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Sweden to boost 155mm artillery ammo production for Ukraine

Ukraine’s artillery deficit twice as severe as EU’s 1mn round pledge falls through

Ukrainian soldiers now fire twice as less shells than one year ago, while the EU promises to deliver the promised 1 million of shells only by the end of 2024
155mm artillery ammunition. Photo: mil.in.ua
Ukraine’s artillery deficit twice as severe as EU’s 1mn round pledge falls through

Ukraine is facing an artillery shortage nearly twice larger than last year, it follows from a letter from Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov to his EU counterparts seen by Bloomberg.

The news is especially concerning as the EU’s plan to produce one million artillery rounds for Ukraine by March is falling through while Russia receives regular shipments of ammunition from North Korea. 

How many artillery rounds is Ukraine firing, and how many are needed?

Ukrainian troops are firing no more than 2,000 155mm shells a day, less than a third of the ammunition Russia uses, Umerov wrote.

This is nearly twice fewer than Ukraine was using one year ago, when Umerov’s predecessor, then Defense Minister Reznikov, sent a similar letter stating that Ukraine is able to fire only 3,600 shells daily — thrice less than the Russians.

This was far less than Ukraine’s needs: in the March 2023 letter, Reznikov assessed Ukraine’s needs at a minimum of 11,800 per day (354,000 a month, or 4.2 million a year) while nearly 20,000 were needed for using the available artillery systems to full capacity (600,000 a month, or 7.2 million a year).

Now, Umerov placed Ukraine’s needs as 200,000 rounds a month (6,600 a day), a number also named by Estonia’s Ministry of Defense as crucial for allowing Ukraine to get an edge against the Russians – or 2.4 million 155mm rounds a year. 

Russia’s capacities appear to be larger. Ukraine’s intelligence estimates that Russiawill produce 2.1 million 152mm shells in 2024.

FH-70 155 mm artillery howitzer Ukraine war
An FH-70 howitzer, which uses 155mm rounds, at the frontline in Ukraine. Photo: General Staff

On top of that, Russia’s shell reservoir is boosted by regular shipments from North Korea: in September-December 2023, the belligerent dictatorship shipped 1.57 million shells to Russia, OSINT analysts have estimated.

It is likely that North Korea’s ammunition production will ramp up in 2024 due to Russian investments. But even if it stays at the level of September-December 2023, North Korea’s deliveries to Russia can be estimated at 4.7 million rounds in 2024. Together with Russia’s estimated domestic production, this makes a very rough estimate of a total of 6.8 million rounds for Russia in 2024.

When viewing these statistics, one needs to take into account the fact that Ukraine fires not only 155mm artillery rounds; it has a vast arsenal of Soviet weapons, which use 152mm ammunition, and has launched its domestic production of 155mm artillery rounds, accelerating it tenfold in 2023. These are estimated to be three times cheaper than Western analogs.

Overall, costs are a major factor in the numbers of artillery production: it costs a Western country $5,000 to $6,000 to make a 155-millimeter artillery round, whereas it costs Russia about $600 to produce a comparable 152-millimeter artillery shell, the NYT reported.

One must also note that the 152mm ammunition Russia uses is less accurate than the 155mm rounds Ukraine fires from Western howitzers (and the Bohdana, Ukraine’s sole homegrown 155mm artillery system). North Korean ammunition has also been reported to malfunction on the battlefield.

Meet Bohdana, Ukraine’s gritty goddess of war with NATO-caliber punch

Yet, Umerov’s named amount of 2.4 million is vastly smaller than Ukraine’s needs, which have hardly become smaller since 2023. It could be that Ukraine’s Defense Minister is no longer mentioning Ukraine’s real needs because the Western defense sector simply cannot produce enough.

EU admits it will fail 1 million artillery pledge by March 2024

Signs that the EU will fall through on its goal to provide 1 million shells to Ukraine by March 2024 already appeared in November 2023.

