NATO to reform defense industry after war in Ukraine exposes shortcomings

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NATO pledged Wednesday to boost its defense industry as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created a huge demand for more supplies in the war-torn country and within the alliance, outstripping NATO’s capacity to produce weapons and munitions.

“We were not able to produce the capabilities in the quantities we need, either for our own deterrence and defense or to support Ukraine,” a senior NATO official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Defense Industrial Pledge commits NATO members to ensuring that they do not erect trade barriers in the alliance’s defense market, to jointly purchase weapons where possible, and to cooperate more closely with Ukraine and NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners on defense production.

A key part of the pledge is standardizing weapons within the alliance: the war in Ukraine has shown that even standard 155mm ammunition often has small differences that prevent it from being used in the artillery of different countries.

“It’s bad for the military commander because it means you have multiple pots of ammunition, it extends your supply lines. It’s just terrible in general,” the official said. Munitions purchases within the alliance will now be subject to standardized guidelines, the official added.

Knowing more

The new pledge is an acknowledgement that the West has struggled to build up its defense industrial base. The EU’s promise to send a million artillery shells to Ukraine by March will only be met if the end of this yearand European countries have scoured the world for ammunition that is still available for purchase, even as prices have risen.

NATO officials are determined to rectify that, saying the alliance is on track to produce about 2 million rounds of 155mm artillery this year and could reach 3 million rounds by 2025. “It’s not enough, but it’s a significant increase,” the official said. While the goal is not to “strictly surpass Russia in raw terms, we need to be able to produce what we need for NATO deterrence and defense and to supply Ukraine,” he added.

Members are also motivated by a desire to reduce the Western defense industry’s reliance on Chinese components. An internal NATO agreement reached several weeks ago to reassess NATO’s military supply chains warned of the threat that China could restrict the flow of key components. While China was not explicitly mentioned in Wednesday’s pledge, its dominance in key parts of the supply chain was a factor in background discussions, the official said.

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