WASHINGTON: The US government is expanding the types of weaponry it’s providing to Ukraine in the latest $800 million arms package to include howitzers, artillery, unmanned boats for coastal defense and other equipment not part of previous assistance packages.
“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” President Joe Biden said in a statement today following a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
For the first time, the US will provide 18 155mm Howitzers and 40,000 artillery rounds to fulfill Ukrainian requirements for fire support, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing following the White House’s announcement. “That’s reflective of the kind of fighting that the Ukrainians are expecting to be faced with here in this little bit more confined geographic area,” he said.
Also new to the package are an undefined number of unmanned coastal defense vessels, which Kirby said would come from Navy stockpiles.
The latest package will provide: 10 AN/TPQ-36 counter artillery radars; two AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel air surveillance systems; 500 Javelin missiles and other anti-armor systems; 300 Switchblade drones; 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers; 100 Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles; and 11 Mi-17 helicopters that were previously earmarked to be sent to Afghanistan.
Other assistance includes body armor, optics and laser range finders, explosives, and equipment to protect troops against chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.
Certain equipment will require additional training for Ukrainian forces, such as the howitzers, Sentinel radars and counter-artillery radars.
While the details have not been completely worked out, Kirby said that it is most likely that a small number of Ukrainian troops will leave the country for a short period of time to learn from US military instructors, and then train other Ukrainian troops once they return to the fight, Kirby said.
“We believe that we can put together appropriate training for some of these systems very, very quickly. These are not highly complex systems,” he said.
Kirby told reporters that the US government aims to deliver this latest round of assistance “as soon as possible,” and that previously announced assistance should be available in Ukraine within the next few days, he said.
The White House’s announcement of new aid for Ukraine comes as Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks sat down with defense CEOs to discuss the industrial impact on ongoing weapons production for Ukraine. The discussion, held earlier today, included executives from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, L3Harris, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Huntington Ingalls, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a good honest, candid discussion with these CEOs about the systems that they’re producing, about the rate at which they’re being produced, about the possibility for accelerating some of those production lines and expanding them based on the heavy draw on our inventory to support Ukraine,” Kirby said.
Lawmakers have raised concerns about the possibility of decreasing US stockpiles too much, and Hicks herself has previously commented on some of the difficulties posed by replenishing certain weapons, like Stinger missiles, which are difficult to create or contain obsolescent parts.
However, Kirby stressed that the Pentagon has not reached the point where the levels of weapon stocks threatens US readiness. But, he added, “we don’t want to get to that point before we started to have a conversation with industry about replenishment and the production line going forward.”
While the US government has stepped up the amount of security assistance provided to Ukraine over the past month, it has not always given Ukraine the advanced, big-ticket items its leaders have requested.
Earlier this morning, Zelenskyy tweeted a video message in English imploring international leaders to supply Ukraine with additional weaponry. Specifically he said the embattled country needed “heavy artillery, armored vehicles, air defense systems and combat aircraft” to “repel Russian forces and stop their war crimes.”
However, US assistance has, for the most part, been comprised of older, less-sophisticated weaponry that the Ukrainian military can use without specialized training.
On March 18, the Biden administration approved $800 million in Stinger anti-aircraft systems, shoulder-mounted Javelin anti-tank weapons, rockets, small arms, ammunition and — for the first time — Switchblade drones, which essentially function as loitering munitions.
Earlier this month, the US promised another $300 million in arms, including additional Switchblade and RQ-20 Puma drones, laser guided rockets, counter-drone systems, armored vehicles, commercial satellite imagery systems and other weapons.
On April 8, Slovakia agreed to transfer one of its S300 air defense systems to Ukraine, and the Biden administration announced that the US military would position a Patriot system in Slovakia in response. Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Hege has also expressed interest in transferring some of its old MiG-29s to Ukraine and is currently discussing the prospect with allies, according to Politico. On Tuesday, a senior defense official stated that the US would not be opposed to the transfer.
For first time, Ukraine to get US artillery in new $800M weapons package is written by Valerie Insinna for breakingdefense.com