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Russia-Ukraine war: US interested in buying artillery shells from Turkey for Kyiv

Washington may supply Kyiv with Turkish 155mm artillery rounds but there might not be enough production to last
A Turkish T-155 Firtina howitzer, which is using 155mm artillery shells that are needed by Ukraine. (Ozan Kose / AFP)
A Turkish T-155 Firtina howitzer, which uses 155mm artillery shells that are needed by Ukraine (Ozan Kose/AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

A senior US official said this week that Washington could purchase 155mm artillery rounds from Turkey to supply Ukraine. 

Victoria Nuland, US deputy secretary of state, told CNN Turk on Tuesday that Washington had "started working again in the defence industry [with Turkey].

“Turkey now produces 155mm ammunition. We need this very much. Ukraine needs it very much. We are working on this.”

The US is already in similar talks with Greece to purchase 75,000 artillery shells with various calibres from Athens to replenish Ukrainian stocks, which are running out quickly due to the nature of the war that has been ongoing since 2022. 

Turkish state-owned corporation Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) has a near monopoly on the production of 155mm shells, and the numbers it produces are kept confidential. 

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Turkey has been walking a fine line between Ukraine and Russia since the beginning of the war, selling armed drones, heavy weaponry, equipment and ammunition to Kyiv, but also not joining the western sanctions against Moscow. 

Ankara mostly keeps its arm sales to Ukraine under wraps, until they are exposed through leaks on social media. 

Turkish armed forces are also heavily using the 155mm rounds in their T-155 Firtina howitzers in their cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq

But does Turkey have enough munitions to export such rounds? 

Turkish munitions in action

Yusuf Akbaba, a defence industry consultant based in Ankara, says Turkey could export a certain amount of 155mm ammunition to Ukraine if it wanted.

“The numbers wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands, but it could be a good opportunity for the Turkish defence sector to work together with the American counterparts,” he told Middle East Eye. “MKE through its subsidiaries is already substantially increasing its 155mm production lines.” 

MKE produces several types of 155mm rounds through a cooperation deal with Turkish state company Roketsan and Turkish government research agency Tubitak’s defence arm Sage.

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The consortium mainly supplies the Turkish military and is also perfecting the accuracy of the same rounds, but other private companies are also interested in producing the artillery shells. 

An Ankara-based source familiar with the production levels agreed that it would be difficult to export a significant amount of 155mm to Ukraine.

“But we have already seen some Turkish 155mm rounds in action in Ukraine, I assume there must have been some past sales,” the source told MEE. 

Oryxspioenkop, an open intelligence website headquartered in the Netherlands, reported last year that Ankara delivered 100,000 155mm shells to Ukraine in May 2023. 

The leaked photos and export records also indicate that Ankara exported cluster munitions, namely 155mm M483A1 DPICM artillery rounds to Kyiv last summer. Both Turkish and Ukrainian officials deny that Turkey had exported such munitions. 

A senior Ukrainian general also said in July that Ukraine was interested in acquiring Turkish T-155 Firtina howitzers, not mentioning the size of the request nor the possible timeline. 

Rocket launchers and machine guns

MKE general manager Ilhami Keles said at a defence cooperation summit in July that the company has been exporting various products to 67 countries. 

“In its extensive history, it has produced various weapons and ammunition in 5.56mm to 203mm formats, from rockets to platform systems,” he said.

“It has satisfied the needs of Turkish Armed Forces from weapons to ammunition and as well as exporting these products.” 

Turkey also delivered dozens of TRLG-230 precision-guided missiles to Ukraine in 2022. 

Developed by Turkish producer Roketsan, the 230mm TRLG-230 missile has high accuracy against targets within a range of 20-70 km, thanks to its global positioning system (GPS) and laser guidance.

The TRLG-230 can be combined with multiple rocket launchers, known as MLRS, whose American equivalent, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), has been very effective against the Russian forces in Ukraine. 

Ankara also supplied Ukraine with heavy machine guns and had already delivered more than 600 units last year. 

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