European arms manufacturers have warned of dependence on Chinese cotton, which is needed for shells

Liza Brovko

European arms manufacturers have warned about dependence on Chinese cotton, which is used in gunpowder for ammunition. This has become a threat to the expansion of production, which is needed to replenish Europeʼs own reserves and help Ukraine.

The Financial Times writes about it.

Cotton lint is the main ingredient in the production of nitrocellulose, which is used in artillery shells and other explosives.

According to Armin Papperger, executive director of the Rheinmetall concern, Europe receives more than 70% of its cotton lint from China. There is a risk that Beijing could delay supplies of lint for geopolitical reasons, so producers are stockpiling as much as possible.

China accounts for almost half of the cotton lint sold worldwide, with Germany, Sweden and Belgium being the biggest importers.

Currently, the European Union plans to increase the production of 155-mm projectiles according to the NATO standard to 1.4 million per year, but this is hindered by a shortage of nitrocellulose. European defense companies believe that it will be difficult to increase the production of explosives while depending on Chinese sources of supply.

Germany and other European countries are trying to diversify supplies of critical materials from China to reduce the risk. Meanwhile, Russia is ramping up ammunition production and increasing imports of nitrocellulose from China. Its purchases from China increased from $3.4 million in 2022 to $7.18 million in the first 10 months of 2023.

European producers are already looking for alternative supply routes, and the German concern Rheinmetall, whose subsidiary company Nitrochemie produces nitrocellulose, plans to expand production and create a production unit based on a new ammunition plant.

"If you want to scale up the production of munitions, it is not only about raw materials, but also about the construction of new production sites, which, depending on the standards, can take from six months to two years," summarized the head of the German Council for International Relations on Security and Defense Christian Melling.