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French support for Ukraine: an alert report on shell production

It's urgent.

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French support for Ukraine: an alert report on shell production

It's urgent. When Emmanuel Macron visits Ukraine in February, the arms deliveries promised Tuesday evening will have started, the head of state insisted. During his press conference, he mentioned 40 Scalp missiles and several hundred bombs, presumably modular Hammer weapons, that is to say guidance kits which allow conventional bombs to be transformed into weapons of greater precision. and a range of 70 km. Quantities may seem limited. But the French stocks of missiles are just as much and at the end of their life. The SCALPs are to be replaced at the end of the decade by the FMAN/FMC program. In Ukraine, no matter what, every shot counts. With great precision, the Scalp, like their equivalent the Storm Shadow, allowed Ukraine to strike the Russian rear effectively.

However, a collapse of Ukraine cannot be ruled out. The balance of power has weakened, due to lack of ammunition, to the detriment of Ukraine. Returning from a trip to Poland and Ukraine at the end of December, senators from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are sounding the alarm in a report made public on Wednesday. “There is a running out of Western aid and the situation is becoming more and more complicated,” declared commission president Cédric Perrin (LR). “The mass remains on the Russian side. Between May and December 2023, the number of (Russian) soldiers would have increased by 20% on the front and the number of tanks and artillery pieces by 60%,” observe the senators in their report, informed by meetings at most high level in kyiv. The tone is deliberately alarmist to make public opinion aware of the issue and the threat. However, according to a French military source, it is estimated that Russia does not have the means, for the moment, to relaunch an offensive.

The imbalance on the front is no less alarming if it persists over time. The Ukrainian army “fires between 5,000 and 8,000 shots (of 155 mm shells) daily while Russia fires between 10,000 and 15,000 rounds,” said Senator Perrin. “The Ukrainian authorities have made ammunition production a priority. If local production of munitions has increased twenty-fold since 2022, this remains very insufficient,” underlines the senatorial report. Ukraine still depends on its supporters. 2024 is shaping up to be a critical year. “National and European production is extremely weak, the economy put in place does not live up to expectations,” warned the senators.

“In France, we are capable of producing 20,000 155 mm shells per year,” worry the senators. Only a few days of war... “We are paying for 30 years of deindustrialization,” lamented Cédric Perrin, regretting the lack of reaction from the government. The “war economy” announced by the executive is not there. The senator questioned the insufficient level of orders from the State as well as the industrial limits to production. The necessary chemical components remain a bottleneck, regardless of the number of production lines.

The crisis is not only French. The European promise to provide 1 million shells is slow to be fulfilled even if European Commissioner Thierry Breton assured that the Union could get there “in the spring”. In 2025, he assured that Europe would be able to produce 1.3 million shells. “It’s up to the member states to ensure that this production goes to Ukraine,” he added during a meeting with the press. The temptation is strong to rebuild national stocks.

Other Western countries have increased their production. “The American government has decided to increase its production of artillery ammunition sixfold, while the United Kingdom has awarded several important contracts to its manufacturers and Germany has ordered 150,000 artillery munitions from Rheinmetall,” explain the French senators in their report. “Nexter considers that it would be appropriate to guarantee the purchase of 15,000 shells to make it possible to sustain the sector and make possible a rapid ramp-up of production to 40 or 45,000 shells. In the longer term, the KNDS/Nexter group is aiming for a production capacity of 100,000 shells and is still calling for more perspectives on state orders,” they assure. “It is urgent that the State organizes and finances the multiplication of ammunition production chains in the logic of preparation for a high-intensity conflict and to increase deliveries to Ukraine,” they conclude in one of their recommendations . “The urgency is to be able to produce several hundred thousand shells per year and a sufficient number of bombs and missiles. We are very far from it,” they insist.

The question of ammunition deliveries should be at the heart of the next discussions between France and Ukraine. A first meeting of the “artillery coalition” was to be held on Thursday in Paris. To make their aid more effective, Ukraine's supporters, united in the Ramstein group, divided up responsibilities: aviation, infantry, air defense, etc. France is the leader in artillery. If this meeting were to be confirmed, France could announce the delivery of new Caesar cannons to Ukraine and the training of new operators. These self-propelled artillery guns have proven themselves on the battlefield. But the logistics surrounding them remain a challenge. “The attention of the (senatorial) delegation was drawn to the importance of spare parts, in particular the tubes of artillery systems which it would be desirable to be able to produce directly in Ukraine”, relay the senators for their part in their report. The rate of fire tests the artillery tubes more quickly than the manufacturers anticipated.

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