‘Relatively speaking, we have sent almost nothing and there is no discernible plan to send more,’ says retired general Andrew Leslie
December 20, 2022
OTTAWA — There will be many prayers offered up this Christmas that the guns fall silent across Ukraine in the New Year. But let’s hope that any peace is prompted by Russia’s realization that it cannot win, rather than because the Ukrainians have run out of ammunition. The latter is a very real prospect. As retired Australian Major Gen. Mick Ryan wrote last week in an influential Twitter thread: “In 2023, the Ukrainian army may run out of munitions before it runs out of fight. Based on current usage of ammunition in the war, production of munitions is increasingly lagging battlefield needs.” Ukraine is firing 5,000 155mm artillery rounds a day. Its main supplier, the U.S., has donated one million rounds to date but, despite plans to triple production, still only produces around 14,000 rounds a month.
Canada is, as usual, a bystander to these tectonic shifts of geopolitics. In May, Wayne Eyre, the chief of the defence staff, called on defence companies to switch to a “war footing,” so that weapons production could be ramped up for Ukraine and to replenish domestic stocks. He did so knowing that industry won’t gear up unless it gets long-term contracts from Ottawa.
Since 1970, Canada has relied on the Munitions Supply Program framework to source its ammunition — a standing agreement with five private-sector companies to maintain surge capacity and prioritize Canadian orders in times of high demand, in exchange for millions of dollars. Most prominent among those suppliers is General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems Canada (GDOT-C), which employs up to 1,500 people at three plants in Quebec, and is Canada’s “designated preferred supplier of ammunition.”
Yet seven months after Eyre’s call, there are no signs that Canada has contracted to receive many more artillery rounds than normal. The Department of National Defence said that GDOT-C produced 20,000 155mm to replenish stocks in 2022 and will deliver a further 8,000 rounds in 2023. That’s a good thing, but it’s hardly production on a “war footing.”
In May, Canada donated 20,000 rounds to Ukraine but they were sourced from the U.S. In October, the government said it would donate 5,000 155mm artillery rounds and fuses from its own inventory — a day’s worth of ammunition for Ukraine’s big guns.
The government boasts it has just pledged another $500 million of military aid to Ukraine, to add to the $500 million already committed. But, while welcome, most of that aid has been non-lethal — satellite imagery, drone cameras, winter gear and non-combat light-armoured troop carriers (which don’t carry the 25mm chaingun featured on other LAVs).
On a list of total bilateral aid contributions to Ukraine — financial, humanitarian and military — Canada comes fifth. But when it comes to lethal aid, the picture is quite different. “If you
compare military capability — weapons — provided by NATO nations, if you look at that paradigm, we are the least contributing nation,” said Andrew Leslie, the retired Canadian Forces lieutenant general and former Liberal MP. Canada did contribute four M777 howitzers from its own stocks but Leslie said this was at the behest of the Americans. “Relatively speaking, we have sent almost nothing and there is no discernible plan to send more.”
DND sources say the government is seized with the ammunition issue and is talking to domestic industry, the Americans and other countries about how to tackle it “with alacrity.” The Ottawa Citizen has reported that Canada held talks with South Korea about purchasing 100,000 artillery shells for Ukraine — a procurement that would eat up much of the unallocated $500 million.
Daniel Minden, a spokesman for Defence Minister Anita Anand, said Canada is in close contact with her counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, about Ukraine’s most pressing security needs. “We are identifying a variety of options to continue providing Ukraine with comprehensive military assistance,” he said.
But it remains a mystery why the government has not moved more quickly on a problem that was looming from the day the Russians invaded 10 months ago.
Contracts are already in place for the U.S. to triple 155mm production and funding is agreed to more than double that again. One of the contracted companies is General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, but DND said the conditions of the Munitions Supply Program means it does not anticipate any impact on the fulfillment of its existing requirements.
The goods news is that Canadian industry does appear to have the capability to ramp up production, if there is proven demand. A 2015 study by Defence Research and Development Canada looked at industry’s response during the Afghan conflict and found it met the demand surge, and even reduced procurement lead times for most kinds of ammunition. “The Munitions Supply Program provided a reliable source of ammunition during a period of high demand,” it concluded.
Retired Col. Charles Davies, a former Canadian Forces logistics officer, said GDOT-C quintupled production and cut delivery times in half when demand was highest. “There is a high level of trust between those who are buying the ammunition and the company,” he said. “To my mind, the best situation is to have the industrial capacity designed and resourced, so that the government pays the company for surge capability. The MSP was designed to double production but it turned out that when push came to shove, GDOT was able to quintuple production.”
It is reassuring to know that Canada has the capacity to do more when it comes to acting as an arsenal for democracy. But the Liberal government has yet to show the political will to provide Ukraine with combat capability to repel Russia’s illegal invasion.
The mindset seems to be to leave it to the Americans, a dependency summed up nicely by the new French ambassador to Canada, Michel Miraillet, in conversation with the National Post’s editorial board. “Canada is riding in a first-class carriage with a third-class ticket,” he said.