Munitions for Ukraine: Observations and Recommendations

By Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael K. LimaApril 23, 2024

A Ukrainian artilleryman tosses an empty 155mm shell tube as Ukrainian soldiers fire an M777 howitzer toward Russian positions on the frontline of eastern Ukraine on Nov. 23, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov)
A Ukrainian artilleryman tosses an empty 155mm shell tube as Ukrainian soldiers fire an M777 howitzer toward Russian positions on the frontline of eastern Ukraine on Nov. 23, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The ongoing international conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which began in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, has brought about a new reality in warfare. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 put the conflict front and center in the minds of the general public. The news and social media have provided even more insight with details from the front lines. Updates from front-line leaders and official and unofficial sources on both sides offer insights not seen at this scale in previous conflicts. From the onset, social media has given the Russia-Ukraine war prominence never seen before. Case in point, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was offered a chance by the U.S. to evacuate from the capital city of Kyiv, an offer he turned down in a spectacular statement: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” Ammunition is a commodity that has continuously been at the forefront of Ukraine’s sustainment operations.

Munitions Industrial Base

As of December 2023, the Department of State said the U.S. Government has provided approximately $44.2 billion in military assistance since Russia launched its invasion against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and has invested in air defense, fires, ground maneuvers, aircraft and unmanned aerial systems, maritime, and other capabilities equipment, all categories of support with heavy munitions assistance. Munitions support has strained the U.S. munitions industrial base and the European Union (EU). It takes time for the defense industry to ramp up, restart, expand, or a combination of all to produce critical items such as artillery shells or man-portable air-defense systems, both of which recently have been viewed as a priority for large-scale combat operations.

One such DOD prime contractor to ramp up production was Raytheon. The company called upon retired engineers to teach current employees how to build Stinger missiles. The surface-to-air weapon system has not been purchased in decades but is now integral to Ukrainian military defense. The private company worked to increase production and fill the initial orders. According to the company’s president, it would take about 30 months for legacy munitions to come off the production line due to setting up the factory and training employees, functions the DOD has taken note of, as stocks have dwindled and munitions have been issued from a variety of sources.

News reports indicate the Pentagon has sent an estimated 300,000 155mm howitzer shell rounds from War Reserve Stock Allies-Israel, maintained in Israel since the 1980s, to the Ukrainian military to counter Russia. The Israel-based stockpile, which Israel can access during emergencies, was sent out of the country to offset the reduced capability of domestic munitions production in the U.S. This is a short-term stopgap as the DOD plans to increase its monthly production rate for 155mm artillery shells to 100,000 by 2025. Another source of munitions for Ukraine has been ammunition seized by U.S. Central Command naval forces. The U.S. transferred approximately 1.1 million 7.62mm rounds of ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces. The legal transfer was part of a more extensive investigation of an Iranian weapon smuggling network that involved Iranian illicit trafficking of advanced conventional weapons systems and components to support terrorist activities throughout the Middle East, a creative solution for seized munitions that supports the war effort. However, a more strategic solution is required to offset domestic munitions production.

Just as the commercial industry has made a strategic effort to modernize and increase the efficiency of systems, the Army’s organic industrial base (OIB) has developed a 15-year OIB modernization implementation plan to modernize facilities, processes, and the workforce. The plan creates a priority and synchronizes resources on critical facilities and capabilities to increase capacity to sustain the Army’s systems. The Army’s OIB includes 23 arsenals, depots, and ammunition plants that manufacture, reset, and maintain Army equipment; provide critical munitions that may not be cost-effective to commercial industry; and supply warfighters across the joint force. Multiyear contract authorities provided by Congress, which can go up to five years, have potential savings from 5% up to 15% and provide prime contractors a predictable funding source, a forecast for given outyears, and an incentive for internal investment to expand. Such munitions supply has been a challenge in the U.S. and Europe.

This is why Europe has followed suit with munition reforms such as the Act in Support of Ammunition Production. The regulation facilitates the buildup of ammunition production capacity within the EU, allowing the European defense industry to increase support to member states’ armed forces and the war effort in Ukraine. The European Union Act provides a three-track approach: deliver ground-to-ground and artillery ammunition to Ukraine, jointly procure 155mm ammunition, and support the buildup of EU manufacturing capacities. Other initiatives include the NATO Multinational Ammunition Warehousing Initiative, which allows the management of ammunition stockpiles amongst allies to be effectively and collectively controlled. The first opened in March 2022 in Estonia, and another in Belgium opened in 2023. The project is pertinent to the eastern part of the alliance that supports eight multinational battlegroups stationed in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. The collectively stored materiel allows for a flexible warehousing solution for ammunition stockpiling instead of having materiel being segregated by nations or dependent on supply from their own country, permitting munitions to be protected, accounted for, and used collectively in the face of multiple threats.

Unmanned Threats

Threats are any combination of actors, entities, or forces with the capability and intent to harm U.S. forces and their interests. Many such tactics are now creative and low-cost direct actions by air, land, and sea. One of the most notable tactics from the Russia-Ukraine war is to have unmanned aerial vehicles, known as drones, look for targets of opportunity, such as an open hatch, and drop a rigged grenade or mortar. Munitions stored in the open make another valuable target as propagation provides for additional damage to other munitions and equipment. Both Russian and Ukrainian forces use cheap methods of delivery and available munitions to disrupt formations and munitions storage and bring a chaotic situation to the enemy. Another form of an unmanned system is unmanned ground vehicles with explosive charges, such as anti-tank mines that blow near targets. Another is unmanned surface vessels, which attack naval ships. The innovative use of modified systems to conduct direct attacks on Russian formations is an example that would be used against munitions supplies in a near-peer conflict. Tactics that have already appeared on each side find available targets. In future conflicts, the tactic would be used in deep and close operations and on sustainment organizations in rear operations, bringing about a new era of warfare and contested logistics not seen in previous conflicts. The Russia-Ukraine war has also seen an unprecedented amount of support for Ukraine as European nations fear they may be next and are more than willing to provide munitions and military supplies.


