match a similar pledge in December by the US, which is also making a big push to ramp up ammunition production.

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