Estonia eyes kick-starting a domestic ammunition industry

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MILAN — Estonian leaders are assessing options for making the Baltic country, known for its cyber-savvy startup scene, into a producer of ammunition for the exploding European market, according to a senior defense official.

“Ukraine needs more ammunition and countries have lots of stocks to refill as well,” Tuuli Duneton, undersecretary for defense policy, told Defense News in an interview. She was referring to the dynamic by which European nations are donating rounds to Kyiv while at the same time ramping up production for their own forces. “The Estonian government made a decision that, in principle, Estonia could have a defense industry in the area of ammunition.”

Estonia depends heavily on imports when it comes to military goods, including ammunition. The government will need a constant supply of rounds for the weapons purchases lined up in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

For example, Estonia launched a tender last month for the acquisition of over $300 million worth of 155mm artillery shells.

“We currently do not have any ammunition production within the country, [hence] we are heavily dependent on other European countries for this,” Duneton said.

She explained that two courses of action are on the table to establish domestic production.

The first one would involve an Estonian defense company setting up a dedicated facility for producing ammo, according to the official. As no local companies know how to do this, it may require a transfer of technology from a firm with the proper know-how, which can be costly.

The second option would entail the establishment of a manufacturing plant in Estonia by a European company, preferably a privately owned one.

“We are quite open in this area, but what we do not foresee is for a state-owned firm to establish production in Estonia. … We have a different approach on this than some of our neighbors,” Duneton said.

“The Estonian state and government are very liberal, and we are a highly market-based society, so we appreciate the competition as it lowers the price of ammunition or what you are producing,” she added.

Estonian defense officials have already started assessing suitable locations for either option.

Last month, Indrek Sirp, special advisor for the defense industry development at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, told local media that five possible sites in the northern and western part of the country had been proposed.

“The next step would be to showcase to the municipalities in question key indicators including the planned facilities land area, size of hazardous zone, logistics and energy connections as well as proximity of available local labor,” Sirp said during an interview with the Estonian newspaper ERR.

According to statements made by the Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur in August, Tallin has provided Ukraine with military assistance worth more than $441 million, including ammunition.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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