NATO urges common standards and curbs on protectionism to boost artillery output

By Sabine Siebold

BERLIN (Reuters) – NATO is pushing its members to overcome protectionist tendencies and agree on a single standard for artillery ammunition to boost production of urgently needed 155mm shells while driving down prices that have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Admiral Rob Bauer, head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military committee, called on member countries to stop protecting national arms makers, whose current business model he compared to that of companies producing printers.

“The manufacturer will not get rich because of the printers that they make, but because of the ink,” Bauer told Reuters in an interview published on Tuesday.

“If you make an artillery round that only fits in the gun that you make, then you force the users to buy your ammunition.”

According to Bauer, the price for one artillery shell has gone up to 8,000 euros ($8,489.60) from 2,000 euros before Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Western countries have been scrambling to boost the output of artillery shells as Kyiv, firing thousands of rounds a day, has been burning through supplies much faster than the allies can produce them.

While there is a NATO standard for artillery ammunition, its implementation is voluntary and a lack of adherence by various countries has led to a fragmentation of the market and hampered the flow of supplies.

Bauer said 14 NATO nations reserved the right to deviate from the standard, meaning there were 14 different types of 155 millimetre ammunition.

He attributed the backsliding on standardisation to a defence market that has shrunk drastically since the Cold War, when NATO countries spent 3%-6% of GDP on the military.

“The number of buyers went down, the amount of money went down, and so everybody was protecting their own industry,” the admiral noted, saying that, during the Cold War “everybody was getting a piece of the pie”.

However, referring to significantly increased defence spending in previous years, Bauer said he was convinced that for the next 15 years there was enough money to be earned for the industry.

With NATO nations in the process of replenishing inventories depleted by donations to Kyiv, Bauer said now was the right time to break the cycle and make a new push for standardisation, also with a view to other areas such as transportation and medical supplies.

“If I look at the position of the soldier in the battlefield, they want interchangeability because they want to have a box of 155 millimetre artillery rounds,” he said. “And they don’t care who produced them, as long as they fit and they can shoot straight.”

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(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Mike Harrison)