Arms factories could decide the war: This is how the most popular artillery shell is manufactured

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155 mm artillery shells are the most used ammunition in the war in Ukraine, and Ukrainians are desperately short of shells. Although the Danish Ministry of Defence has bought back the state’s former ammunition factory, it is expected to take several years before production begins.

155 mm artillery shells, like the ones a Ukrainian soldier prepared in this photo near the frontline in Zaporizhzhia on 14 January 2024, have become a scarce commodity in Ukraine’s defence against Russian attacks. For the same reason, the price has increased from approx. DKK 15,000 to approx. DKK 60,000 per shell. Illustration: Ritzau Scanpix.

But Western manufacture of artillery shells cannot keep up with Russia, and right now, Ukrainians have to ration. Currently, they only fire around 2,000 shells each day, while Russians fire four times as many shells the other way. The first step in the process is to shape the shell from a steel rod. This is done using a tried-and-tested process called hot forging, also known as drop forging. The steel is heated to around 1,100 degrees. The workpiece is then shaped into form using a drop hammer.

The manufacturing process takes place in large vessels, where the key is to control time, temperature, air purification, mixing, and a number of other process parameters.“It’s a fairly simple process that is considered standard industrial production. Many Danish process manufacturers work with the same processes, just for other products. Casting TNT into the shells is not difficult either. It’s a bit like melting candles,” Peter Hald explains.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has now lasted a year and a half, has put ammunition manufacture in Europe under severe pressure. This critical situation has made clear the need to re-establish ammunition manufacture in Denmark. We are now taking the first step towards that with the acquisition of the facilities in Elling.

Perhaps the most obvious choice is Europe’s largest manufacturer of 155 mm artillery shells, Norwegian Nammo. A conservative estimate is that it will take two to three years to establish manufacture, although both NATO and the Danish Ministry of Defence describe the lack of access to 155 mm artillery shells as critical.

The USA itself in October paid an average of DKK 20,000 for the most modern 155 mm shells, including steel shell, explosive, and fuse. This is mainly due to the fact that the U.S. Department of Defense itself has several ammunition factories and can therefore adjust the capacity without prices skyrocketing.

 

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