Aging European weapons factories could receive a boost of 500 million euros ($551 million) under a new plan announced by the European Union on Wednesday that would upgrade and expand production and, potentially, speed more ammunition to Ukraine.
The proposal largely seeks to ramp up weapons production for European militaries for years to come. But it also could help the economic bloc’s member nations meet a deadline to deliver a million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine this year, said Thierry Breton, the European Union’s trade commissioner.
It does not, however, settle an internal rift over whether a separate E.U. fund could be used to buy munitions from outside Europe — including the United States and South Korea — to make good on the promise to Ukraine.
Announcing the new plan in Brussels, Mr. Breton said Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine had exposed shortfalls in Europe’s defense industry, and the effect that years of relative peace had taken on its production capacity.
In recent visits to 11 European countries, Mr. Breton toured weapons manufacturers that he said could still build the kinds of ammunition that Ukraine needs most — namely NATO-caliber 155-millimeter rounds and Soviet-era 122-millimeter shells — but not quickly.
“When it comes to the timing, it’s not aligned with our immediate needs,” he said. “And that’s why we needed to give them a boost.”
“The European defense industry has to see how we can move into this war economy mode, and they’re not ready for that yet,” Mr. Breton said. “So the will is there, but they’re not ready yet in practice.”
Beyond providing the money to weapons producers, the plan also requires closer monitoring of supply chains to make sure that gunpowder, parts, machinery and other equipment needed to build ammunition is not delayed.
Only weapons manufacturers in the E.U. and Norway — a major ammunition producer — are eligible for the new funding because it comes out of the bloc’s operating budget.
The new plan comes on top of an earlier, €2 billion proposal in March that set the 12-month deadline for supplying ammunition to Ukraine.
At that point, officials said arms manufacturers in the E. U. were able to produce about 650,000 rounds of all types of ammunition annually. Experts have said production of 155-millimeter shells — in high demand in Ukraine — amounted to about 300,000 rounds in 2022.
Importantly, Mr. Breton said that the one million rounds could include different types of munitions — whether 155-millimeter caliber shells, missiles or otherwise. That is a shift from comments made in March by E.U. officials who said then that the goal was to arm Ukraine with one million 155-millimeter shells this year.
Although Mr. Breton expressed anew on Wednesday that the deadline would be met — he said he was “confident” that Europe could scale up production to meet its goal — other E.U. member states are skeptical.
That has set off a disagreement over whether funds allocated to the earlier €2 billion proposal should be used to buy ammunition from producers outside Europe. Half of the money in that plan would also be used to reimburse member states that are donating ammunition from their own military stockpiles.
In the meantime, Mr. Breton said, the new funds could be approved as soon as next month if, as expected, the plan introduced on Wednesday breezes through the bloc’s sometimes complex lawmaking process.
But it could take months or even years before Europe’s defense industry can churn out the number of munitions that Ukraine desperately needs, given the time it takes to buy new machines, build new warehouses and hire skilled workers to produce them.
Camille Grand, a former NATO assistant secretary general for defense investment who now works at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the new proposal would have a “very positive role” in supplying Ukraine. But, he added, “I’m not 100 percent sure that it will have an immediate effect.”