A “signal” for the arms industry? In a Europe struggling to supply ammunition to Ukraine, German manufacturer Rheinmetall is making a long-term investment with a new shell factory and ambitions to increase production tenfold, according to AFP.
155 mm projectiles Photo: APFootage / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia
On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz laid the foundation stone for the future production plant at the country’s largest defense industrial complex, Unterlüss, in the forested plains of northern Germany.
Starting in 2025, it will produce 155 mm artillery ammunition, with the aim of gradually increasing its capacity to 200,000 projectiles per year.
According to the chancellor, this is a “signal” for Europeans, who are called to strengthen the continent’s defense industrial base, favoring long-term and grouped orders.
“We must (…) return to the production of weapons on a large scale,” insisted Olaf Scholz.
Despite billions of euros worth of arms delivered by EU countries to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, they are still far from reaching a sufficient capacity to support the country in the long term and to replenish its own stockpiles.
However, this is “an urgent necessity. Because, no matter how harsh this reality is, we do not live in peacetime”, stressed the chancellor, for whom the “imperial ambitions” of Russian President Vladimir Putin represent “a major threat”.
In this situation, “anyone who wants peace must succeed in deterring potential aggressors,” the chancellor said.
To achieve this, the EU-27 needs “closer” industrial cooperation.
“A strong defense requires a strong industrial base. This will be achieved if we, the Europeans, pool our orders, if we pool our resources and thus offer prospects to the industry for the next 10, 20 or 30 years”, he emphasized.
Scholz admitted that Germany has long been a bad example because its armaments policy “was conducted as if it were buying a car”, while defense industries need long-term planning for to invest in new capabilities.
“If I want to buy a Golf two or three years from now, I know it’s going to be in stock,” he said, using the car metaphor.
But “tanks, howitzers, helicopters and air defense systems are not available off the shelf” and need guaranteed orders.
Europe will need 10 years to be fully prepared to defend itself, the head of Germany’s largest defense firm, Rheinmetall, told the BBC.
Armin Papperger. said it would take “a long time” to prepare against an “aggressor who wants to fight NATO”. “We’re good in three, four years – but to be really ready, we need 10 years,” he said.
“As long as we have war, we have to help Ukraine, but later we will need five years at least and 10 years to really fill (ammunition stocks),” he said.
Rheinmetall aims to produce up to 700,000 artillery shells a year by 2025, up from 400,000 to 500,000 this year. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it produced only 70,000.
Up to three million shells
Germany’s biggest arms maker “already has a production capacity greater than that of the United States” for 155 mm shells, Rheinmetall chief Armin Papperger told AFP.
In the future, “the United States would like to produce one million shells a year, and Europe two to three million, thanks to a union between European partners,” he added.
At the end of March, the Europeans will have supplied only half of the million shells promised to Ukraine last year.
The Rheinmetall complex in Unterlüss already produces 120 mm shells for the Leopard 2 tanks used on the Ukrainian front. The production rate has increased from 60,000 units per year before 2022 to 240,000.
But with thousands of shells fired every day, Ukrainian troops have very great and urgent needs to try to repel the Russian invasion.
And the armies of European countries have their own gaps to fill. After years of little investment, the German army’s stocks are empty, and ammunition needs are estimated by Rheinmetall at around 40 billion euros.
Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba called for the creation of a true “single market” for defense in the EU, which the 27 are still far from achieving.