Here’s How U.S. Aid to Ukraine Might Help on the Battlefield

Now that the Senate has approved a nearly $61 billion aid package to Ukraine, and with President Biden poised to sign it, desperately needed American weapons could be arriving on the battlefield within days.

The weapons package — which has been delayed over political wrangling by House Republicans since last fall — is “a lifeline” for Kyiv’s military, said Yehor Cherniev, the deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament’s national security committee.

But it will not include everything that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has asked for as his military struggles to hold firm after two years of war against invading Russian forces.

Here is a look at what Ukraine says it needs, what it is expected to get in the American aid package and whether it will be enough to make an immediate difference.

Above all, Mr. Zelensky says Ukraine needs artillery ammunition and long-range missiles to strike Russian forces, along with air defenses to protect cities and key infrastructure like military bases, power plants and weapons factories.

“We need to inflict maximum damage on everything that Russia uses as a base for terror and for its military logistics,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly address to Ukrainians on Monday.

To do so, he has said, Ukraine needs more long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems — known as ATACMS and pronounced “attack’ems” — to hit behind enemy lines and deep into Russian-held territory. The United States did send a small number of ATACMS, with a range of roughly 100 miles, to Ukraine last year, and they were used to strike two Russian air bases in October. Ukraine has been asking for a longer-range version that can strike targets about 190 miles away.

Artillery ammunition, like the 155-millimeter caliber shells that fit NATO-standard launchers donated by the West, has been in short supply in Ukraine for more than a year, as Russian forces are firing 10 times as many rounds on the battlefield as outgunned Ukrainian troops, Mr. Zelensky said last week.

Mr. Zelensky has also described air defenses — and specifically the American-made surface-to-air antiballistic Patriot missiles system — as “crucial.” And he has been pushing for more than a year for F-16 fighter jets to provide another layer of air defense over Ukraine’s ground war.

The Pentagon has prepared what a U.S. official said on Tuesday was a $1 billion military aid package to be rushed to Ukraine once Mr. Biden signs the funding bill. The package, which was initially reported by Reuters, will include shoulder-fired Stinger surface-to-air missiles, 155-millimeter shells, anti-tank guided missiles and battlefield vehicles.

The U.S. official said the package would also include ammunition for the so-called High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which can launch ATACMS missiles. The official would not confirm whether ATACMS specifically would be part of the aid, and the Pentagon generally has resisted discussing the missiles’ use in Ukraine, in part out of concern that it could inflame Russia by admitting it was sending long-range weapons to the war.

It is not clear whether the United States will send Ukraine another Patriot air-defense system, as Germany and other allies are reportedly demanding. The systems are scarce and expensive, and giving one more to Ukraine could mean pulling it from protecting American assets, either domestically or internationally.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, said on Tuesday that the American aid package would allow for “advanced air-defense systems” to Ukraine but did not specify which kind.

Mr. Stoltenberg also said NATO allies were working to deliver F-16 jets to Ukraine. But the United States has so far declined to donate any of its warplanes, although the Air Force has helped train some of the several dozen Ukrainian pilots who so far are learning to fly them. Officials have said about 12 pilots should be ready to fly the F-16s in combat by July, but as few as six of the jets will have been delivered to Ukraine by then.

Although the $61 billion aid package is designated as support for Ukraine, Pentagon officials have said that as much as $48 billion will go to American weapons manufacturers either to replenish U.S. stockpiles that have been nearly emptied over the past two years of war or to build additional arms for Ukraine.

The $1 billion infusion that the Pentagon is preparing would come from the remaining funds, and Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, who is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it could be “in transit by the end of the week.” That could immediately help shore up Ukraine’s front line, where forces need to quickly halt Russian drones, jets and light bombers, and prevent Ukraine from losing ground.

But Ukrainian officials seem skeptical that enough weapons will be delivered quickly or consistently over the coming months to keep up the momentum.

“When we get it, when we have it in our arms, then we do have the chance to take this initiative and to move ahead to protect Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday. But, he said, “it depends on how soon we get this aid.”

Weapons and ammunition sent to Ukraine are often drawn from Pentagon assets in Europe, with shipments coordinated from a staff of about 300 people based in Germany.

Yet for months, American and other allies have repeatedly warned that they had few weapons to give Ukraine until weapons production could catch up with the war’s voracious demand. That led Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, to question in an interview published on Tuesday where the new package of weapons would be coming from.

“Is this equipment available?” Ms. Markarova told the Ukrainian daily Ukrainska Pravda. “Will we find, and produce, enough equipment quickly enough to get it?”

The funding helps, she said, but questioned whether all the weapons and equipment that it would pay for “is ready for delivery.”

“Unfortunately, no,” Ms. Markarova said.

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