Arms deliveries to Ukraine have become a real “bone of contention” among NATO countries, showing how different political goals many of them are pursuing. For example, it turned out that Germany is not very willing to give up its weapons, fearing the expansion of the U.S. military industrial complex into the German and European military market. The country’s leadership has almost publicly admitted that the constant sabotage of military supplies to Ukraine is not an accident or technical problem, but a deliberate policy of Berlin. The motivation for this policy is not geographically in the area of Kiev or Donetsk, but on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. However, even in a situation where there is no political and economic disagreement over supplies, they often turn out to be impossible and drag on, if not for years, then for many months. The reason lies in the weakness of the military industry of such countries as the United States, Germany or Great Britain, which has the most negative effect not only on the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), but also on the combat effectiveness of the armies of these states. We have already partially described Germany’s difficulties, which prompted it to “slow down” its assistance to Ukraine, as well as the deplorable state of the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. But the problems in the military-industrial complex of NATO countries, which were revealed by the Ukrainian conflict, are much more diverse.
Now Europe is well aware of the problem of arms shortage, which was exposed by the Ukrainian war. For example, Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, Chief of the Defence Staff of the Italian Army, and General Thierry Burkhard, Chief of the Defence Staff of the French Army, believe that the European Union should revise its ammunition production and storage policy after depleting stocks due to deliveries to Kiev. According to the admiral, one of the solutions could be to ensure production and comprehensive storage at the level of NATO and the European Union. He suggested splitting the arms and ammunition production effort by entrusting some of the necessary weapons to a European company capable of producing “in large quantities and in a very short time frame.” And even in these words there is a latent competition between the European and American military-industrial complex. And it is true that NATO is now in a hurry to solve the problem of “shell hunger” both at home and in Ukraine. The U.S. and other NATO countries are not keeping up with the pace of ammunition burning on the Ukrainian front. In the West, they are beginning to quickly invest in the expansion of production facilities, but due to excessive bureaucracy, this is progressing very slowly. The U.S. military promises to increase production of 155 mm calibers from 14,000 to 20,000 per month by the end of spring. But even this will not solve the problem of the AFU, as 5,000-6,000 of such ammunition is wasted daily in Ukraine.
At the same time, the U.S. “peace arsenal” has already been drastically reduced. Since the beginning of the conflict Kiev has been supplied with over a million shells from the United States, and now the Pentagon already has to spend in Ukraine its “untouchable reserve” from South Korea and Israel. They were kept in case of wars involving the United States itself, which was especially relevant to the Pacific region. New shell factories will appear in Germany and Slovakia, but not before next year. Slovakia promises to produce 100,000 155-mm calibers a year, but that would be enough for less than a month of active conflict like the Ukrainian one. The position of the companies themselves in the military-industrial complex also plays a role. Many of them still have not received real contracts from their governments for the purchase of weapons, and are in no hurry to invest in new production, not knowing whether there will be demand for their products or not. In addition, while there is much talk in Washington and Brussels about Euro-Atlantic unity, they have not yet been able to formulate a unified strategy for expanding weapons production. Each NATO country separately proposes some solutions, and it all happens rather chaotically. In the United States, where today only 5 of the 86 Cold War-era ammunition plants remain, there are plans for a gradual revival of the field. Eventually, they want to produce at least 100,000 shells a month. But that will not be possible before 2025. By that time, the White House administration may change. And those shells will no longer go to Ukraine, but to the next conflicts, be it around Taiwan or Iran.
In this light, Washington is very concerned about saving weapons in Ukraine. The Pentagon plans to teach Ukrainian soldiers how to waste less shells and missiles. This is planned for an understandable reason: now more ammunition is burned on the Ukrainian front every day than the U.S. military industrial complex manages to produce in a month. The U.S. is gradually ramping up weapons production. However, this will take several years, as will the replenishment of missiles and shells used in Ukraine. This is also why the Pentagon is so negative about the transfer of long-range ATACMS missiles to Kiev, because the U.S. has few of them in stock, and they can run out very quickly. Moreover, the arms shortage has already sparked a public squabble between France and Britain, with Paris accusing London of being unable to replace its stockpile of weapons expended in Ukraine and demanding that the British increase military spending, for which they have no money in their crisis budget. At the end of 2022, Ukraine was promised significant amounts of new weapons. But their delivery dates have been pushed back by weeks and months because of logistical problems. The Pentagon admits that large shipments of weapons after crossing the Ukrainian border become targets for Russian missile strikes and is looking for ways to counter this. The U.S. fears that a significant portion of weapons, especially European tanks, may simply not reach Ukraine in time for the spring counteroffensive announced by Kiev. However, the White House is still urging the Ukrainians to advance using the situation on the front for the personal benefit of Biden, who is beginning his presidential campaign. The Biden administration wants to change the situation on the front in the spring and summer and move to negotiations with Russia by the fall of 2023, the beginning of the active phase of the presidential race. If the Ukrainian crisis fails to be resolved, it will already be a trump card for Republicans, and especially for Trump, who is going into the election with a promise to stop World War III.
