January 20, 2023:
When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022 it never expected to run out of ammunition. The war was not over in a few months and because of that Russia did run out of artillery munitions while Ukraine was supplied with massive amounts, much more than Russia had access to. After nearly a year of fighting, Russia has to limit the number of shells, rockets and missiles they can fire because they could not replace all that was fired while Western aid meant Ukrainians could. This caused a problem for NATO countries supplying all this ammunition because they eventually ran through most of what they had available. The United States supplied most of the munitions and now has to replace its war reserves 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 U.S. has to increase production for all these munitions and that takes several years to ramp up production and five or more years of increased production to restore the reserves. 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 that Russia damaged early in the war and is now manufacturing a lot of the basic small arms, artillery and mortar ammunition its troops use.
The Americans not only sent the most munitions but the widest variety of munitions, including more advanced (that what Russia had) types of munitions that gave the Ukrainians a major advantage in crippling the Russian forces.
The most basic ammunition sent was 155mm artillery shells, along with 155mm guns to fire them from. The existing Ukrainian artillery was Soviet-era 152mm shells and lot of guns to fire it from. Other NATO nations supplied a lot of 155mm artillery. The United States was the major supplier of 155mm ammunition, sending about a million rounds of shells and propellants to Ukraine. This depleted the American war reserves and South Korea was able to send the U.S. several hundred thousand shells. These had restrictions in that none could be sent to Ukraine. This was fine with the United States because it would reduce the time it would take to increase American production and replace the war reserves. Current production is 3,250 155mm shells a month. That is being increased to 20,000 a month in 2023 and 40,000 in 2024. The 155mm shell reserves won’t be restored to 2021 levels until 2027 or 2028.
The U.S. also sent Ukraine over 5,000 GPS guided 155mm shells at the rate of up to a thousand a month. These were something the Russians didn’t have and the Ukrainians found these shells very useful. It will take at least four years to restore this stockpile. At the start of the war the U.S. was producing a thousand of these guided shells a year. It will take at least four years of increased production to restore this stockpile.
Another crucial guided munition was the 227mm GMLRS guided rockets launched from HIMARS and other types of vehicles. The United States sent several thousand GMLRS rockets to Ukraine and is still sending several hundred a month. This is a key weapon in the American arsenal and the war reserves (of about 30,000 rockets) was not depleted as much as the 155mm shell supply was. With less 155mm munitions available now, the Americans depend more on their stockpile of GMLRS rockets. It takes longer to increase production of the more complex GMLRS and it will take a few years to replace what was, and still is, sent to Ukraine. While GMLRS was very useful in Afghanistan and Iraq after 2005 (when GMLRS entered service), the Ukrainians developed novel new ways to use GMLRS against an opponent that can shoot back. This was useful information for the growing number of NATO nations that have GMLRS rockets. Production will have to be increased further to fill the export orders. Poland found another solution, ordering similar guided rocket systems from South Korea. Russia also makes some guided rockets but did not have many of them in early 2022 and did not use them as effectively as the inventive Ukrainians.
The U.S. and other NATO countries also supplied Ukraine with thousands of Stinger portable anti-aircraft missiles and even more ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) like the American Javelin and other models produced by European NATO countries. These anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons were critical in crippling Russian armored vehicle and helicopter forces early in the war. Those are still present on the front lines but nowhere near the numbers used early in the war because so many have been destroyed. Even so, it will take several years for NATO nations to replenish their stockpiles of these weapons.
While these massive shipments of munitions to Ukraine were critical in halting and now driving out the Russians, they were a reminder of how important war reserves were, and made it clear that war reserves in 2021 were too low. This was not unusual, because it’s difficult to convince governments to spend much on war reserves. The Ukraine War has changed minds on that, for a while anyway.