What has happened to Ukrainian defense industry since 2014?
To answer the question of whether Ukraine could have produced a "mountain of shells" on its own, it is necessary to recall what has been happening since 2014
This is reported by Defense Express.
Ben Hodges, the former commander of the US Army in Europe, actively supports Ukraine and mercilessly criticises the West for its insufficient anti-Russian stance and insufficient arms assistance.
But in a recent interview with Voice of America, he touched on one of the most sensitive topics - the supply of ammunition. First, he blamed the US for the fact that despite a fourfold increase in the production of shells, this is still not enough, and that political will is needed to increase the pace. And then he said: "Let's be honest - what has Ukraine been doing since 2014? There should have been mountains of artillery ammunition by now. So one can be disappointed that the West is not providing more. And what has Ukraine done since 2014 to increase its own ammunition production?"
Has Ukraine really been able to produce a "mountain of shells" since 2014?
In 2014, the Ukrainian defence industry was objectively in a coma, which it had been driven into for decades. At the same time, there is simply no ammunition production in Ukraine, as the gunpowder plant in Shostka is bankrupt and has ceased operations. One of the few specialised research institutes in the ammunition sector in the same city is more likely to be "dead than alive". There is no production of shell bodies, no final assembly of ammunition. The only current asset is another plant in Shostka that produces detonators.
Amid the ATO and Joint Forces Operation, where the use of artillery over 100 mm in calibre has been restricted in one way or another since the Minsk Agreements were signed in 2016, the need for artillery ammunition was not as noticeable. At the same time, all this was based on stocks from the Soviet era. Although they were literally blown up, the situation was not considered a "shell famine" under those circumstances.
Although this phrase was increasingly used in the professional and media environment, it was inferior to the more popular "ammunition hunger" as attempts were made to at least create the production of ammunition for small arms.
Against this backdrop, practical steps to create its own production of artillery ammunition began around 2015-2016. The first batches of 152-mm shells for Giatsint-S were launched in early 2018, as was officially announced.
Why exactly for this gun - because they were not produced in Eastern Europe, where there were limited purchases of shells for Soviet systems, which covered certain needs during the ATO. At the same time, a private company was working on the development of such a projectile at state-owned enterprises.
However, it may come as a surprise to some, but it was only a projectile. The issue of powder charges was not resolved.
Moreover, the technology for the production of shell casings was not highly automated. As an example, you can watch a video of the production of shell casings in the UK.
This industrial base apparently produced some prototype batches of 122-mm and 155-mm shells, which were even demonstrated at public events.
So, in any case, work was underway to start producing our own artillery shells. But on our own. Because the involvement of Western companies in this process of building a turnkey production facility was not considered due to the tacit embargo on any military-technical cooperation. The entire Ukrainian government has been equally guilty of this since 1991.
The first delivery of Western weapons - American Javelin ATGMs - took place only in 2018. And this eventually unblocked the opening of foreign arms production facilities.
Now it is only possible to assess what if efforts had been made to establish foreign ammunition production in Ukraine. The experience of Poland may well show how much "acceleration" this would have given.
In 2010, the Polish ZM DEZAMET and Bumar Sp.z o.o. signed a licence agreement with the Slovak ZVS Holding a.s. for the production of 155 mm shells. In July 2014, ZM DEZAMET received an agreement for the supply of 2,000 shells (two thousand units) by 30 November 2015, subject to the production of all components in Poland.
"If we put these deadlines for Ukraine with the conditional signing of a similar agreement in 2018, we get a conditional delivery date for the first batch of 2,000 rounds only in 2023, of course, if this plant survives. Even if preparations for production and its commissioning are conditionally accelerated, we are not talking about the possibility of producing a "mountain of shells"" Defense Express writes.
Thus, the answer to why Ukraine has not produced a "mountain of shells" since 2014 is that it can traditionally complain. It is clear that Ukraine should have started preparing for such a war at least in 2008 amid Russia's invasion of Georgia.