Germany's ammunition stocks are secret. But other states do not publish how many shots are in the bunkers either. In the Bundeswehr, however, it should be particularly small. It is speculated that in a potential war, depending on the type of ammunition, the supply would only last a few hours or at most a few days. Against the background of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and NATO obligations, new ammunition is now to be procured for billions. But the pace of the planned expansion of production also depends on whether China plays along.
A summit meeting with representatives of the armaments industry is planned for this Monday in the Chancellery. The aim is to explore how production can be ramped up. And that is no easy task. So Germany will have to be patient when it comes to the delivery date for new ammunition. At a recent CSU defense technology congress, industry experts said that because of Berlin's hesitant attitude to date with orders, the already scarce capacities of the industry were quickly occupied by other nations.
It is an indication of how important the so-called ammunition summit in Berlin is. For example, Hermann Mayer, head of the ammunition manufacturer MEN (Metalwerk Elisenhütte Nassau), explains that friendly nations have already placed framework agreements for the next few years early this year. This is also necessary for the equipment of the German security forces in order to secure the supply chains for the necessary components in the long term. "That must be one of the results of the munitions summit in the Chancellery," says Mayer.
In addition to the German ammunition factory RWS (Rheinisch Westfälische Sprengstoff Actien-Gesellschaft), which was bought by the Italian Beretta Group in the spring, MEN is an approved small-caliber ammunition supplier for the German Armed Forces, for example for the G36 standard assault rifle. For larger calibers such as artillery ammunition, Rheinmetall dominates.
The Düsseldorf group recently announced the purchase of the Spanish ammunition manufacturer Expal Systems, valued at 1.2 billion euros. The focus is on expanding ammunition capacities. However, the basic materials must also be in stock. Rheinmetall admits that access to the production of ammunition powder plays an important role in the purchase of the Spanish ammunition group. Bottlenecks have now developed in this area in Europe.
A by-product of cotton fabric production, known as linters, is found in ammunition propellant charges – whether for rifles or tanks. The most important supplier for this key component is China. As it is said in the industry, almost all European manufacturers obtain the necessary cotton linters from the People's Republic, including, for example, the Swiss Rheinmetall subsidiary Nitrochemie Wimmis.
But the deliveries are no longer as they used to be. With the outbreak of the corona pandemic, there were already delays in linter imports, it is said. In the meantime, the lead time for ordering propellant powder is around 14 months. Deliveries from China are now six to nine months. For comparison: a period of around three months was usual before. This now makes production planning extremely difficult.
In the Berlin industry service "Security Table", the production of explosives and powder is even described as "part of the systemic competition between the West and China". Chinese-owned powder producers have allegedly stopped supplying western ammunition manufacturers for a good six months, they say. A confirmation was not available at short notice.
What is certain is that the Ukraine war has led to an enormous consumption of ammunition and shows the NATO forces that they need to replenish their stocks. Rheinmetall points out that Ukraine fires around 6,000 to 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the large and medium caliber segment every day, and Russia even fires 20,000. And with small calibers, the ammunition consumption is likely to be many times higher.
The production of Bundeswehr ammunition is by no means trivial. There are special requirements that go beyond the key points of NATO. According to NATO specifications, the climatic range in which the ammunition has to work perfectly is in a range from minus 54 degrees to plus 52 degrees Celsius. But in the case of the Bundeswehr, experience from missions abroad such as Afghanistan or Mali has shown that this upper limit is not sufficient. The ammunition now has to work even at a hot 63 degrees Celsius. A great challenge for ammunition production.
In addition, the Bundeswehr has been using low-emission ammunition since the 1990s. This is primarily intended to protect the trainers from harmful emissions, such as lead compounds in the detonators. "The Bundeswehr recognized early on that their soldiers are best protected in peacetime through occupational safety measures," says MEN boss Mayer. In addition to the Bundeswehr, only the Swedish army has similar standards.
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