Estonia urges European countries to multiply ammunition production

Pieces of high caliber ammunition in Ukraine.
Pieces of high caliber ammunition in Ukraine. Source: SCANPIX / AFP

European countries are looking for ways to multiply their production of ammunition, said Ministry of Defense Secretary General Kusti Salm. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) also took the initiative in regard to the issue at the European Council last week.

"Last week, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas presented the idea of producing an additional one million 155mm shells as soon as possible, to the European Council. This will cost around €4 billion," Salm told ETV's morning show "Terevisioon" on Wednesday.

Salm said, that this would better enable European countries to support Ukraine, while also allowing them to build up their own production capacities. According to Salm, due to the large amount of ammunition Ukraine is using to defend itself against Russia's full-scale invasion, in some of the countries providing military support, stockpiles are starting to run low.

At the same time, there is also a major difference in magnitude when it comes to the amount of ammunition the two sides in the war are using. Ukraine is currently firing between 2,000 and 7,000 artillery rounds per day for instance, while the Russian army is able to fire between 20,000 and 50,000.

"The Ukrainians use in one week what their Western allies - the US and European countries - can produce in a month. This is certainly not sustainable," Salm said.

"If Western allies are currently able to produce 200,000 to 300,000 shells a year, then (they) should be able to reach 700,000 to 1 million munitions a year. Perhaps, we should already be looking to triple or quintuple production levels this year," said the Estonian defense secretary general.

Doing so would both enable enough ammunition to be sent to Ukraine and also allow European countries to restock their supplies, if the rate of use there starts to fall. "In any case, production capacity will have to be increased," Salm said.

Currently, the countries with the largest production capacity in Europe are France, the U.K. and the Nordics.

"The head of a German defense company has even boasted that he could increase production levels sevenfold overnight. However, the question then arises of why he hasn't done that so far," Salm said.

All countries are currently working on increasing their ammunition production capacities, he added.

Salm also compared the situation in Europe to that of South Korea, which is keenly away of its  hostile and militarized northern neighbor.

South Korea also has a huge production capacity, churning out several million shells each year. Their ammunition stockpiles are also full enough to enable them to fight for months if necessary. In addition, while the most self-propelled artillery systems any single country in Europe has, is 96, South Korea has 1,200 alone.

Salm pointed out that, as the European defense industry has limited its production levels, the global centers of power when it comes to arms production have changed.

"As the European defense industry has not been able to expand, a large part of the market has been taken over by South Korea, Brazil and Israel. And once you start using the equipment they produce, you're going to be using it for decades - that's how a transformation in the market happens," he explained.

Estonia's reserves largest since re-independence

Salm also said, that Estonia bought twice as much ammunition over the last year as it had done  throughout the rest of the entire re-independence period.

Salm was unable to say for how many days of war the current ammunition stocks alone would sustain the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) for. However, he did confirm, that there are sufficient stockpiles should Estonia enter into a war alongside its allies. "We have enough ammunition for that and we are planning to buy more," he said.

Asked why, at present, no ammunition is being produced in Estonia, Salm said, that the first steps along this path have already been taken. "The legal parameters have been established. We also have the first companies, who are looking to do this, as well as foreign investors who are interested."

However, as there are so many producers throughout world, it is crucial for companies to be able to make a profit, so they also need to find markets, where they can sell their products.

According to Salm, while munitions production will not be getting underway in Estonia over the next few months, it could happen within a year.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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