While the U.S. has been leading the effort in security assistance to meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs in its war with Russia, it is not the only country that has participated. The primary coordination is done through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a coalition that comprises the 30 member states of NATO and 24 additional countries that have provided major weapon systems, mass quantities, and a vast array of munitions. Meanwhile, ammunition manufactured to NATO standards, with available firing data, is designed to be interchanged between weapon systems. NATO terms to understand when discussing munitions standardization and the goal of interchangeability with allies and partners include:

  • Standardization.
    Within NATO, the process of developing concepts, doctrines, procedures, and designs to achieve and maintain the most effective levels of compatibility, interoperability, interchangeability, and commonality in the fields of operations, administration, and materiel.
  • Compatibility.
    The capability of two or more items or components of equipment or material to exist or function in the same system or environment without mutual interference.
  • Interoperability.
    The ability of systems, units, or forces to provide services to and accept services from other systems, units, or forces and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together.
  • Interchangeability.
    Items possessing similar functional and physical characteristics that are equal in performance and capable of exchanging one for the other without alteration.

The conjecture is far from reality when faced with the actual problem of unfamiliar munitions. Just as most Soldiers conduct training with U.S. munitions on a routine basis, being handed a round with unfamiliar markings and packaging material in another language would make anyone think twice before firing, especially in combat staring at the enemy. Examples of differences include the notable Spanish-made M107 155mm high-explosive projectiles received by Ukraine with its bright yellow paint scheme and unexpected suppliers like Pakistan with Soviet-type 120mm artillery made by the Pakistan Ordnance Factories. Interoperability is acting together to achieve allied strategic, operational, and tactical objectives. As noted by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William A. LaPlante, allies and partners are moving toward not just interoperable but to interchangeable munitions with production in numerous locations to meet the needs of a new security environment. A new operational environment has been unveiled in the Russia-Ukraine war. The challenge now is determining what the operational environment will look like when American forces conduct the fighting.


While making great strides, a continental U.S.-based munitions modernization implementation plan ends at the port of embarkation. Theater-level munitions have had minimal change since the brigade combat team modular force transformation, only now catching up with a modular ammunition transfer point. The Army’s business modernization with Enterprise Business Systems – Convergence provides a streamlined munitions business process. Still, more has to be done if the Army is to prevail in combat and learn from the Russia-Ukraine war. The main advancements required in munitions sustainment are the following:

  • Ammunition interchangeability in practice with allies and partners.
    Allies and partner armies must demonstrate the feasibility of ammunition interchangeability. Deliberate exchange during exercises would allow tactical-level commanders and Soldiers to experience interchangeable ammunition in their weapon systems, practicing the procedures and exchanges while having hands-on experience with firing another nation’s munitions. War should not be the time to try this but to confirm what has been practiced in training.
  • Counter-drone technologies on the modern battlefield, specifically for munitions storage at the tactical level.
    Technology greatly improves modern air-defense systems and surface-to-air missile systems such as the Army Coyote drone interceptor. The challenges of facing smaller commercial off-the-shelf drones are that they fly at lower altitudes, are hard to detect and target, and make munitions in open storage a primary target.
  • Advanced identification technology (AIT) and sensing must be used at amass to keep pace with combat.
    Using AIT to offload munitions vessels and firing-data sensing on systems for automatic reporting, technology can provide the data needed for decision-making.
  • Munitions data analytics must be harnessed down to the tactical level.
    Pencil and paper and manual logistical status reports are trends that must be left in the past, used only as a back-up analog means if the Army is to prevail in the modern information age.
  • Munition visualization on the battlefield is imperative for commanders’ decisive action.
    Munition data sustainment and available visualization, both virtual and augmented (known as mixed reality), can provide commanders and their staffs the tools to assist in decisive action during armed conflict. Visualization representation of munitions operations allows theater-level staff and below to support decision-making between warfighters and the munitions supplies needed to reach military objectives.


Ukraine’s remarkable victory to save its country from a Russian invasion may be rooted in its people’s determination to remain a sovereign nation and in the overwhelming support from free nations worldwide. The pouring out of munitions has provided the means for committed people to defend themselves. When those means began to thin out, they became creative in front of the world audience through social media. This may be one of the most significant effects of the Russia-Ukraine war on the future of war: the ability to create, counter, and develop tactics that work on the battlefield, exploiting the enemy’s weaknesses. The war has taught many lessons for a fragile munitions industrial base, including the ability to employ unmanned threats and the need to follow standardization to ensure interchangeability. Munitions will remain the primary lethal effect in the fight, and the need to sustain munitions for prolonged conflict will continue to be a national imperative.


Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael K. Lima currently serves as the training developer with the Ordnance Training Development Division. He is assigned to the Ordnance Corps and Ordnance School under Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. He has conducted Training With Industry with a prime missile defense contractor and was an accountable officer for the Army ammunition supply point at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. He holds a doctorate in business administration from Baker College Center for Graduate Studies.


This article was published in the Spring 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.


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