As the Ukraine war continues to draw upon the resources of NATO’s western European member states, the UK’s focus is attempting to ensure that domestic stocks are replenished as economies adapt from the just-in-time delivery philosophy.
While western European ammunition stockpiles are generally kept to an amount required to maintain military requirements and replenish out-of-date munitions, war has highlighted the fact that most NATO states engaged in a conflict as Ukraine is against Russia, supply would quickly run short.
The UK is no exception to this. Having donated thousands of Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons (NLAW) to Ukraine, it has had to turn to manufacturer Saab to restart a cold production line.
Thales, the manufacturer of another system delivered to Ukraine, the Starstreak High Velocity Missile system, ceased production at its Belfast site a few years ago, with recent comments made during UK Defence Committee hearings stating that just 60 are left in UK stock. It is not clear whether this refers to Starstreak stock kept at the industry level or units in service with the British military.
Army Technology approached Thales for comment on Starstreak stock and production lines but at the time of publishing had not received a response.
Both Starstreak and Stormer air defence armoured vehicles have been donated to Ukraine.
Speaking before the UK’s Joint National Security Committee on 27 February, Tim Barrow, National Security Advisor at the Cabinet Office, said that the UK “clearly” needed to restock its ammunition.
“We are very conscious of the need to restock,” said Barrow, adding that there was a consideration in not only working with established industrial and national partners, but also those “we haven’t worked much with in the past.”
In December 2022, the UK Government announced that it had agreed a deal for thousands of new NLAW systems to be manufactured in at Thales’ facility in Northern Ireland, part of a £229m deal. The NLAW had been provided to Ukrainian forces at the outbreak of large-scale hostilities with Russia and performed well in the tight confines of the early stages of the war, with up to 10,000 units delivered.
Secured through Defence Equipment and Support – the procurement arm of the UK Ministry of Defence – the agreement will see several thousand units delivered to UK Armed Forces across 2024-2026, in addition to around 500 being delivered in 2023 through a separate procurement.
In February, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure was “many time higher” that the bloc’s production rate, which resulted in a corresponding strain placed on industry to meet the higher demand.
Ukraine is understood to be firing around 6,000 artillery shells per day as it attempts to prevent continued Russian efforts to secure the entirety of the Donbas region. Regular donations by Alliance members of ammunition are keeping stocks available, however some of this is being sourced from non-NATO countries, predominantly for use by Ukraine’s Russian and Soviet-era equipment.