Note d'Analyse

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Date d'insertion : 05/06/2005

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Exports of production equipment for ammunition:
practices in Germany, France and Belgium

Holger Anders, GRIP's researcher

May the 26th, 2005



Among the main factors contributing to the availability of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and their ammunition is the increase in the number of legitimate producers. This increase is largely a result of transfers of production equipment. Once installed, this equipment can be used for the production of SALW for decades. Regrettably, a further result is the increased the availability of SALW to undesirable or unauthorised end-users. To prevent contributing to such proliferation, a growing number of states is adopting restrictive export practices on transfers of production equipment for SALW and their ammunition.

This brief compares the export practices in France, Germany, and Belgium for equipment for the production of SALW ammunition for military and law enforcement markets. Companies in these countries are the main global providers of such equipment. The companies are the New Lachaussée and EDB Engineering in Belgium, Manurhin Equipment in France, and Firtz Werner in Germany. It seems that Belgian export practices are less restrictive than those in France and Germany, both of which have adopted a policy of caution. This policy of caution aims to ensure that ammunition produced by machines authorised for export is not diverted. Belgium export practices imply therefore the undermining of efforts in Germany and France to limit the further spread of sources of SALW ammunition production. Belgian export practices therefore also seem to run counter to an emerging policy of caution on the level of the European Union.

Providers of ammunition production equipment

Manufacturing facilities for SALW ammunition for armed forces are established in all regions of the world. Many developing countries acquired production capacities for such ammunition in the 1960s and 70s when becoming newly independent states from their former colonial powers. Germany and France supported this build-up of domestic production capacities as part of a policy to assist friendly states in meeting their legitimate national defence needs. It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of manufacturing facilities for ammunition for armed forces in the world are equipped with machines produced and exported by German and French companies.[1]

These long established companies were joined in the 1990s by new competition from Belgium. While one of the Belgian providers for ammunition production equipment is a subsidiary to the French company currently leading the global market, the other operates independently and is said to push on markets with aggressive marketing and pricing tactics.[2] Together, providers in these three countries are currently the only ones on the global market, which offer modern equipment for the production of high quality ammunition for military and law enforcement markets at competitive prices.

Other providers of ammunition production equipment are located in, among other, China and Serbia. In addition, second-hand equipment is sometimes offered on global markets, including by a company based in the US. Further, there is a wide-spread capacity for cloning of existing production equipment through copying of machines and their operating procedures. This means that production equipment, if not necessarily modern equipment, is available from numerous sources. Machinery by providers outside Germany, France and Belgium produces ammunition of a quality though that does not necessarily conform to standards within, for example, states member to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Export practices in Germany, France and Belgium

Already in the 1960s, it was German export praxis to make transfers of production equipment for SALW and their ammunition only to state actors and on the condition of an end-user undertaking that the produced equipment will only be for domestic consumption. Germany though repeatedly became confronted with violations of such end-user undertakings without being in a position to counter this. One cause for such violations was a lack of capacity in recipient countries, despite willingness, to ensure the responsible national management of arms and ammunition. Another cause was changes of political regimes in recipient countries that led to the emergence of new governments, which considered themselves no longer bound to undertakings given by their predecessors.

France supplied ammunition production equipment especially to former French colonies but also to other countries. It made experiences similar to those of Germany regarding the proliferation of ammunition derived from equipment it once authorised for transfer. In response, Germany and France significantly restricted in recent years their range of permissible destinations for transfers of ammunition production equipment.


The German Political Guidelines for the Export of Military Equipment of 19 January 2000[3] stipulate that exports of military SALW and ammunition, as well as production equipment, are, as a matter of principle, only granted to governmental end-users in states member to the European Union or NATO, or ‘NATO-equated’ countries.[4] In addition, the guidelines specify that the ability of the recipient country to exercise effective export controls on the technology or production equipment as well as of derived goods will be considered according to strict standards. Exceptions to this restriction of permissible destinations are only made in the context of servicing the established client base of German exporters.[5]


The French company exporting production equipment for ammunition machines has made very similar experiences. Thus, albeit not codified in publicly accessible guidelines on arms export controls, France is said to have also become considerably more restrictive in its licensing of transfers of production equipment for military SALW ammunition to countries in the developing world. This was confirmed by the French provider, who argued that markets in, among other, Africa and South-East Asia previously accessible to the company have increasingly become non-permissible export-destinations under French export practices.[6]


According to industry insiders and others, Belgium has frequently granted in recent years export authorisations for production equipment of small calibre ammunition to destinations in the developing world, which are no longer among permissible markets for German and French companies.[7] This implies that Belgian export practices for ammunition production equipment are undermining the counter-proliferation efforts undertaken by the German and French governments. Moreover, Belgium has already made the experience itself that it has very little means to verify compliance by end-users with undertakings given to Belgian authorities.

An example here is Eldoret ammunition plant in Kenya that was built in the 1990s with assistance from the FN Herstal. The Kenyan government gave a written assurance to the Belgian government in 1997 that ammunition produced at the plant will not be transferred to countries in the Great Lakes region.[8] However, there are accusations that, despite evident willingness by the Kenyan authorities, ammunition produced at Eldoret has been diverted through corruption, neglect or theft. In addition, the estimated production capacity at Eldoret of about 20 million rounds annually greatly exceeds the estimated annual domestic needs of the Kenyan armed military, police and security forces of an estimated two to three million rounds.[9] The absence in Kenya of greater public accountability and transparency in ammunition production and transfers sustains concerns that ammunition may be diverted without being detected.

Conclusion and recommendations

It is an established aim under the European Union (EU) Code of Conduct on the export of military equipment to further promote the convergence on high common standards of national export policy and practices. In view of this aim, it is desirable that the competent Belgian authorities:

· Ensure that export practices are not less restrictive than those of other EU member states. In particular, the competent Belgian authorities should ensure that their practices do not undermine efforts by Germany and France to restrict the establishment of modern production facilities to countries with high national standards that ensure the responsible national management of arms and ammunition.

· Work together with EU partners to promote the EU-wide adoption of high national standards on the export of production capacities for military equipment. This should include the development of guidelines under the EU Code of Conduct to assist national authorities in assessing the risk of diversion when considering export authorisations for technology and machinery for production equipment.

[1] Industry interviews, Germany, Belgium and France, April 2005.

[2] Industry interviews, Germany, Belgium, and France, April 2005.

[3] Politische Grundsätze der Bundesregierung für den Export von Kriegswaffen und sonstigen Rüstungsgütern,
Berlin, 19 January 2000.

[4] As NATO-equated countries are considered in Germany: Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Japan.

[5] Arms export official, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Germany, telephone conversation, 18 April 2005. This restrictive policy was reaffirmed by the German government in 2003 when it stated that export licenses for technology and production equipment are denied as a matter of principle where the export would open new production lines for small arms and ammunition in non-EU, NATO or ‘NATO-equated’ countries (see Bericht der Bundesregierung über ihre Exportpolitik für konventionelle Rüstungsgüter im Jahre 2003 (Rüstungsexportbericht 2003), Berlin, 1 December 2004, p.17).

[6] Industry interview, France, April 2005

[7] Industry interviews, Germany, Belgium, and France, April 2005.

[8] See Amnesty International (2004) Undermining Global Security: the European Union’s arms exports, available at, accessed 14 May 2005).

[9] see ibid., as well as Human Rights Watch (2002) Playing with Fire: Weapons Proliferation, Political Violence, and Human Rights in Kenya, available at, accessed 14 May 2005).


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