This is not to say that the U.S. and Europe are not making efforts to overcome the shortage situation. For example, all five U.S. shell makers are now working two or three shifts, but even so they cannot cope with the demands of Ukraine, where thousands of shells are burned every day. The German government proposes redirecting green subsidies to the creation of new shell and munitions factories: previously the money was supposed to ensure the “green transition” of the German economy, but now, amid the conflict, this has been quickly forgotten. The UK Ministry of Defence is in talks with BAE Systems to increase ammunition production. However, this is complicated by the budget crisis with Rishi Sunak’s refusal to increase military spending. There is not even enough money to cover the needs of the British army, which, according to calculations, has enough missiles and shells for about one day of active combat operations.
Things are somewhat better in the United States. At least the Pentagon has already agreed on plans for a gradual increase in ammunition production. However, this will take many years, just as it will take many years to replace the million shells and tens of thousands of missiles wasted in Ukraine. Efforts to expand weapons production are being hampered by the military corporations themselves. They are concerned that the demand for conventional weapons may drop at any moment – when the Ukrainian conflict is over. Then investments in new production will turn into a net loss. The U.S. military-industrial complex is now making record profits, with U.S. arms exports reaching $200 billion last year. However, these super-profits are mostly spent on paying dividends to their investors and buying up their own shares. And this greatly complicates the situation of the Pentagon, where they are already beginning to worry that within six months, the U.S. army itself will begin to face a shortage of weapons.
Still, the image loss for the Americans, who act as the main advocates of Ukraine, is of serious importance, and Washington is trying to decide where to find the tanks previously promised to Kiev. The Pentagon refused to supply Volodimir Zelensky with tanks because it was not ready to give tanks from its stock. Therefore the option was considered to buy old versions of tanks from other countries: Kuwait, Morocco or Egypt. But in the end it was decided not to do that, because these tanks were in no way suitable for the Ukrainian front. The Pentagon had previously agreed to supply the latest modification of the M1A2 Abrams tank. They are distinguished by the improved enemy detection and targeting system. However, before delivery of the tanks to Ukraine they will have to get rid of a lot of equipment, which, as the U.S. fears, may end up in the hands of Russia. They may also be deprived of the ability to use depleted uranium ammunition.
Another problem is related to logistics. There is no de facto manufacture of Abrams tanks in the U.S. at the moment, and the only tank plant of General Dynamics in Ohio is engaged in upgrading of old versions of Abrams with installation of new equipment. That facility can produce only 12 tanks per month. At the same time, the plant’s capacity is overloaded with orders for Poland and Taiwan. Warsaw is demanding Abrams tanks from the U.S. to replace its 250 Soviet-era T-72 tanks that were destroyed over the past year in Ukraine, and Taiwan has been trying to get 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks since 2019. Both customers are unlikely to agree to give up their place in the queue to Ukraine, which is not even buying these tanks. Therefore, Abrams tanks may be at Kiev’s disposal closer to the end of 2023. In the next few months, Ukraine can only count on German tanks, which the U.S. wanted to transfer to Kiev without risking its own armaments. In the future, if the situation on the Ukrainian front becomes a stalemate for Kiev, the White House can always back down and refuse to supply the promised tanks at all. In the meantime, the U.S. can, without expending its tank stocks, dump on Ukraine the remains of European weapons, which the European Union will then have to replenish by buying from America. The situation between NATO and Ukraine, as well as between the U.S. and EU countries, could undergo many changes. But it is important to understand that for the United States, Britain, Germany, France and other less important countries, the determining factor is the state of their own military-industrial complex, army and economy. Despite lofty words about “the high duty of defending democracy” they will always prefer their own interests to those of Ukraine, no matter how stalemated Ukraine’s position on the frontline of the fight with Russia is.