As Ukraine runs out of the munitions it needs to keep fighting the Russian invasion and foreign reserves dwindle, some of Kiev’s staunchest supporters, including the United States, are pressuring European allies to rapidly ramp up production of weapons.

An ambitious proposal made by Estonia and reviewed by NBC News would see Europe increase production of 155mm artillery shells sevenfold, moving manufacturing capacity from 240,000 to 300,000 shells per year to up to 2.1 million shells per year.

The estimated cost would be nearly $4.25 billion for the joint procurement effort that would be shared by the member states of the European Union. If met, Europe would produce Ukraine’s ammunition needs in six months, instead of the four years it would take at current production levels, the proposal says.

Just before giving a searing speech denouncing Russia at a United Nations Security Council meeting dedicated to the first anniversary of the invasion last week, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told NBC News that he had discussed the proposal with several of his European counterparts over dinner. In New York.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu in Brussels on February 20. Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP – Getty Images

While he said he was «sure» a plan would be agreed upon, there was no time to lose.

“The modus operandi may differ, who will do the procurement and how much, etc., but the important thing is that it be done quickly,” he said.

For Ukraine, the production of shells in Europe and the United States is at a crisis point.

“If production stays at the same level or a little higher, we will run out of shells this year,” according to Andriy Zagorodnyuk, who previously served as defense minister to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and now advises the Ukrainian government on the acquisition of weapons.

Bordering Russia, Estonia used to be part of the Soviet Union and its leaders have warned for years of the expansionist impulses of President Vladimir Putin. He has been key to efforts to dramatically increase munitions production, according to a Senate staffer close to the arms production dialogue between the US and its allies who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the discussions.

The country has served as the «North Star» for Europe’s military aid to Ukraine, the staff member said.

The small country, with a population of 1.3 million, has devoted almost half of its defense budget to helping Ukraine. Now, “the United States is urging European governments to increase production of artillery munitions,” the staffer said, as the United States is quintupling its own production.

Across the pond, officials said they are responding as best they can. The United States «is asking us to do the same, and we are, on a smaller scale, doing exactly that,» a Western official told NBC News on condition of anonymity to openly discuss private matters.

Gun procurement and manufacturing has been a key item on the Biden administration’s agenda, especially in recent months as it has become increasingly clear that US ammunition stocks are running low. US domestic production of conventional weapons, such as howitzers, tanks and the ammunition required for them, fell out of fashion in the US industrial base after the end of the Cold War. Those manufacturing lines, which fell fallow in the ensuing decades, have been slow to become fully operational again. Public concern has grown in recent months that the US alone will not be able to maintain its steady supply to Ukraine.

Three European diplomats said the issue was one of the top priorities raised during President Joe Biden’s visit to Poland for the anniversary of the war, and was a regular point of discussion during the Munich Security Conference last month between European officials. It is also expected to be a central topic of discussion for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Biden during their meeting at the White House on Friday.

«All of NATO’s arms directors are collectively looking at ways to increase production capacity,» said an administration official who spoke anonymously to share details about the ongoing efforts, referring to senior officials from each member country. in charge of defense acquisitions. «Given the changing security environment, NATO allies have identified this as a necessity.»

The Biden administration announced Friday that it was contributing even more ammunition to help Ukrainians with a new $400 million package that would remove equipment from Pentagon inventories.

The problem is not that there is opposition among Europeans. Instead, the challenge is time and country bureaucracies. Particularly in the defense industry, Zagorodnyuk said, European security and competition regulations are quite rigid. Expanding and building new plants to meet Estonia’s proposal within a year would be extremely fast for Europe, Zagorodnyuk said, but «in Ukraine it would not be fast enough.»

“It will take time: procurement, ordering, production lines and the practical logistics of delivery,” Estonia’s Reinsalu said, suggesting that European countries could still provide ammunition from their remaining stockpiles and refill once production catches up.

One problem for Ukrainians is that the war has been a kind of military setback. After the Cold War, American and European defense companies organized to produce more advanced, high-tech weapons in peacetime and were not preparing for a ground war in Europe that relied heavily on artillery, Trevor said. Taylor, Professor Emeritus at Cranfield University. in the United Kingdom.

“Most of the NATO countries didn’t really imagine that they would be in an artillery war. I mean it’s a shock to the system,» said Taylor, who heads a defense and industry research program at the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

Europe’s defense industry has tried to adjust to Ukraine’s high demand, but is seeking a longer-term commitment from governments to justify the large investments needed to increase production of artillery shells and other munitions, he said.