Artillery: NATO Artillery Shell Shortage


April 5, 2024: In Ukraine, battles are often decided by who has the most artillery ammunition. Currently Russia produces about 2.5 times more artillery shells than the US and the EU can supply to Ukraine. Russian ammunition factories produce 250,000 artillery munitions per month. That’s about three million 152mm shells a year.

The US and Europe can only produce about 1.2 million 155mm shells a year. The United States is trying to increase production of 155mm shells to 100,000 a month by the end of 2025, i.e., 21 months from now. This is less than half what Russia produces each month. When it comes to artillery munitions it’s a manufacturing war. Russia currently produces about ten thousand 152mm shells per day, while Ukraine produces only 2,000.

Russian artillery ammunition factories work around the clock, using 12-hour shifts and paying bonuses to skilled workers who can keep it up. Russia has about 3.5 million people working for defense firms. That’s an increase from about 2.5 million before the war. Russia is also importing ammunition 152mm shells from other nations that produce it. Iran sent about 300,000 shells in 2023. North Korea sold Russia over a million 152mm shells, but many of those shells turned out to be defective. That was because the shells were old, as they were taken from North Korean war reserves of munitions. North Korea is a very poor country and manufacturing standards for artillery ammunition are not high. North Korea lacks the proper raw materials to produce artillery shells and workers at munitions manufacturing factories are poorly managed and treated poorly in terms of pay and fringe benefits.

Meanwhile European NATO nations have sent purchasing agents to nations worldwide that have stockpiles of 155mm shells they might sell if the price was right. The Czech republic found several hundred thousand 155mm shells for sale overseas but the Czechs needed help raising the money required to make the purchase. It’s basic economics. The more a scarce resource is in demand, the higher the prices. NATO member Latvia managed to purchase 800,000 155mm shells and that ammunition will soon arrive in Ukraine.

European NATO members told Ukraine they would deliver a million shells by March 2024 but only managed to obtain half that number. Russia never expected to have problems with artillery ammunition supplies when they invaded Ukraine in early 2022. Russia expected to win the war in a few months and never expected to run out of ammunition. The war was not over in a few months. Russia ran out of artillery munitions by the end of 2022 while Ukraine was supplied by NATO with massive amounts of 155mm artillery ammunition. Ukraine has also revived its artillery munitions production of 152mm shells. This is the caliber used by Russian-designed artillery which Ukraine still uses as well. NATO’s current 155mm munitions are more effective and reliable than Russian-made projectiles. For Ukraine to push the Russians out of its territory it must attack and that requires more artillery support than when defending.

The NATO countries supplying all this ammunition have a problem because they eventually ran through most of what they had available. The United States supplied most of that and now has to replace its reserves of 155mm shells stockpiled for a major war. While European NATO nations don’t have to worry about their major threat, Russia, while they rebuild their war reserves, the Americans have to plan for potential conflicts elsewhere, like China, North Korea, and Iran. The Americans can still do so because supporting Ukraine does not degrade American naval or air power. A war with China would not become more difficult because of American military aid to Ukraine. The same is true for potential conflicts with China, North Korea, or Iran as both of them have plenty of powerful local near-peer opponents like South Korea, Japan, the Arab gulf states, and Israel who would be American allies in such conflicts and can deal with China, Iran or North Korea when provided with American air and naval support. American ground forces are also available for a Pacific campaign where American forces could get by with less artillery munitions than they planned to use. South Korea is a major weapons and munitions producer for its own military as well as export customers.

The U.S. also found that it takes several years to ramp up production of artillery munitions and five or more years of increased production to restore the reserves of 155mm shells already sent to Ukraine. Artillery munitions are still being sent to Ukraine, but not in the massive quantities seen during the first eight months of the war. Ukraine has managed to repair its own production facilities after Russia damaged them early in the war and is now manufacturing a lot of the basic small arms, artillery and mortar ammunition its troops use. European NATO nations have sent Ukraine most of their available 155mm shells in addition to a lot of weapons and combat or support vehicles. This was justified by the fact that NATO exists to protect NATO members from a Russian attack. The Russians did attack, but started with Ukraine, which wanted to join NATO, before moving on to nearby NATO nations. Russia has wrecked its military power and economy with this invasion of Ukraine and its economy won’t recover for a long time. The Russian response was to quickly convert to a wartime economy where civilian consumer production was converted to production of weapons and munitions. Russian leaders now depict NATO as the aggressor because of its support for Ukraine. Russia had long depicted NATO, a mutual defense organization, as an aggressor. Now, with NATO support for Ukraine the main obstacle to Russian victory, NATO can be accurately described as part of the problems Russia is encountering in Ukraine. It is easier for Russia to ignore the fact that they invaded Ukraine. With Russia losing, the government describes Russia as being in danger. This is odd logic but makes sense to many Russians.




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