West's 'failure to shift to war footing' risks weapons shortage for Ukraine

Defence industry executives hold 'deep concerns' over Nato's lack of action to manufacture new supplies

Nasam missile test firing in Norway. Photo: Kongsberg
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Ukraine risks running out of western missiles because Nato governments have failed to put the industry on a war-footing, The National can disclose.

A senior industry executive stated there were “deep concerns” among defence suppliers that British, French and German governments had failed to give the “demand signals” to significantly increase production.

Following the intense barrage of Kyiv and other targets by indiscriminate Russian strikes this week, modern missile interceptors have been sent to Ukraine to bolster its defences.

But the systems, as well as highly effective anti-tank weapons and short-range anti-aircraft missiles, are largely relying on war-stocks ammunition that is kept in reserve.

With long manufacture lead-in times the executive for a major European defence company said governments had yet to signal that they would pay for extra production.

“We in industry have not been given the demand signals from governments for resupply and this is a great concern,” the executive told The National. “There doesn't seem to be the willpower and it’s also due to a lack of funds.”

Ukraine will receive the new German Iris-T air defence system capable of launching and tracking all 24 missiles in a single battery at multiple incoming targets. Its heat-seeking missiles travel at 3,700 kilometres per hour making it effective again Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles up to ranges of 40km.

The Norwegian Nasam system, supplied with additional Amraam missiles from Britain, potentially has a range of 100km, further strengthening medium-level defences.

But Amraam, which is in good supply, is not capable of shooting down Iskander ballistic missiles that could be used in a nuclear strike. For this Ukraine would require the highly regarded US Patriot system.

Of the 83 Russian missiles fired at Ukraine on October 10, that killed 19 people, Ukraine said it shot down 43, suggesting it used a large number of its defensive stockpile.

No capacity

With the manufacture of advanced missiles taking months rather than weeks, the defence industry will need long lead-in periods to ramp up production with government purchase guarantees.

But defence industry companies have indicated they “don’t have the capacity” to build up new production lines to make more missiles, said Andrew Galer, a director at Janes, the defence publisher.

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin told Mr Galer over the summer that they wanted to build more missiles but did not have the capacity.

They added it would take up to two years to get up to the full rate of production.

Leading defence analyst Tim Ripley agreed that “industry is not even near to getting on to a war footing” and that contracting for British defence industry for Ukraine has been “lamentable”.

“Everybody thought this would be over in months and no one has got their mind around of a war going on for years,” he said. “This requires serious money on a long-term, sustained basis and that that is something that the UK, other European countries and the US have not quite done yet.”

The industry source said advanced equipment was not something “you can just manufacture in week”.

“We simply don’t have the industrial scale to satisfy the demand so governments will certainly need to put our industry on more of war footing,” Mr Ripley said.

Patriot defence

A step change in Ukraine’s defence would come if America deployed its latest Patriot system. But this would be viewed by Russia as a major escalation because the rockets are capable of intercepting a tactical nuclear ballistic missile and would intrude on its air space.

“Putting Patriot into Ukraine is extending the anti-ballistic missile defence system over Russia and potentially neutralising its nuclear deterrence,” said Mr Ripley. “That is a major step up the escalatory ladder.”

The industry source called a Patriot deployment “another couple of rungs up the escalation ladder”. He said: “While it’s purely defensive it's seen as an iconic American system that is immensely effective.”

But with Patriot in demand around the globe, including the Middle East, Mr Galer believes there is no capacity to deploy it in Ukraine.

“They are deployed the Middle East and they've not had enough there,” he said. “Internationally there is not enough to go around as it is.”

Point defence

A key decision for Ukraine commanders will be which parts of the country they wish to protect with their limited air defence systems.

The strategy of “point defence”, where a single area is protected, will have to be employed, unlike Israel’s Iron Dome system that has a protective umbrella across the whole country.

The capital and centre of government in Kyiv will be the priority but there are many other cities, military installations and energy sites that will also need protection.

“Ukraine is about the size of France combined with half of Spain,” said Mr Ripley.

“It has 50 or 60 major cities with hundreds of bridges and power stations and 30 military airfields. That's without having to defend its army.

“So these new defences are a drop in the ocean.”

Mr Galer said it was a question of “prioritising what they wish to defend” and that Kyiv would be the main location.

While the new systems were highly capable, Ukrainians could only protect a fraction of the country with what they are receiving, said Sam Cranny-Evans of the Rusi think tank.

“People need to understand that this is the equivalent of putting all of the UK’s ground-based air defence in one place and that would probably still only protect the centre of London,” he said.

Updated: October 14, 2022, 9:07 AM