Germany’s ammunition problem is not only related to Ukraine, but also has to do with a lack of supplies from China, writes Czech commentator Robert Schuster
November 29, 2022
How many rounds of ammunition each European national army has at its disposal is a matter of state secrecy; however, the situation is believed to be particularly critical for the German Bundeswehr, which has suffered from a lack of funding for years if not decades.
It is speculated that, for some categories, there are so few artillery shells and ammunition rounds that these stocks would only last for a few hours, in other cases a few days, if Germany needed to defend itself.
“We have to admit that we don’t have a reasonable arms industry,” said Wolfgang Schmidt, who heads the Cabinet Office and serves as a key adviser to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
German arms companies producing ammunition have fallen into a vicious cycle. They simply cannot expand production. In addition, German orders from armies of other countries overtook those of the German government. Hermann Mayer, the head of one of the ammunition manufacturers, drew attention to this reality in an article for Die Welt.
According to him, other states have made contracts with German producers for years in advance. Mayer’s company supplies cartridges for small-caliber weapons, such as the G36 assault rifle, which is part of the standard equipment of the German army.
A month ago, the German opposition officially wrote to the government to ask how Germany is faring with ammunition stocks. However, the government said it was a matter of national security and, therefore, refused to answer.
Can Germany reverse course?
The German government is looking to change the dire situation. In connection with the ongoing war in Ukraine, the government in Berlin is planning to significantly strengthen ammunition production and wants to spend up to €20 billion on restocking Germany’s military.
“For decades, our military units have been criminally neglected and decimated, and that has left its mark,” Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in parliament in the summer.
To address the issue, a meeting between representatives of the government and the arms industry was held at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin on Monday. The media referred to the meeting as a “munitions summit” (“Munitionsgipfel”).
NATO urges more weapons donations to Ukraine
“More military support to Ukraine is the best way to achieve a peace accord”
However, the speed with which there will be enough ammunition in the warehouses will also depend on the ability to produce them quickly.
In addition to missing ammunition, weapons manufacturers may encounter another problem, namely the lack of material for production. One of the biggest problems is gunpowder, which, according to experts from the arms industry, is now in short supply throughout Europe. Covid-19 has slowed down deliveries from China.
According to the newspaper Die Welt, armories are mainly struggling with a lack of fiber residues created during the processing of raw cotton. These fiber residues react with nitric acid and sulfuric acid to produce nitrocellulose, which is used to produce gunpowder. China is the most important supplier of cotton residues, with virtually all major European arms manufacturers importing them from the Asian country.
Former Czech PM is against supplying more weapons to Ukraine
“Our army is not in great condition either,” said Czechia’s former PM while arguing against more military aid to Ukraine
However, deliveries from China have recently slowed significantly, after supplies had already been disrupted due to issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. From placing an order to delivery, it can now take up to nine months, while in the past, it took a maximum of three months.
According to some analysts quoted by Die Welt, however, the Chinese have started to significantly limit their supplies also because they consider them part of a “systemic competition” between the West and China.
The war in Ukraine has also contributed to the high demand for ammunition. Germany has, so far, supplied Ukraine with millions of rounds of ammunition, thousands of anti-tank mines, and anti-aircraft missiles, adding to their current shortage.
According to the arms industry representatives, Ukrainians fire about 6,000 to 10,000 rounds of artillery for large and medium-caliber weapons every day; in the case of the Russian army, it is supposedly up to 20,000 rounds per day. For small-caliber weapons, the estimated ammunition consumption seems to be several times higher.
Even other armies of NATO now see the need to significantly increase their strategic ammunition stocks. Currently, they should already be following the rule that each member army should have ready supplies that would last up to 30 days in the case of a war.
At the same time, ammunition must also meet strict criteria and withstand, for example, extreme temperature fluctuations from -54 degrees Celsius to 52 degrees Celsius. However, experience from foreign missions, for example in Afghanistan, showed that it should even work at temperatures 10 degrees higher.