Meeting in Brussels Signifies a Turning Point for Allies Arming Ukraine

Defense officials responsible for purchasing weapons for more than 40 nations discussed how to ramp up production for a potentially yearslong war.

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Meeting in Brussels Signifies a Turning Point for Allies Arming Ukraine |

Ukrainian forces preparing to fire an American-supplied howitzer in the Kharkiv region in July. More than 40 nations have collaborated to arm Ukraine.

WASHINGTON — In a sign that the United States and its allies believe that the fighting in Ukraine will last years, military officials from more than 40 countries gathered at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss how their governments can ramp up production of arms and ammunition.

The meeting was held under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which the U.S. Defense Department created after Russia invaded the country in late February.

The top civilian and uniformed military leaders of member nations meet monthly to review Ukraine’s needs and requests, and their pledges of support. But on Wednesday, the government officials responsible for purchasing weapons — “national armaments directors,” as the Pentagon calls them — met as a group for the first time. William A. LaPlante, the Pentagon’s top acquisitions official, led the closed-door session.

After months of shipping billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Ukraine, the donor countries now find that they need to make more munitions to continue the flow as winter approaches. But increasing production is not necessarily something that can happen overnight.

A senior NATO official said delegates discussed gaps in weapons stockpiles and how to coordinate manufacturing to fill them quickly, for fighting that he predicted would reach a critical point in the coming months.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, did not offer specifics on which weapons might next be sent to Ukraine, and American officials would not comment on the discussions. So far the Biden administration has provided Ukraine with nearly $16 billion in security assistance, including 21 separate packages of military aid from Pentagon stockpiles.

Weapons procurement and delivery can take years to complete, but the NATO official described some short-term fixes, including agreement among multiple countries to buy more ammunition, largely to backfill stockpiles reduced by the war.

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He said that would play into a longer-term effort to bolster and share munitions, make them compatible with weapons systems across borders and inject more urgency into a process that was adjusting to what he described as a different security environment.

More than 40 nations attended the group’s inaugural meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 26, including all of the countries in NATO, several European nations that hope to join and eight so-called “major non-NATO allies” from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. Since then, a few countries from the Americas have also signed on.

The meeting of national armament directors included officials from across Europe and the Indo-Pacific but not defense industry representatives or weapons manufacturers.

NATO member states have enough weapons to defend and deter against threats, the senior official said, but the high-intensity warfare in Ukraine has forced a deeper look at stockpiles.

If allies know that they will be able to work together to manufacture more weapons for themselves, the official said, it should give them confidence to continue supporting Ukraine in the coming months.

The top priority for the discussions was increasing ammunition for howitzers and rocket artillery, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.

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Some of the components Ukraine needs are obsolete, and shortages of ball bearings, microelectronics and other items have created production delays in the United States, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the group’s plans.

The United States is trying to solve those problems, the official said, adding that the Pentagon would be willing to adopt solutions offered by different countries who may be facing the same problems.

As a former Soviet republic, Ukraine built its military around Russian-made weapons. But the effort to send weapons made by the United States and other Western nations to the country began after Russia seized Crimea and territory in the eastern Donbas region in 2014.

The United States, Britain and Germany formed a group called the Joint Military Commission that began sending weapons and military trainers to Ukraine.

So while Ukraine’s armed forces still operate many Soviet-era weapons like assault rifles, howitzers, tanks and warplanes, they were already beginning to absorb weapons used by NATO countries before Russia invaded in February.

That effort accelerated after the United States purchased as much ammunition as it could for Russian-style weapons from factories in Eastern Europe. To keep Ukrainian artillery crews firing, the Pentagon began sending them its own howitzers.

In the 1950s, as Europe prepared for a potential third World War with the Soviet Union, the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization worked to standardize certain calibers of ammunition so that member nations could share supplies for weapons like rifles and machine guns.

For reasons of politics as well as cost, quality and performance, many countries that are not part of NATO have adopted so-called NATO-standard munitions, which means there are stockpiles around the world that can be sent to Ukraine.

Dozens of NATO and non-NATO countries make the kinds of ammunition used by members of the alliance. Federal law prevents the State Department from saying which have been issued licenses to produce American-designed weapons, but nearly two dozen countries make the 155-millimeter artillery shells that Ukraine needs.

In the first decades of NATO’s existence, the allies had not settled on which kinds of artillery they should all use. But eventually, the 155-millimeter howitzer and the smaller 105-millimeter gun became the mainstay of those countries.

By the early 1980s, American-designed 155-millimeter shells were rolling off factory floors in Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. And in 2022, Australia, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Slovakia, South Korea and Spain are among the contact group nations making them as well.

Not really. Although Russia has traditionally been a major arms exporter, it has struggled to resupply its forces in Ukraine. Fewer countries make Soviet-era munitions these days.

In recent months, Russia has purchased and deployed Iranian-made lethal drones in the war, Ukrainian officials say. And Russia is buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea, according to declassified American intelligence (though North Korea denies this). Whether China, which before the war said its partnership with Russia was unlimited, has sold or given any weapons to Moscow is unclear.

The United States provides about three times as much ammunition to Ukraine as all other members of the contact group combined, Pentagon officials say. But other nations are also making significant contributions.

Mr. LaPlante told reporters this month that the Pentagon would purchase 250,000 additional 155-millimeter shells from several companies around the world, and Douglas R. Bush, the Army’s top acquisition official, said those projectiles were coming from five countries.

Which countries, however, Mr. Bush would not say

John Ismay reported from Washington, and Lara Jakes from Brussels.


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