The U.S. has approved sending another $1 billion in weapons aid to Ukraine, the largest such package to date, to include additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers and 155mm artillery systems as well as 1,000 more Javelin missiles.

While the latest deal doesn’t include delivery of more rocket launchers or howitzers, Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, said the package is intended to ensure Ukraine has a steady supply of the ammunition needed for those capabilities utilized on the battlefield against Russia.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin H. Kahl holds a press briefing about the latest security assistance package in support of Ukraine, the Pentagon Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2022. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

“These are all critical capabilities to help the Ukrainians repel the Russian offensive in the East and also to address evolving developments in the South and elsewhere,” Kahl said during a press briefing. “[HIMARS] are not systems that we assess you need in the hundreds to have the types of effects [you want]. These are precision-guided systems for very particular types of targets and the Ukrainians are using them as such.”

The new package, which is the 18th drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories, also includes 20 120mm mortar systems and 20,000 rounds of 120mm mortar ammunition, munitions for NASAMS air defense systems, hundreds of AT-4 anti-armor systems, 50 armored medical treatment vehicles, Claymore anti-personnel munitions, C-4 explosives and demolition equipment. 

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said recently Ukraine likely needs around 50 long-range rocket systems, such as HIMARS and M270 MLRS launchers, to “effectively hold back” Russia and at least 100 such systems “for an effective counter-offensive” (Defense Daily, July 19).

Kahl noted the U.S. has delivered 16 Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built HIMARS to date, which he said have had a “profound effect” on the fight, and added the U.K. has provided three M270 MLRS while Germany is also committed to providing three of the launchers as well.

“[HIMAR and GMLRS rockets] are kind of the equivalent of an airstrike, frankly, a precision-guided airstrike. These are GPS-guided munitions. They’ve been very effective in hitting things that previously the Ukrainians had difficult hitting reliably, [like] command and control nodes, sustainment and logistics hubs, key radar systems and other things. What it’s done is it’s made it more difficult for the Russians to move forces around the battlefield,” Kahl said. 

Kahl declined to specify the specific number of GMLRS munitions, also built by Lockheed Martin, being provided for the HIMARS launchers.

“We don’t want to tip off the Russians to every last detail,” Kahl said. 

Kahl also addressed recent comments about the potential for the U.S. to provide fighter aircraft to Ukraine, reiterating that it’s not likely something to come together in the near-term but that it’s “not inconceivable” in the future.

“We need to get them capabilities that deliver on the timeframe that’s relevant to them. So we’re focused on these types of capabilities, not something that might deliver in a year, two years, three years, etc.,” Kahl said. “There is work being done here at the Pentagon and elsewhere in Europe and EUCOM to help work with Ukrainians to identify their medium to long-term requirements. Think of things that aren’t measured in days and weeks but measured in months and a handful of years, and I think [within that] there are real questions about what would be most useful in terms of assisting the Ukrainian Air Force and improving its capabilities. It’s not inconceivable that down the road Western aircraft could be part of the mix on that. But the final analysis has not been done.”

John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, confirmed to reporters last month the White House and Pentagon are exploring the potential for providing Ukraine with U.S.-built fighter aircraft, while echoing Kahl that no such plan is likely to happen soon (Defense Daily, July 22). 

“DoD is making some preliminary explorations into the feasibility of potentially providing fighter aircraft to the Ukrainians. But it’s not going to be something that they’re going to be able to execute immediately or even in the short-term because integrating and operating any kind of aircraft, especially advanced fighter aircraft with complex sensors and systems, that’s a difficult endeavor,” Kirby said at the time.

Kirby’s comments followed remarks from senior Air Force leaders, including Secretary Frank Kendall, that the U.S. may be open to providing older platforms, including A-10 close air support planes.

Kahl, on Monday, also provided the Pentagon’s assessment that Russia is running low on certain munitions and that international export controls placed on Moscow may make it difficult to replenish its stockpiles of those weapons.

“Certainly, the Russians are expending a lot of munitions. I think our assessment is that they’ve attrited a significant percentage of their precision-guided munitions and their stand-off munitions, so think air-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, things like that. And I think we’ve actually seen a reduction in how often they’re using those because they’re running low,” Kahl said. “My sense is [Russia] has a lot of dumb artillery rounds and other munitions like that. I don’t think we have any assessment they’re reaching some inflection point where they’re about to run out of that.”

With the latest $1 billion to aid Ukraine with additional weapons, the U.S. has now committed $9.8 billion in security assistance to Kyiv since the beginning of the Biden administration, to include $9.1 billion since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in February.