By Benoit Van Overstraeten
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European arms manufacturers have urged the European Union to help coordinate weapons procurement as they scramble to boost production to meet soaring demand for the war in Ukraine.
Meeting ahead of a NATO defence ministers gathering in Brussels, defence company executives said their industry had been geared up for EU states spending less on defence rather than more, after decades of peace in Europe.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance has started dialogue with industry and allies on how to boost production and replenish weapons stocks.
He told a news conference that defence ministers would take decisions to increase stockpiles. Reducing stocks had been the right thing to do to support Ukraine, but production now needed to ramp up to ensure their allies’ own capabilities and to continue support for Ukraine “for the long haul”.
The NATO chief said he expected ministers to decide on more ambitious targets that would provide industry with the long-term demand they required to invest in new capacity and look at joint purchases.
Nicolas Chamussy, chief executive of French defence firm Nexter, said industry had to respond to a dramatic increase in EU demand for military equipment, while production capacities were designed for peace time.
He added there was a very important demand for artillery capabilities in Europe.
Nexter designs and manufactures military vehicles for French and international armed forces. It is now part of franco-german KNDS, which is 50% owned by the French state and 50% by the family-owned Wegmann-Gruppe.
The EU has been buying equipment and supplies for the Ukrainian military, including lethal weaponry, which it said should be used for defensive purposes.
Last Friday European Union leaders agreed to give more financial and military aid to Ukraine. The bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said specific proposals on that would be discussed this month.
Russia rained cruise missiles on busy Ukrainian cities on Monday in what the United States called “horrific strikes”, killing civilians and knocking out power and heat with its most widespread air attacks since the start of the war in February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will ask the leaders of the G7 group of nations to urgently supply Ukraine with air defence weapons.
“The immediate consequence for us (of Ukraine’s invasion by Russia) is that we are asked to do more, to work faster, to deliver at a higher pace and we are asked to do all of this now,” said Eric Beranger, head of pan-European missile manufacturer MBDA.
The company is owned by Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo.
Nexter’s Chamussy called on EU leaders to avoid what he called “refragmentation at a national level” in a war-driven, hectic environment, with member states each pursuing their own agendas.
“On the contrary, this challenge must be met at European level,” he added, calling for a boost to military capabilities with better, more efficient co-operation.
Executives said they urgently needed more staff. Chamussy called on the EU to help set up a “reservoir of people” and suggested calling back those who retired early and tapping other companies and dual-industry companies for experts.
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, editing by Ed Osmond)