A startling French announcement was made at the beginning of the year, when French President Emmanuel Macron informed his Ukrainian counterpart over the course of an hour-long phone call—of which the majority was broadcast—that France is preparing to give Ukraine AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, in a precedent in which Kyiv receives Western-made tanks.
Even though this type of tanks has been in the French army’s service since the 1980s and is currently being gradually replaced by the new Jaguar combat tanks, if France follows through on this pledge, it will become the first Western country to take that step.
While some were taken aback by France’s announcement, others had anticipated it in light of the escalating and increasingly complex Ukraine crisis that has dominated international headlines. As part of a special coverage by Asharq News titled “2023: The Year of the Tough Questions”, British security expert Patrick Bury stated that “that the growing increase in upcoming threats is a result of the sweeping war launched by Russia against Ukraine, and that amid the growing Chinese intrusion on Taiwan, many countries have had to significantly increase their defense spending.”
As a result, the stockpile of various missiles and weapons, whether in Russian or Western arsenals, is rapidly eroding in the Ukraine war in light of the new rush to acquire weapons and equipment. This sparked a greater demand for weapons and broader strategic issues. While the world is mourning the tragic loss of life, it is also struggling to come to terms with the enormous financial and material toll Russia’s war in Ukraine has taken. Avril Haines, the Director of US National Intelligence, recently drew attention to the fact that all reports available to her organization indicate that “Russian forces in Ukraine are consuming ammunition faster than the country’s defense industry can replace it, prompting Moscow to seek assistance from other nations.”
According to US reports, Russia is firing off a staggering 20,000 artillery rounds per day, which is depleting its supply of conventional ammunition faster than it can be replenished. The same is true for Russia’s stockpile of expensive self-guided missiles, which it employs to attack Ukraine’s power generation infrastructure with the intention of destroying it during the winter.
This is an extraordinary burden on top of Kiev’s military losses, which have led the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance to estimate that the cost of the war, after almost a year, is around $10 billion per month. Over the course of the conflict’s first ten months, the United States, the primary backer, spent between $18 and 20 billion on the military operations in Ukraine.
This US assistance included 35 HIMARS rocket launchers, 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, 1,750 Stinger air defense systems, 3,000 tactical drones, 150 heavy howitzers, advanced NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems, and roughly one million rounds of ammunition for these various systems and other weapons.
This is a significant amount of spending, especially when we factor in the other Atlantic countries’ varying contributions. These nations did not disclose their contributions as thoroughly as the United States did, but the British, German, and possibly French contributions since the beginning of the war will not differ significantly from those of the United States.
Here, we are only referring to the budgets set aside for purchasing weapons and ammunition, not including the economic and humanitarian aid estimated at billions, which is still significantly less than the insane consumption of weapons on the fighting fronts on both sides.
While Western nations worked to develop the logistical systems that support their strategic stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, the Russia-Ukraine war impacted the majority of these systems, exposing them to an unanticipated risk and demonstrating how drastically different the demands of earlier wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan are from those these countries are currently facing in Ukraine.
This dilemma is not, however, unique to Western countries. Russia, which has always taken pride in its military manufacturing capabilities, which met its army’s “within the safe-limits” needs during pre-war operations and whose military manufacturing industry ranked high at the international level in terms of exports and dependence on it, is facing a tough test today in Ukraine as the war enters its second year. As a result, its historical reputation was shockingly tarnished, and it appeared to be “less fortified and less tolerant of the volume of spending, production capacity, and stockpiles required to meet urgent and most urgent needs”, as described in the West.
There have even been reports of Moscow turning to other countries to meet its urgent weapon needs. At first, this came as a surprise, but it was quickly confirmed by intelligence agencies. Russia and Iran both denied reports that Moscow had used Iranian Shahed drones in the conflict until the claims were disproven on the battlefield.
Recent reports from the United States intelligence service indicate that Russia has also turned to North Korea to increase its supply of artillery ammunition in particular, though the volume of supply appears to be limited so far. The intelligence community is keeping a close eye on developments, but it is yet unclear how far global military spending and the race to stop what shocked the parties involved and the entire world will go.
This op-ed was originally published in Al-Watan newspaper on 9 January, 2023.