A crewmember of the 122-mm self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika loads a projectile into the howitzer for firing onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on December 18, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine.

A crewmember of the 122-mm self-propelled howitzer 2S1 Gvozdika loads a projectile into the howitzer for firing onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on December 18, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Roman Chop / Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Cannon-repair deal is the latest foreign arms-maintenance-and-production effort inside Ukraine

Kyiv's supporters are looking to boost local industry as other aid grows more precarious.

A Western contractor with a history of working in conflict zones may repair cannons inside Ukraine as part of a push by the U.S. and European allies to move weapons maintenance and production closer to the front lines. 

BAE Systems announced on Monday that it had signed an agreement with vehicle maintenance company AMS Integrated Solutions Ltd to repair artillery systems that the United Kingdom has donated to Ukraine. 

AMS already has maintenance facilities in Ukraine as well as contracts to repair British military equipment donated to Ukraine. AMS’s facilities in Ukraine are staffed by Ukrainian engineers, not foreign nationals, according to the BAE press release. 

Once operational, the move will make AMS among the first announced Western companies to be involved in maintaining offensive military equipment within Ukraine. 

Ukrainian equipment is more commonly repaired either by Ukraine’s government or by foreign governments outside Ukraine, such as in Poland. Shipping equipment abroad, however, means that equipment spends more time away from the front line. 

AMS has a long history of military contracting, including in Afghanistan. The company, also known as Automotive Management Services, at one point operated in all 34 Afghan provinces in support of the Afghanistan police and others. 

Asked who would ultimately fund the work, a BAE representative said that only a teaming agreement had been made, with no contract yet in place. Teaming agreements are typically made between contractors and subcontractors when pursuing government work.

The news follows similar announcements by France, Germany, the UK, and the United States. 

A British trade-mission trip to Kyiv on Dec. 13 and 14 produced announcements that Babcock will help maintain two minesweepers with Ukraine-based staff, and a memorandum of understanding between Thales and Ukrainian drone maker Aerodrone

In early December, the U.S. hosted a delegation of Ukrainian officials in meetings that led to a raft of announcements aimed at supporting co-production. Among the measures is embedding a State Department advisor in Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries and a “Ukraine deal team” tasked with giving guidance on potential U.S-Ukraine agreements. 

That followed a French Defense Ministry-led delegation to Kyiv in September to discuss defense-industry partnerships with Ukraine. French firm Arquus agreed to repair Ukrainian armored personnel carriers, and software company Vistory will establish 3D printing factories, according to news reports. 

Separately, German defense firm Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told German magazine WirtschaftsWoche in early December that the company hoped to begin production of the Fuchs and Lynx infantry fighting vehicles in Ukraine by next year. 

“Once the contract is signed, we want to have the first wheel-drive vehicle ready in Ukraine after about six to seven months – and the first Lynx after twelve to 13 months,” Papperger said. 

Rheinmetall previously established a joint venture with Ukraine’s state-owned defense company Ukrainian Defense Industry. 

The announcements come as enthusiasm for arming Ukraine through weapons donations has waned in the United States. Republican congressional members are currently holding up a $61 billion aid package for Ukraine unless major changes to immigration policy are made. Pro-Ukraine sentiment among Republican voters has also declined steadily amid pro-isolationist statements from far-right Republican leaders. 

European politicians, meanwhile, have not met goals for increasing defense aid to Ukraine, even as U.S. aid appears more and more precarious.  

Replacing Ukraine’s Soviet-era defense industry with one churning out Western weapons can produce long-term benefits for Ukraine, said Cynthia Cook, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at think tank CSIS. 

While most agreements consist of repair and maintenance contracts so far, Ukraine could eventually host full-scale production facilities even while Russia is still at war with Ukraine, said Pavlo Verkhniatsky, director of COSA Solutions, a Ukraine-based strategic intelligence firm. 

“There are ways to protect your infrastructure,” said Verkhniatsky, pointing to how Ukraine after two years still has a functioning air force despite Russian attacks on Ukrainian airfields. 

“Both defense and deterrence includes having access to a defense industrial base, which is something that Ukraine will need to grow over time, and represents an opportunity for foreign investment and partnership,” said Cook. 

Western nations, meanwhile, get a strong bulwark against Russia in return, she added, calling the task of building up Ukraine’s defense industrial base as “urgent.” 

“Allied nations cannot wait until after the war is over to start planning and supporting Ukraine,” she said.