A “signal” for the arms industry? In a Europe struggling to feed Ukraine in munitions, the German manufacturer Rheinmetall is investing in the long term with a new shell factory and the ambition to increase its production tenfold. On the country’s largest defense industrial complex, at Unterlüss, in the wooded plains of northern Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave the groundbreaking ceremony for this future production unit this Monday.
It must produce 155 mm artillery ammunition from 2025, gradually aiming for a capacity of 200,000 shells per year. According to the Chancellor, this is a “signal” to the address Europeans called upon to strengthen the continent’s defense industrial base, favoring bulk and long-term orders. “We must (…) turn to the production of weapons on a large scale,” insisted Olaf Scholz.
“We do not live in times of peace”
Despite the billions of euros of weapons delivered by EU countries to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, these are still far from having reached sufficient capacity to sustainably support the country and replenish their own stocks. However, it is an “urgent necessity.” Because as harsh as this reality is, we do not live in times of peace,” stressed the Chancellor, for whom the “imperial ambitions” of Russian President Vladimir Putin represent “a major threat.”
In this situation, “those who want peace must succeed in deterring potential aggressors,” believes the Chancellor. This requires “closer” industrial cooperation between the Twenty-Seven. “A strong defense requires a strong industrial base. This will see the light of day if we, Europeans, group our orders together, if we pool our resources and thus give the industry prospects for the next 10, 20 or 30 years,” he underlined.
Germany has long been a bad example, Olaf Scholz admitted, because the arms policy “was carried out as if it were buying a car”, while the defense industries need planning at a time. long term to invest in new capabilities. “If I want to buy a Golf in two or three years, I know it will be in stock,” he said, echoing the automobile metaphor.
But “tanks, howitzers, helicopters and air defense systems are not available off the shelf” and need orders guaranteed by states. Rheinmetall wants to produce, on all its sites in Europe, up to 700,000 artillery shells per year in 2025, compared to 400,000 to 500,000 this year. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it produced only 70,000.
Greater production capacities in the United States?
The largest German arms manufacturer “already has a higher capacity than that of the United States” in terms of producing 155 mm shells, ures the boss of Rheinmetall, Armin Papperger. In the future, “the United States would like to produce one million shells per year and Europe two to three million thanks to a union between European partners,” he adds. The Europeans will only have provided at the end of March half of the million shells promised to Ukraine last year.
The Rheinmetall complex in Unterlüss already produces 120 mm shells for Leopard 2 tanks, used on the Ukrainian front. From 60,000 pieces produced per year before 2022, the rate has risen to 240,000. But with thousands of shots fired daily, Ukrainian troops have very high 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 underinvestment, the German army’s stocks are empty and its ammunition needs are estimated at around 40 billion euros by Rheinmetall. Faced with the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell visiting Ukraine last week, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba called for the birth of a true “single market” for defense in the EU, including the Twenty-Seven are still far away.