Ukraine Ministry of Defence

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Military Procurement Plans Upended by the War in Ukraine

Now that European military planners have to contend with an actual war in their backyard, military procurement offices must find, within the bustling arms market, systems with a reasonable price tag, ones that need little maintenance, and are rapidly deployable or transportable onto any given European battlefield.

Attrition occurs when military means dwindle over time. With high-intensity warfare, such as the war in Ukraine, the duration can range between months and years. When equipment is destroyed, the time necessary to build new units can be problematic.

Complex and sophisticated systems may perform well initially on the battlefield but will put a heavy strain on financial, logistical, and industrial means for the country which has to produce more in a hurry. Ammunition attrition will occur over time, whichever shooting platform is concerned. Even the ever-producing U.S. military is slowing the supply pipeline to Ukraine, due to dwindling stocks and lower manufacturing capabilities.

The excessive complexity of attrition is a stumbling block to all militaries, regardless of how vast and well-funded they are.

The U.S. Navy spent billions on the littoral combat ship which turned out to be a disaster and was inoperable most of the time. Germany went overboard with sophistication in its frigate design, and many ships, in an attempt to cram more technology into the hull, have turned into industrial disasters and created operational capacity breaches.

Even when a sophisticated program does not fall apart, the expenses mean that few units can be purchased – and Greece provides an excellent example. For €5 billion, Greece was able to acquire only 6 ships, thus limiting its ability to counter Turkish pressure. Such a figure would leave Greece unarmed after a mere few months of high-intensity naval warfare.

Excessively complex designs, such as the F-35 and its cost, are no exception. At nearly $2 trillion in overall cost, no nation could ever shoulder such a burden, and the U.S. is only able to given its willingness to take on more debt.

On the opposite side, platforms that have found the right balance, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, embraced upgradability, and affordability, which has ensured their continued use. Many countries, including those with powerful advanced armies, such as Israel and Turkey, still use the F-16. Platforms like these have long paid for themselves and afford the operating country some flexibility.

Ukrainian soldier with artillery shells
(Ukraine Ministry of Defence)

Europe does have a few solutions, though

Few pieces of equipment with a balanced design actually exist, as many vehicles, regardless of their environment, often lean toward either basic simplicity or excessive complexity. Luckily, a few of these gems do exist, and they are available to European armies.

Despite being 4th-generation fighters, the Rafale and the Typhoon are both considered to have advanced capabilities, can fit within European budgets, and be deployed in sufficient numbers. The wheeled platforms for howitzers, such as the DANA platform are also options that can fit into European budgets in adequate volumes to face the attrition problem and perform on the modern battlefield.

The DANA howitzer is a modern artillery platform placed on a truck chassis, for protective mobility, the battle-proven version of which being the French Caesar, previously deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mali. This concept has shown a very satisfying balance on the battlefield and is a sizable contender, unit for unit, to their Russian counterparts – to the point that the U.S. Army is evaluating such platforms and may depart from its current track-and-armor platform.

Artillery is the epitome of this problem

Several European countries are planning to purchase large amounts of military equipment, specifically artillery, which the Ukrainian conflict has placed at the center of the chessboard. Spain, Italy, and Greece are all planning to purchase artillery in the coming year or so, and other European nations will probably do the same if only to replenish the equipment they have transferred to Ukraine. With all this equipment donated, armies will need to replenish – but the right choices will need to be made.

No choices have been made so far, but the track-and-armor design, widespread globally, is showing its limits in Ukraine. Towed artillery is cheap but lacks mobility, whereas armored howitzers are no longer worth the industrial effort, if overhead drone strikes, counter-battery fire can easily punch through them.

Reports seem to indicate that Ukraine is enjoying the benefits of wheeled artillery, which is lighter and can therefore be deployed and redeployed more quickly, be it strategically with air transport, or under its own power on the battlefield, and which can navigate damaged infrastructures more easily. A Caesar howitzer weighing 18 tons, compared to a Panzerhaubitze 2000 weighing 55 tons is more likely to collapse a damaged bridge.

Firing rate and accuracy, on the other hand, are at least equal to track-and-armor counterparts. Financial strain, finally, is considerably lower and will enable the country acquiring a wheeled howitzer to accumulate more units for the same overall price: shelled howitzers cost up to €17 million, with higher maintenance costs, whereas Belgium acquired 9 Caesar guns for a unit price under €7 million, with all maintenance and support included.

New wheel-based designs, such as the new UK Archer or the combat-tested French Caesar, swaps the tracks and the hull for a truck chassis. The Caesar was deployed in virtually every operation France took part in, and has shown its operational contribution, namely in Iraq where it sparked U.S. envy, its capacity to be projected anywhere in the world on short notice, and its endurance on difficult terrains such as the Sahel region or Afghanistan. This configuration seems to have provided operating armies with far better results and has already been purchased by Belgium, Lithuania, and several other countries.

If high-intensity warfare in Europe is once again a liability, then attrition is once again a major factor. Countries will need large numbers of units to withstand the shock of war, and those units must evade threats for as long as possible before destruction. Many nations had chosen, until now, the most expensive, slow, and sophisticated equipment for their armed forces, as this is suitable in peacetime. European nations, as they rearm, may need to reconsider industrial choices, which the war in Ukraine is putting into question.