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The Rising Tide of Domestic Arms Production in Ukraine

Ukraine wants as many US weapons as Israel, but will those weapons make it more secure?

Words: Ethan Walton
Pictures: Anastacia Dvi

Since February 2022, the United States alone has sent over $44.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine — and that number keeps increasing. Europe has pledged billions more, and NATO has committed to funding Ukrainian defense for years to come. 

Pressure for a NATO bid continues to increase, and Western leaders have pledged to expedite the process. These governments are likely to view Ukraine as an opportunity to establish a regional stronghold to buffer Russia in its own self-proclaimed sphere of influence, much as Israel is in the Middle East. This intimate relationship is destined to increase defense collaboration, even long after the present conflict has concluded. 

This promise of long-term funding presents a lucrative opportunity for the defense industry as stockpiles of ammunition and equipment are depleted. Ukraine currently consumes an average of 8,000 155mm artillery rounds a day. The US Army plans to increase production of 155mm shells by 500%, bringing the total to 70,000 per month, yet these could be expended as soon as they are produced. 

Already, we have seen defense companies investing their own equipment to Ukraine. For example, Rheinmetall, the defense company based in Germany, announced that by the end of 2023, they would deliver the new LUNA-NG drone to Ukraine. The German Bundeswehr will foot the bill. Just last week, 20 French companies made agreements for various defense-related collaborations. Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace has also signed a contract with the International Fund for Ukraine (IFU) led by the United Kingdom for the supply of CORTEX Typhon drone systems, or Counter Uncrewed Aerial Systems (C-UAS), to Ukraine. 

Being in the midst of an ongoing conflict, Ukraine has the opportunity to test new systems in real-world combat and thus improve and adapt their abilities. This creates an advantageous position for Ukraine that may help to exponentially grow its defense industry. 

Others have established themselves within Ukraine, promising to produce armaments domestically, eliminating the need for lengthy transfers. BAE Systems, based in the United Kingdom, signed a partnership agreement to manufacture 105mm L119 howitzers in Ukraine. In late August 2023, Ukraine finalized an agreement with two unnamed NATO countries for the creation of a plant to produce 120mm mortar shells. Sweden will also be collaborating with Ukraine to build a factory for a planned 1000 new CV90 armored combat vehicles, and Rheinmetall has made public plans to construct a plant to produce the new Panther KF51 MBT. These companies expect long-term funding and support from NATO and will surely continue production long after the present conflict has ended. 

The influx of centers of production and technology is welcomed by the Ukrainian government, who not only see it as a means to supply their military but also as an opportunity to boost the economy for years to come. The Ukrainian Brave1 initiative is an effort to encourage technological growth, collaboration, and investment from Western partners. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy explicitly stated in a recent interview his goal of spearheading the forefront of military technology. Being in the midst of an ongoing conflict, Ukraine has the opportunity to test new systems in real-world combat and thus improve and adapt their abilities. This creates an advantageous position for Ukraine that may help to exponentially grow its defense industry. 

With this inevitable shift toward prioritizing defense and partnership with NATO, there come implications for post-war security and stability in the region. Zelenskyy himself has voiced his hopes that Ukraine will become a “big Israel,” where armed civilians are commonplace and national security is paramount. Israel is currently the top recipient of US military assistance. In fiscal year 2021, the Trump administration requested $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel, adding to the $146 billion inflation-unadjusted it had received since 1948 (which is equivalent to $236 billion in 2018 dollars). Currently, Israel is one of the most powerful militaries in the world, largely aided by US taxpayer money. Yet, recent events have shown that receiving close to $3.8 billion of military aid a year may not have made Israel safer. 

Zelenskyy also stated regarding future collaboration with the West: “The Israeli model… we will likely get this exact model. The Israeli model that includes weapons, technology, training, finances, etc.… we need to learn to live with [the conflict]. We need to learn. Israel is at war. It depends on what kind of war.” Opposing Russian aggression is important, but Israel, fraught with present human rights concerns, may not be the ideal example of what a future partnership with Ukraine should resemble. 

These sentiments are echoed as Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly voiced hope of a shift from agriculture to technology, and defense tech in particular. Ukraine unquestionably has the right to defend itself from Russian aggression. However, we must be wary of opportunities for defense spending to run amuck, opening avenues for corruption, and where drastic and prolonged military buildup continues, with no regard for how it impacts stability in the region.

Ethan Walton

Ethan Walton currently maintains the Forum on the Arms Trade’s Ukraine Weapons Tracker and serves as the Communications Coordinator at Genocide Watch. He can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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