Western militaries are running out of ammunition to give to Ukraine, NATO and British officials warned Tuesday, as they urged the bloc’s nations to ramp up production to “keep Ukraine in the fight against Russian invaders.”
The news of possible ammunition shortfalls comes after money to buy weapons for Ukraine was not included in a stopgap spending bill the US Congress passed at the weekend to avoid a federal government shutdown.
Fresh uncertainty over the future of US aid arose Tuesday when US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who advocated for support of Ukraine, was ousted from his leadership position by Republican colleagues.
The developments are troubling news for Ukraine as the war with neighboring Russia is in its 20th month and raises questions over whether Moscow may feel able to outlast western commitment promises.
“The bottom of the barrel is now visible,” Adm. Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, the chair of the NATO Military Committee and NATO’s most senior military official, said of the West’s ammunition stockpile Tuesday during a discussion at the Warsaw Security Forum.
“We give away weapons systems to Ukraine, which is great, and ammunition, but not from full warehouses. We started to give away from half-full or lower warehouses in Europe” and those stores are now running low, Bauer said.
James Heappey, minister of state for the armed forces of the United Kingdom, speaking at the same panel, said even though stockpiles may be thin, aid for Kyiv must continue and Western countries need to increase their capacity to make more ammo.
“We have to keep Ukraine in the fight tonight and tomorrow and the day after and the day after,” Heappey said. That means, “continuing to give, day in day out, and rebuilding our own stockpiles,” he added.
Meanwhile, analysts are warning that the US “arsenal of democracy” needs to start working overtime or Ukraine’s war effort may be in trouble.
“The United States and its allies are sending to Ukraine a wide range of munitions, but they are not being produced or delivered as quickly as needed,” Atlantic Council nonresident senior fellow Thomas Warrick wrote last week.
Warrick wrote that as Ukraine delayed the start of summer offensive to get more ammo and equipment to the front lines, Russia was able to build up defenses that have significantly blunted Ukrainian advances.
“Ukraine’s forces have proven themselves flexible and adaptive, but they need to have sufficient ammunition and weapons,” he wrote.
But events in Washington are placing supplies – and Ukraine’s standing on the battlefield – in doubt.
“An inability to ensure timely procurement and deliveries could undermine essential Ukrainian operations to retake additional territory or defend against potential future Russian offensives,” US Undersecretary of Defense Michael McCord wrote in a letter to congressional leadership on Friday as the spending bill that ultimately eliminated aid for Ukraine was being negotiated.
“Without additional funding now, we would have to delay or curtail assistance to meet Ukraine’s urgent requirements, including for air defense and ammunition that are critical and urgent now as Russia prepares to conduct a winter offensive and continues its bombardment of Ukrainian cities,” McCord wrote.
US military aid to Ukraine has amounted to a staggering $46.6 billion from the war’s start through July 31, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. NATO allies have contributed billions more.
But military leaders acknowledge ammo especially is being used at a staggering rate on the Ukraine battlefields.
The Pentagon said in July it had provided Ukraine with more than 2 million artillery rounds to date.
“This is an artillery intensive fight,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the time. “You know, we’ve seen large amounts of artillery be employed on both sides of the fence. And so that puts a strain on the international supply of munitions, artillery munitions.”
At the time, Washington’s supplies of NATO standard 155mm artillery rounds were so low that it was decided to supply Ukraine with controversial cluster munitions.