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How to Really Help Ukraine Beat Russia: Weapons Factories

Bullet up close. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Don’t Just Give Ukraine Weapons, Build Them Factories – After concluding a $3.5 billion supplemental military aid package for Ukraine last month, military equipment is already flowing to Ukraine.

Soon, M1 Abrams tanks and German Leopards will also make their way into Ukrainian hands.

Still, despite its gains on the battlefield, Ukraine burns through artillery and ammunition faster than outsider powers can replace it. This factors into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculations as he pursues a World War II-style war of attrition in the belief that he can outlast Ukraine.

Weapons Factories for Ukraine Could Help

Rather than constantly requiring Ukraine to knock on doors in Washington and across Europe when its reserves grow low, the Biden administration and its European partners should help Ukraine stand up its own weapons factories to produce missiles and artillery. Such factories, especially if defended with anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, would be no more vulnerable than the staging grounds and transports that bring new weapons shipments into and across Ukraine.

Ironically, this would mimic the strategy of Iran. Tehran not only provides its clients—Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and the Syrian and Russian regimes—with drones but also often provides allies with the ability to manufacture the drones themselves.

While Iranian strategists enable direct production in order to claim plausible deniability, an American effort to bolster Ukraine’s weapons factories would have several advantages for both Ukraine and the United States: It would shorten delivery times of needed weaponry to the front and enable the bilateral defense bureaucracy to focus more on higher-end platforms like tanks and F-16s. In addition, it would solidify Ukraine’s ability to defend itself once it wins the war.

I asked defense experts in both Kyiv and Washington about the efficacy of augmenting Ukraine’s own defense industry. Many in Ukraine are focused on the need for tanks and convincing the White House and Pentagon to authorize the start the F-16 training for which Congress has already authorized funds. In Washington, too many focus on whether a post-war Ukraine would join NATO and how it would integrate into the defense alliance’s broader needs. This puts the cart before the horse, however. Future U.S.-Ukraine defense cooperation need not depend on NATO membership, given how unreliable Germany is and Turkey’s penchant for blackmail.

A modern defense industry could also help Ukraine pay back its allies in a post-conflict future as its factories could help replenish prepositioned stocks across northwestern Europe. Putin might lose, but Putinism is deeply engrained in the Russian psyche and all Russian neighbors will continue to face the Russian threat for decades. Never again should Europe be as unprepared as it was in the run-up to Russia’s 2022 invasion.

When Ukraine defeats Russia, it will mark the end of a bloody chapter but not the end of the story. It will cost Ukraine billions of dollars to rebuild its infrastructure. Much of these funds will come from the donor community, while some certainly should come from Russian reparations. Still, Ukrainians will need to pay a great deal out-of-pocket, so any industrial foundation will be valuable.

Building and upgrading Ukraine’s own defense industry could be an important component not only against the backdrop of the current war, but also into a post-war future.

Author Biography and Expertise

A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East. A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism to deployed US Navy and Marine units.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).