A few days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the first alarm bells went off: if the war didn’t finish quickly, ammunition would soon become a critical bottleneck. Seventeen months later, shortages are everywhere — and still no finalised European plan for how to overcome them.
Meanwhile, soldiers on the frontline are sharing bizarre images. They are manually grinding mortar shells to make them fit their weapons. The scarcity is only getting worse and is hindering Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
This investigation reconstructs the dynamics behind the scenes, examines why the political decision-making takes so long and exposes the weak spots of European defence: national interests, fragmented standards and a “wait-and-see” attitude in the arms industry.
A coalition of media partners spent six months examining the main reasons for Europe’s ongoing struggle to ramp up ammunition production.
The journalists interviewed dozens of sources with insight into the problem: industry insiders, diplomats (including those present at crucial moments in Estonian backrooms) and defence experts who gave early warnings of shortages.
The cross-border team supplemented its access to diplomatic and political sources with findings from the frontline in Ukraine, allowing the journalists to show how the failure to solve the ammunition issues was directly affecting the country’s ability to defend itself.
The journalists correlated what they were told with data from meeting notes, obtained through freedom-of-information requests and open sources.
This combination of approaches allowed them to build a detailed reconstruction of who said what when, with more than 250 data points, all referencing a meeting, a call or a step in the process.
Oekraïne heeft zo weinig munitie dat soldaten handmatig granaten bijschaven om ze in hun mortieren te laten passen
— The Investigative Desk (@InvestigativeD) July 10, 2023
The investigation resulted in stories published by the following news outlets:
- The Kyiv Independent (Ukraine)
- Liberation (France)
- Eesti Ekspress (Estonia)
- Follow the Money (Netherlands)
- El Diario (Spain)
- Lennart Hofman – The Investigative Desk (Netherlands)
- Anna Myroniuk – The Kyiv Independent (Ukraine)
- Laurens Groeneveld – The Investigative Desk (Netherlands)
- Iliès Hagoug – Lighthouse Reports (France)
- Oliver Kund – Eesti Ekspress (Estonia)
- Pol Pareja – El Diario (Spain)
- Ludo Hekman – Lighthouse Reports (Netherlands)