WASHINGTON ― The Biden administration will send $550 million in new lethal aid for Ukraine, including ammunition for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and 155mm artillery, as U.S. lawmakers and Ukrainian officials push for more.
Ukraine has 16 HIMARs, which have proved effective in repelling Russian forces in the east. The Ukrainians want additional air defense support, including more HIMARs and fighter jets. The country needs 50 HIMARs and 100 launchers to start retaking Russian-held territory, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine’s Olena Zelenska reiterated this request when she gave a speech to Congress last month, marking the first time that a first lady from another state addressed lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“I’m asking for air defense systems in order for rockets not to kill children in their strollers,” Zelenska said.
The advanced rocket systems have a range of 80 kilometers (50 miles), enabling the Ukrainians to hit the Russian positions from beyond the reach of most of the enemy’s artillery, and to strike logistics and command and control nodes.
Monday’s announcement came after Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said four more HIMARS had arrived in the country.
“We have proven to be smart operators of this weapon,” Reznikov’s said in a tweet. “The sound of the #HIMARS volley has become a top hit of this summer at the front lines!”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke together with their Ukrainian counterparts to inform them of the new package, the White House said in a statement. Austin held a call with Reznikov on Friday.
Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman is among lawmakers who have been pressing the Biden administration to step up lethal aid, saying Ukrainian HIMARS strikes have degraded Russia’s war effort significantly.
“I urge the admin to continue sending more HIMARS and ammo to #Ukraine,” Portman said on Twitter.
Bipartisan frustration at pace of roll out
Republicans and some Democrats have started to voice frustration with what they view as the slow pace of rolling out HIMARs to Ukraine.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to understand why this administration’s pace of military aid is not increasing to meet Ukraine’s needs so they can improve their leverage and bring [Russian President Vladimir Putin] to the negotiating table,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, told Defense News in a statement. “Ukraine is relying on us and our allies at this critical moment, and they need us to move with both speed and regularity so they don’t run out of these weapons and other much-needed munitions.”
A bipartisan group of six senators urged the Biden administration to expedite HIMARS delivery to Ukraine and provide fourth-generation fighter jets in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Blinken last month. Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joined Republicans Portman, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in signing the letter.
“These systems must be delivered at a pace and in quantity sufficient to impact the outcome of the fighting in the Donbas, Kherson and other regions,” the senators wrote. “Our assistance must be decisive, not incremental.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., attributed the incremental approach to the logistics of training Ukrainian forces to use the artillery.
“They’ve been sending them, and in the process of delivering they have to train troops,” Reed told Defense News. “And that takes really seasoned artillery men out of the country of Ukraine and then put them back in.”
Graham emphasized that advanced air capabilities would help get Ukrainian children “back to school” and allow Ukrainians to “get their economy up and running again.” He told Defense News that the Biden administration should send Ukraine the Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighter aircraft.
Training Ukrainian pilots to use U.S. aircraft
The House’s annual defense authorization bill, which passed 329-101 last month, contained a provision from Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., that would provide $100 million in funding to train Ukrainian pilots to use U.S. aircraft.
Even as Moscow’s war machine crawls across Ukraine’s east, trying to achieve the Kremlin’s goal of securing full control over the country’s industrial heartland, Ukrainian forces are scaling up attacks to reclaim territory in the Russian-occupied south, The Associated Press reported Aug. 1.
The Ukrainians have used American-supplied rocket launchers to strike bridges and military infrastructure in the south, forcing Russia to divert its forces from the Donbas in the east to counter the new threat, AP said.
The U.S. has committed some $8.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration. Since 2014, the U.S. has committed more than $10 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He previously wrote for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.