Ukrainian flag at EU Commission HQ

View from Brussels: Ammo, ammo, ammo

Image credit: Lukasz Kobus/European Union

The European Union is fast-tracking efforts to ramp up ammunition production in order to bolster Ukrainian weapon supplies, in what looks to be a rare win for industrial policy planning, done at record speed.

Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s ongoing invasion of its territory has managed to hold firm thanks to weapon deliveries organised by its Western allies. Tank deliveries were debated for a long time but have now started, while talks over aircraft supplies are heating up.

Ammunition like bullets and rocket shells have also been provided from existing stockpiles. But those weapon caches are slowly but surely becoming depleted and European countries in particular need to start thinking about replacing them.

That is where the EU comes in. Last week, the European Commission published an emergency act that aims to boost industrial production in the arms sector by unlocking new financing.

According to the Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), 1 million artillery shells should be produced over the course of the next year, both to replenish national supplies and continue weapon deliveries to Ukraine.

ASAP will tap into the existing European Defence Fund and a separate instrument designed to allow joint procurement. The act will also oblige EU governments to co-finance production capacity. A budget of around €1 billion is proposed.

The EU’s industry chief, Frenchman Thierry Breton, has spent the last month visiting existing weapons factories across Europe, in countries like Bulgaria and Spain, to see where extra resources should be funnelled and where money would be best spent.

A conversation about where new capacity should be built is going on in the background but for the time being at least, the money put on the table by ASAP is mostly intended to boost production at existing facilities.

It appears that ASAP’s targets will be met within Europe as well, after Breton insisted that he is “confident that our strong and diverse industrial base has everything needed to produce 1 million ammunition shells in the next 12 months.”

The act will also allow governments to spend cohesion funding, money normally reserved for poorer EU members that need extra help to catch up with wealthier countries, as weapon factories are normally located in isolated areas that are eligible for cohesion support.

Breton and the EU’s ammo quest was boosted on Tuesday, when members of the European Parliament voted to fast-track ASAP’s legislative process, in order to get the new act on the books before the end of the year.

Bulgarian MEP Eva Maydell, whose conservative EPP group put forward the motion for a speedy approval process, said that it was “a strong message on Europe Day. The EU’s support for European freedom and security must be unwavering.”

It remains to be seen whether countries will be as swift in signing up to ASAP’s bullet-boosting criteria, as there are differences in opinion about supply chain management and where to source materials like gunpowder.

Frontline countries like Poland insist that powder should be sourced from wherever it is available in order to make weapon deliveries as quickly as possible, whereas France says it should be a Europe-only operation.

ASAP attempts to strike a balance between the two by providing a 10 per cent funding bonus from EU coffers if production is Europe-based.

EU officials have said that Europe needs to shift to a “war footing” in order to help Ukraine achieve its objectives. If it pays off, it could perhaps provide a template for other industrial policy areas like renewable energy and semiconductor production.

Europe has struggled to turbocharge any of those industries, so maybe lessons learned on the sidelines of war will be a boon away from the defence sphere.

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