EU officials later stated the bloc could still reach that goal by redirecting exports to Ukraine, a call that was reiterated by Latvia’s defense minister. However, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrel admitted on 31 January that the bloc can only give Ukraine half the amount by the promised date: 524,000 shells by March.

However, the EU’s production capacities have ramped up, and Ukraine was promised 1.1 mn will be produced by the end of 2024.

According to the commissioner from France, the EU’s ammunition production capacity should hit 1.4 million rounds in 2024 before rising to 2 million rounds in 2025, Politico reported.

However, the bloc is aware of Ukraine’s shortages. A European Council statement on 1 February emphasized the “urgent need to accelerate the delivery of ammunition and missiles” in view of the commitment to provide Ukraine with one million artillery shells. EU leaders called on member states “to explore all options to meet Ukraine’s needs.”

A group in the EU is being increasingly vocal about the bloc’s need to do more to support Ukraine.

In a letter published by the Financial Times, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Danish PM Mette Frederiksen, Czech Republic PM Petr Fiala, Estonian PM Kaja Kallas, and the Netherlands’ PM Mark Rutte have called for collective efforts to provide long-term support to Ukraine.

“The EU and its member states must renew their efforts and step up their military support,” the leaders wrote, and “it must continue to be a collective effort.”

Germany, which has spent more than any other EU country in military commitments to Ukraine, is increasingly calling on other EU states to do their part.

“The arms deliveries for Ukraine planned so far by the majority of EU member states are by all means too small,” German Chancellor Scholz said in January. “We need higher contributions.”

Kaja Kallas concurs. While ammunition production has tripled, it is not enough. “The defense capabilities of European countries are far behind what they should be,” she said after the meeting of the European Council on 1 February. According to the Estonian prime minister, this is a clear signal to everyone that more needs to be done. She also emphasized that she is in favor of “every ally, at least in NATO, allocating 2% of GDP to defense.”

Russia’s war against Ukraine has exposed the West’s dangerously low defense production capabilities, degraded after years of underfunding and demilitarization.

As of February 2022, the start of its invasion, Russia fired the same amount of ammunition in one day of war as Europe can produce in a month.

At first, Ukraine’s Western allies supplied ammunition from their stockpiles, but these have been depleted. Now, NATO countries are seeking to increase production capacity and have agreed to change their ammunition stockpiling guidelines to better plan for a potential future conflict.

However, a plan to establish a EUR5 bn annual common Ukraine military aid fund, which would allow to secure long-term support for Ukraine, has fallen through on 1 February amid complaints by Germany and France about their disproportionate financial contributions. The EU plans to return to the question in March.

Ukraine must rely on itself and drones in 2024, top general Zaluzhnyi says in essay on CNN

Ukrainian FPV drones emerge as a replacement for artillery

Facing the artillery deficit, Ukraine is increasingly using FPV drones as a replacement for long-range striking capability.

Once used exclusively for racing, the cheap drones, which cost $500 on average, can deliver pinpoint strikes as far as 23 km away, allowing to destroy or damage expensive military equipment for peanuts.

The downside is that FPV drones require agile pilots with vast experience, and the outcome of the strikes hinges on their skill level.

As well, strictly speaking, FVP drones cannot replace artillery, experts say. Their payload is way smaller than an artillery round and they do not allow for barrage fire or suppression of a stronghold.

Nevertheless, these and other drones are one of the factors that will determine the outcome of the war, according to Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhnyi, who in an essay on CNN argues that Ukraine must radically boost its production of unmanned systems.

One of Zaluzhnyi’s main points is that, facing the political arguments of its allies, Ukraine can only depend on itself.

Steps for self-sufficiency are already being taken. Ukraine has radically boosted the production of drones and has just deregulated the production of ammunition for them, which is expected to remove the centralization bottlenecks that Zaluzhnyi named as an obstacle.

Inside Ukraine’s secret FPV drone labs racing to stay ahead of Russia

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