Norway’s Defense Minister: The Risk of Lowered Arms Stocks in NATO

By Aaron Mehta

Norway is considering letting stocks of key munitions drop below their required levels, accepting greater vulnerability in the short term as the price the northern European nation is willing to pay to keep up the flow of weaponry to Ukraine.

The move would coincide with a longer-term push to raise the required baseline for munitions stockpiles to new, higher levels down the road. In other words, Norway is prepared to take on short term risk to keep Russia tied up in Ukraine, while looking to expand stockpiles in the future when munition production is more readily available.

The idea was still conceptual, and would need approval of Norway’s parliament. But Norwegian defense minister Bjørn Arild Gram, speaking to a small group of reporters while in Washington this week, said that getting the balance right between present and future planning is going to be a major focus over the coming months.

“We are more looking how we can increase the stocks from previous levels. But we are looking into if you can take even more from our stocks in the short term to support Ukraine. And to then to refill it,” he said. “Obviously we want to increase that even more, but maybe in the short term, we are donating.”

An aide to the minister noted that “we are at the point where we are looking to go lower because of the situation [in Ukraine] of course, but … longer term that is certainly pointing to an increase. So maybe [taking on] more risk now” with an eye towards the future.

“More and more it will be about cooperating with industry and purchasing new equipment,” Gram added.

There is growing concern on both sides of the Atlantic about munition stocks and how quickly industry can replace the weapons being donated to Ukraine. In July, the defense minister from The Netherlands described the situation as everyone “standing in line at the ammunition factories” and called for more coordination among industry. The Pentagon plans to host a meeting of European armaments leaders to figure out how best to coordinate such efforts, even as US firms struggle to keep up with demand for some of the highest-profile weapons being used by Kyiv.

For Norway, the majority of what has been sent to Ukraine was equipment that was being phased out of active use by the Norwegian military, Gram said. According to a Norwegian fact sheet, the following gear has been either shipped or is in the process of being shipped to Ukraine:

  • 4,000 M72 anti-tank weapons
  • 1,500 bulletproof vests, 5,000 helmets, 15,000 field rations, 1,000 protective masks with filters, 2,000 sleeping bags, 10,000 sleeping mats, some night vision equipment and some clothing
  • Approximately 100 Mistral air defense missiles and a number of launchers
  • 22 M109 howitzers, including related gear, spare parts and ammunition
  • MLRS long-range rocket artillery system, provided by a partnership between Norway and the United Kingdom
  • 14 Iveco LAV III Armored Vehicles
  • Approximately 160 Hellfire missiles with supporting equipment

In addition to the MLRS, the Kingdom has teamed with the UK on three initiatives: training Ukrainian forces in the United Kingdom, jointly funding the acquisition of the Norwegian micro-drone Black Hornet system (Norway is contributing NOK 90 million, or $8.5 million USD, to that effort), and contributing NOK 400 million ($38.4 million) to a UK-led fund for procurement and transportation of weapons to Ukraine.

Asked what might come next, Gram declined to go into detail.

“Beyond that, I won’t speculate too much in what can be future donations,” he said. “It will be a mix of what we take from our own stocks, what we buy from the industry, what we finance to other countries supplying Ukraine. So is will be a combination of that.”

This article was published by Breaking Defense on September 23, 2022.