Self-reliance on weapons - a way out for Ukraine in the midst of war
Ukrainian soldiers installed drones at their station in Donetsk province on February 3. Photo: Reuters

Ukraine did not produce any weapons before the war with Russia broke out, but now the country’s defense industry is booming.

Ukrainian factories are rushing to produce artillery shells, mortar shells, military vehicles, missiles and other essential military supplies for the war. During a Ukrainian government meeting in January, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that the country’s defense industry output in 2023 will increase three times compared to before the war and is expected to increase six times this year.

Ukraine’s domestic arms production is not yet enough to offset slowing aid from the West, but it is becoming more important than ever.

For some important equipment, such as unmanned vehicles, Ukraine has produced and met up to 90% of what the country’s military needs, according to Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov.

Among these are long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have attacked oil and gas facilities deep within Russian territory and suicide boats that caused significant damage to the Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine is making its own mortars and 122 mm and 152 mm artillery shells according to Soviet standards. Companies in this country are also looking for ways to meet the need for NATO-standard 155 mm artillery shells, which are used for guns that Western aid provides. However, Ukraine’s 155 mm artillery shell line is unlikely to start operating in the first half of this year.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said domestic production is the key to Ukraine’s maintaining its defense capacity. “This is the way out,” Mr. Zelensky said when mentioning the expectation of comprehensive development of Ukraine’s defense industry to end the fighting.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s defense industry almost collapsed. Poor management and corruption, along with the fact that their main customer is Russia, mean that Ukraine now has to import everything from bullets to fighter jets.

After two years of war with Russia, the Ukrainian army realized its reserves were exhausted. They needed everything from infantry ammunition to complex weapons such as long-range missiles, fighters and bombers. This is considered a driving force for this country to promote its domestic weapons production industry.

Strategic Industry Minister Oleksandr Kamyshin said Ukraine had deployed home-made missiles with a range of about 640 km. The country is also developing high-precision air and missile defense complexes similar to those used for the US HIMARS complex.

However, Ukraine is far from producing its own high-tech systems to repel Russian forces. Maksym Polyvianyi, deputy general director of Ukraine Amor, the country’s largest private arms company, commented that “it takes decades to build and master the production facilities of such complexes.”

Ukrainian units had to withdraw from many lines when faced with a shortage of artillery shells, personal weapon ammunition and even manpower. The battlefield situation may get worse for Ukraine. US intelligence believes that Ukraine may run out of anti-aircraft missiles by the end of this month.

While the White House sought to pass the more than $60 billion aid bill for Ukraine, some rays of hope flashed for Kyiv. The European Union (EU) last week approved a $5 billion military aid package for Ukraine; the US announced it would transfer a shipment of $300 million in weapons, and part of the 800,000 shells sought by the Czechs could be delivered in the coming weeks. next.

Ukrainian workers make parts for military vehicles at the Ukrainian workshop Amor. Photo: NPR

Ukrainian workers make parts for military vehicles at the Ukrainian workshop Amor. Photo: NPR

However, all of the above aid and shipments cannot meet Ukraine’s needs. In addition, a series of constraints, from lack of financial resources to explosives supply, are hindering the country’s efforts to increase domestic weapons production.

Ukraine spends most of its Western financial support covering military costs, thereby limiting its ability to allocate investment capital to the defense industry. Ukrainian officials say the country plans to spend $5 billion on domestic weapons production, but that amount is not enough.

Even with the money, Ukraine’s defense industry is still affected by the worldwide shortage of explosives. Congestion in the supply chain international demand increased sharply because the conflicts between Russia – Ukraine Israel – and Hamas depleted the supply of explosives and rocket propellants. This situation caused Ukrainian defense facilities to stop production many times.

Ukrainian defense contractors said the government’s procurement plan also hindered production activities, with ministries signing separate contracts without a coordinated system.

Artem Viunnyk, head of a Ukrainian company that produces targeting drones for artillery, said, “the stupidest question we get from the authorities is how many can you build this month?” They have to understand that production doesn’t work like that.”

Before the war, Viunnyk’s company built 100 drones a year, but now they receive orders for up to 150 drones a month. However, large-volume contracts require the company to plan material purchases over many months.

Viunnyk responded to Ukrainian officials that his company could not immediately increase production but could expand production by 2025 if prepared in advance. “We can do that, but right now, you tell me if you need more products or not,” Viunnyk said.

Ukrainian soldiers next to a domestic rocket launcher near the front line in Zaporizhzhia province in September 2023. Photo: Reuters

Ukrainian soldiers next to a domestic rocket launcher near the front line in Zaporizhzhia province in September 2023. Photo: Reuters

Officials said they are streamlining the weapons procurement process in an effort led by the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army.

Ukraine is cooperating with a number of German, British and Turkish defense companies. Last month, a German company agreed to a joint venture with Ukraine to produce ammunition and propellant for 155 mm artillery.

However, when Ukraine increased domestic weapons production, Russia stepped up raids targeting their defense industrial complexes. Ukraine announced that it had blocked the majority of Russian missiles and UAVs, but some of them hit their targets.

Polyvianyi said Ukraine Armor and some other defense companies have moved part of their production abroad. Ukrainian companies also divided the production process and placed factories in many places, some underground. All this causes domestic arms production to decline.

Viunnyk said his company moved part of its production from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv. When Lviv faced the threat of an attack, Viunnyk had to subdivide its facilities in the city further. “This reduces our efficiency,” Viunnyk admitted. “But we have to do this. Otherwise, big trouble will come.”