After the fall of the Soviet Union, several countries in Europe took advantage of the “peace dividend” by dramatically reducing their military spending, as well as the size of their armies and arsenals.
Terrorism became the focus of military efforts over a decade after Al Qaeda’s ascent to power, which necessitated new expenditures in the military as well as lighter, more expeditionary troops. Even the lengthy involvement of NATO in Afghanistan was not very similar to a European land war that was heavy on artillery and tanks and that almost all defence ministries believed would never happen again.
However, it has.
In Ukraine, a kind of conflict that was previously unimaginable in Europe is already consuming the meagre stores of artillery, ammunition, and air defences of what some members of NATO refer to as Europe’s “bonsai army,” after the miniature Japanese trees. Even the powerful United States has only a limited supply of the weapons that the Ukrainians want and need, and the United States government is unwilling to move key weapons away from sensitive regions such as Taiwan and Korea, where China and North Korea are continually testing the limits of their relationship.
Now, nine months into the conflict, the basic unpreparedness of the West has sparked off a wild race to provide Ukraine with what it needs while simultaneously replenishing NATO supplies. This has resulted in a frenzied scramble. As a result of the fact that both sides are using up armament and ammunition at a rate that has not been seen since World War II, the struggle to maintain arsenals full has become an essential front that may prove to be the deciding factor in Ukraine’s endeavour.
According to experts from NATO, the quantity of artillery that has been utilised is astonishing. In Afghanistan, NATO troops may have fired as much as 300 artillery rounds per day without experiencing any significant concerns with air defence. However, Ukraine is still in urgent need of air defence against Russian missiles and drones built in Iran, despite the fact that it can fire hundreds of rounds every day.
According to a senior NATO officer, the Ukrainian armed forces were firing between 6,000 and 7,000 artillery rounds per day in the Donbas area throughout the summer of 2017. The number of rounds fired by the Russians each day ranged from 40,000 to 50,000.
In contrast, the United States barely manufactures 15,000 rounds every single month.
Therefore, the Western world is making frantic efforts to track down increasingly hard-to-find weapons and ammunition from the Soviet period that Ukraine may utilise at this time. This includes Soviet-vintage air defence missiles, T-72 tanks, and particularly Soviet-caliber artillery rounds.
Additionally, the West is attempting to come up with alternative systems, even if they are older, in order to compensate for their diminishing inventories of pricey air-defense missiles and anti-tank Javelins. It is sending strong signals to Western military firms that longer-term contracts are in the offing, along with the message that additional shifts of employees should be engaged, and ageing industrial lines should be repaired. It is attempting to buy ammunition from other nations, like as South Korea, so that it may “backfill” inventories that are being shipped to Ukraine.
There have also been speculations of NATO investing in ancient facilities in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria in order to recommence the production of Soviet-caliber 152-mm and 122-mm rounds for Ukraine’s artillery armoury, which is still mostly from the Soviet period.
However, there are a wide variety of challenges that must be overcome before any progress can be made.
The nations that are a part of NATO have given Ukraine some cutting-edge western artillery, and the shells that it fires are the standard 155 millimetres that are used by NATO. However, NATO systems are seldom approved to employ rounds manufactured by other NATO nations since those countries often create the shells in a different manner than the NATO countries themselves.
And then there is the issue of legal export regulations, which determine whether or not firearms and ammunition purchased in one nation may be sent to another nation that is currently engaged in armed conflict. This is the reason the Swiss, who claim to be neutral, refused to grant Germany authorization to sell to Ukraine antiaircraft ammunition that was manufactured in Switzerland and sold to Germany. The ammunition was required by Ukraine. A similar ban on the export of weapons is in place in Italy.
Given the prominence of animal names for weapons like the Gepard (German for cheetah) and the surface-to-air missile system nicknamed the Crotale, one NATO official characterised the assortment of weaponry that Ukraine must now contend with as “NATO’s petting zoo” (French for rattlesnake). Therefore, restocking and maintenance are also challenging tasks.
The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has warned the alliance, most notably Germany, that the NATO norms which require countries to preserve stockpiles should not be used as an excuse to restrict the supply of armaments to Ukraine. This advice was given by the NATO Secretary General. However, it is also true that Germany and France, together with the United States, want to calibrate the armaments that Ukraine receives in order to avoid an escalation in the conflict and direct assaults on Russia.