BRUSSELS—NATO member states are working on ways to align their weapons purchases to better prepare for future conflicts, as they gear up for a major increase in military spending to replace the huge amounts of materiel sent to Ukraine and shore up their potential defenses against Russian aggression.
By improving purchasing cooperation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization also hopes to make a leap in how its members would together fight a future conflict, including buying weapons systems that are easily interchangeable, plentiful and are more effective on the battlefield.
NATO members also believe that Russia’s hostility and other threats mean the alliance must have more arms on hand to deter and combat any future threats. In 2014, NATO countries agreed to boost military spending substantially, but many have only really increased their budgets since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The shift has sparked new demand for weapons systems that are proving successful in Ukraine, such as the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or Himars. The U.S. M777 howitzer is generating so much interest that its producer, British defense giant
PLC, is considering restarting production of the big gun, which had been winding down.
When defense ministers from NATO’s 30 countries, plus aspiring members Finland and Sweden, gather in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, they aim to approve recommendations recently tabled by their national arms buyers and allied countries for ensuring that they work more smoothly with Western defense contractors.
has made a priority of increasing alliance-defense spending, improving operations and guaranteeing that all members are ready to respond when needed.
Coordinating and accelerating defense procurement is difficult because countries have varying national military priorities, that follow agendas and budgeting timelines that may not easily synchronize. Weapons systems use specialized components—from exotic alloys to reinforced electronics able to withstand battle conditions—that are slow to produce in normal times, and now face more hurdles due to global supply-chain constraints.
NATO has tried for many years to adopt common standards for equipment to ease provisioning. If all members shoot the same caliber bullets and shells, for example, pooling ammunition becomes easier. But varying traditions, entrenched standards and a desire to support national arms industries have often interfered with efforts to make equipment interchangeable.
NATO hopes in coming months to launch a large contract for ammunition involving many of its members, said a senior NATO official.
In a meeting at NATO headquarters last month that included all 30 members and around 20 allied countries helping to support Ukraine, Mr. Stoltenberg and officials in charge of national arms buying launched their new push by setting up working groups to better understand their needs and capabilities.
“These working groups will define multinational strategies to mitigate supply chain constraints,” boost production and help make equipment more interchangeable, said U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment
who led part of the Brussels meeting, last month.
Contractors say all the talk of buying new equipment this year is only starting to turn into discussions of orders and Ukraine-driven demand will take two to three years to show up in their financial results.
Defense companies want more predictability so they can plan and work with suppliers. Mr. LaPlante said governments want to provide long-term plans so companies can invest and avoid past “feast or famine” swings.
Traditionally, he said, “We go into panic mode, we increase production, and then when the crisis passed, we just go back to minimal production again.”
The U.S. has announced $17.5 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since January 2021, though the Pentagon has so far placed only around $3 billion in new orders. The rest could take many years to materialize.
Lockheed Martin Corp.
said in July that “the clutch isn’t engaged yet” on contracting or supply-chain preparations for new demand as international defense budgets rise. Lockheed makes the Himars long-range rocket system and coproduces Javelin portable antitank missiles with Raytheon Technologies Corp.
A widespread concern is “how can the supply chain get ready for that level of volume?” as so many countries prepare to increase orders, said Raytheon Chief Financial Officer
at an investor conference last month.
To ease contractors’ work with their suppliers, NATO and leading members want to gather more information about defense planning so they can communicate better with industry. NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency, which coordinates multicountry planning, acquisitions and maintenance, is offering to play a bigger role, particularly with ammunition, major platforms and large munitions, the senior NATO official said.
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