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China blocks the export of a basic component for explosives and rocket fuel

The acquisition of sophisticated military platforms, such as fighter jets and naval aircraft carriers, may have attracted greater global attention, but cheaper, more basic war materials, such as gunpowder (technically described as propellant), are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. find, and a very trivial limit set by the world's largest producer could get everyone into trouble.

China nearly monopolized the production of nitrocellulose from its own cotton, which was then processed into the explosive compound, and has now stopped deliveries of cotton for powder production, forcing the world's major military powers, including the United States, Russia and France, to seek alternative sources and become self-sufficient.

Experts describe propellants as pyrotechnic charges that combine combustible and oxidizing substances, allowing them to react without an external supply of oxygen and generating large volumes of combustion gases in a short time. These gases can push a projectile through the barrel of a pistol, rifle, autocannon, or cannon, and can also propel solid-fuel missiles launched from land, air, or sea, whether guided or unguided. Nitrocellulose is the basis of the most widely used explosives and rocket fuels.

During wars or military exercises, artillery accounts for the majority of propellant consumption. In other words, a shortage of propellants or gunpowder negatively affects a country's firepower. This lesson has been evident in the ongoing war in Ukraine, where shortages have severely hampered Ukraine's military campaign.

A study by the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in the United Kingdom estimated that Russian troops fired around 20 million artillery and mortar shells in 2022 and 2023. Due to supply shortages, consumption of ammunition of the Ukrainians was about a quarter of this figure.

On March 2, during a meeting of Kyiv's allies in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron admitted: “We are all aware of the need to address the shortage of some components, especially gunpowder. Dust is really what's missing today."

Amos Dossi, senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zürich, says that to cover the demand for gunpowder, Ukraine would need around five medium-sized factories with an annual capacity of 2,000 tons. Ukraine does not have such a production base and now even relies on Argentine producers, in addition to European and North American ones.

However, neither America nor its European allies are comfortable with their gunpowder supplies. Currently, the United States is a net importer of nitrocellulose. For this reason, Republican members of Congress announced legislation to urge the Biden administration to conduct an inventory of the U.S. gunpowder supply chain and offer suggestions to ensure sufficient supply is available for the military and consumers medium.

Senator James E. Risch, Republican of Idaho, and Representative Tom Emmer, Republican of Minnesota, are leading the effort. As Emmer says, “As threats to our nation's security evolve, it is more important than ever to take proactive measures to protect our ammunition supply chain. It's not just about improving our military readiness, but also about supporting America's manufacturing industry and ensuring that Minnesotans and law-abiding Americans can exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

The bill states that “Congress remains concerned about the domestic supply and production of nitrocellulose” and fears that a supply chain failure “could limit the production of large- and small-caliber ammunition, harming the commercial market and putting the fighters at risk." Therefore, the legislation would require a report within 180 days on production sources of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, and acid, and recommendations to expand production and prevent supply chain checkpoints.

Russia is also on the hunt for Nitrocellulose

Russia is also trying to localize the production of artillery gunpowder from its own raw materials, to reduce dependence on foreign supplies. He began commercial production of gunpowder from alternative raw materials, such as wood and linseed pulp.

The Wall Street Journa l reported on March 29 that Russia still produces little nitrocellulose, the main component of brands of artillery gunpowder, and relies more on raw materials from abroad. In the first year of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, imports of these products increased by 70% in 2022. As of mid-2023, 3,039 tons had been imported, almost double that of 2021.

Nearly half of Russia's current nitrocellulose imports pass through a small Turkish company, Noy. Through this company, Russia purchases nitrocellulose produced in the United States, Germany and Taiwan. German branches of New York-based International Flavors & Fragrances sold at least 80 tons of nitrocellulose to Noy, who then shipped the products to Russia. Taiwan's TNC Industrial produced more than 500 tons of nitrocellulose, which Noy shipped to Russia last year. Additionally, Russian importer Analytical Marketing Chemical Group has received nearly $700,000 worth of nitrocellulose from Taiwan over the past two years. The organization's website claims to be a regular partner of Russia's Kazan Gunpowder Plant.

Europe is looking for solutions

As for Europe, the European Commission believes the bloc will produce two million rounds a year and is therefore subsidizing factories aimed at increasing powder production. The Commission wants European gunpowder producers to diversify their sources of supply (mainly China) of the raw material, but alternative sources of powder, such as India and Thailand, have proven inadequate. Therefore, work is being done by investing in new solutions, such as wood cellulose.

According to reports, existing plants in Europe are being modernized to increase production. These include the European market leaders Rheinmetall (Germany), Eurenco (France), KNDS (Belgium) and Nammo (Norway) and relatively new ones such as Karlskoga (Sweden), Aschau (Germany), Wimmis (Switzerland), Pardubice (Czechia) and Granada (Spain). New factories are planned in Hungary and Romania, among other places. In Bergerac (France), a historic plant is reactivated on a large scale. Apparently, proposals are underway to convert Eastern European plants (which previously produced to ex-Soviet standards) to NATO standards.

However, as Amos Dossi rightly points out, upgrading and installing new plants in the Western world is not so easy, given the factors of environmental regulations, energy and labor costs, as well as the marked difficulties in finding production sites. suitable production and skilled workers.

An alternative way is to abandon nitrocellulose as a propellant for projectiles. There is still a long way to go in this direction, but Japan is going in this direction as it wants to introduce electromagnetic cannons on its ships, but it will not be a quick or simple process.


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The article China blocks the export of a basic component for explosives and rocket fuel comes from Economic Scenarios .


This is a machine translation of a post published on Scenari Economici at the URL https://scenarieconomici.it/la-cina-blocca-lexport-di-un-componente-base-per-esplosivi-e-combustibili-per-razzi/ on Tue, 09 Jul 2024 19:57:40 +0000.