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Explosives scarcity threatens EU drive to arm Ukraine

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Europe’s push to make arms for Ukraine has been hobbled by a scarcity of explosives, which trade insiders worry will delay efforts to spice up shell manufacturing by as a lot as three years.

Scarce provides of gunpowder, plastic explosives and TNT have left trade unable to quickly meet anticipated EU orders for Ukraine, no matter how a lot cash is thrown on the drawback, in accordance with officers and producers.

The provide chain constraints underline how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has badly uncovered Europe’s insufficient arms shares and weak home manufacturing capability, run down by many years of under-investment.

“The fundamental problem is that the European defence industry is not in good shape for large-scale war production,” stated one German official.

Europe is attempting to fulfill Kyiv’s warfare combating wants by pumping money into the defence sector, significantly to encourage enlargement of 155mm artillery manufacturing. There is dire want for shells, each to restock nationwide armouries and keep provides to Ukrainian forces.

But producers, trade executives and EU officers warn elevated demand might solely push up costs which have already jumped a fifth over the previous 12 months.

“It’s very difficult to increase production of artillery ammunition, especially the heavy, large-calibre ammunition, in a short time,” stated Jiří Hynek, chair of the Defence and Security Industry Association of the Czech Republic. “A new artillery factory is very easy, but how to produce more artillery projectiles without raw materials?”

The feedback come forward of a gathering of EU overseas and defence ministers in Brussels on Monday to debate a package deal of two €1bn proposals to hurry up quick 155mm shipments to Ukraine and incentivise nations to type joint artillery buy contracts.

Ukrainian servicemen put together to fireside in the direction of Russian positions with a 155mm M777 Howitzer artillery weapon close to the town of Bakhmut © Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Defence trade officers say Europe has a restricted provide of explosives akin to gunpowder, TNT and nitrocellulose that are needed to provide shells. “The bottlenecks for our capacity are mainly [explosive] powders, which are in short supply all over Europe,” stated one.

“It’s not possible to increase, in a short time, nitrocellulose [production] . . . In Europe there are no important producers of the raw materials we need,” stated Hynek, referring to a essential ingredient of gunpowder. “If I want to increase production of gunpowder I need probably three years.”

Explosia, a Czech state-owned producer that’s one among Europe’s largest suppliers of explosives to ammunition factories, advised the FT that its manufacturing of propellants utilized in 155mm artillery is “running at full capacity” and wouldn’t be elevated till 2026.

“Investments are under way to further increase our production capacity, but this is a three-year project, not a few months’ job,” stated Martin Vencl, the corporate’s spokesperson.

This week Romania’s authorities stated it was in talks with US and South Korean firms to construct a gunpowder manufacturing unit within the nation. Its final such plant was shut down in 2004.

Even EU officers who’ve championed the monetary incentive packages privately admit that European artillery producers have made clear to them that scaling up output is not going to be a straightforward activity.

“We’re in favour of strengthening the defence industry. But if the result of this EU initiative is that you have a second bidder for the same scarce resource, that will have an impact on price,” stated one German official. “And the arms companies are getting rich enough already.”

“We have to tread with care . . . No one wants to subsidise companies that are already coining it in,” he added.

Fábrica Municiones de Granada (FMG), one among Spain’s two 155mm artillery producers, has been working at full capability since final October, producing shells for a buying and selling firm that sells them on to Ukraine. But Antonio Caro, FMG’s director-general, stated it had taken four-to-five months to scale up due to the problem of acquiring primary supplies and parts.

“Our main problem is primary materials,” Caro stated. “Supplies for ammunition are very strained around the world because all the factories, like us, are at 100 per cent.”

“There aren’t too many factories [producing materials like TNT and nitrocellulose] in Europe and they’re at 100 per cent too, so we have to start looking in India, in Korea, in other countries further away,” he stated.

Gianclaudio Torlizzi, an adviser to Italy’s defence ministry, agreed, saying: “We need to find new sources of supply . . . from countries we had not traditionally approached,” he stated. “Each European country wants to protect its availability of raw materials.”

The price of primary supplies had “doubled and in some cases tripled”, Caro stated. Those will increase and the surge in demand had led to greater costs for munitions, though the rise has been much less pronounced. A typical shell at present prices €850, roughly 20 per cent greater than earlier than the Russian invasion, he stated.

For now FMG, which is owned by Slovak group MSM, has no plans to extend capability additional. “Hopefully the war will be over soon,” Caro stated.

MSM additionally produces 155mm shells in Slovakia and stated it “plans to build a new production hall” to extend artillery output, however declined to supply a timeline.

Additional reporting by Raphael Minder in Warsaw and Amy Kazmin in Rome

Source: www.ft.com

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