Pentagon to buy laser-guided missiles and surveillance drones for Ukraine

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The Pentagon is expanding supplies of commercially available weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, detailing Friday’s $136 million worth of purchases of aerial drones, laser-guided missiles, binoculars and other items that will soon be shipped.

The weapons and equipment, which must be purchased from US companies, represent a separate category of military aid than the vast amounts of weapons the United States has already supplied to Ukraine from existing Pentagon stockpiles. This round includes $22.6 million worth of 70mm missiles – known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System – that can be fired from helicopters, and $17.8 million worth of additional Switchblade drones, which, when armed, will fire in Russian. armored vehicles and troop formations can be flown. The Pentagon will also purchase portable Puma surveillance drones for $19.7 million, officials said, a decision initially announced last month.

Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisitions and maintenance, told reporters Friday that the Department of Defense has $300 million in Congress-approved funding to spend on commercially available military equipment. Separately, LaPlante said, the Pentagon is negotiating with defense contractors to replace the thousands of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-armour missiles already delivered to Ukraine from its stockpiles.

“We are in touch with the industry every day as our requirements evolve,” said LaPlante, “and [the Biden administration] will continue to use all available instruments to support Ukraine’s armed forces in the face of Russian aggression.”

Biden seeks dramatic increase in aid to Ukraine

LaPlante’s announcement was the first of two from the Pentagon on Friday, which outlined additional support for Ukraine as its forces begin to defend against Russia’s bid to take more territory in the east of the country. Officials said a separate aid package — totaling $150 million in artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, electronic jamming devices and other equipment — was designed for needs unique to the fighting in Donbas.

President Biden issued a statement saying that, with this tranche of weapons pulled from US stockpiles, the government has “almost exhausted” its available resources to arm Ukraine, and he begged Congress to approve its request for more money. to approve.

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The hardware purchased from US defense companies has a range of capabilities. For example, the advanced precision kill system works by converting cheap ammunition into guided weapons. US forces have used it to supplement the firepower inherent in a variety of aircraft, including helicopters and fighter jets.

The Switchblades, also known as “kamikaze drones,” require little training to operate, defense officials say, and have already proven effective against Russia’s more advanced military. Puma’s surveillance drones are expected to expand intelligence-gathering capabilities in Ukraine.

LaPlante said in an interview Friday that these commercial deliveries are in addition to the weapons shipments the Pentagon has provided from its existing stockpiles. Officials received more than 300 responses from defense contractors after submitting a request last month to seek information about commercially available weapons that could help Ukraine, LaPlante said.

As government officials consider which weapons to send, they evaluate not only what is available, but also how much can be delivered without hindering US national security, how easy it will be for Ukrainian soldiers to learn to use such systems and whether there are classified components that could complicate exporting them, LaPlante said. While many weapons have classified aspects, some are also available in easily exportable versions, he added.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers earlier this week that the Pentagon is “in pretty good shape” when it comes to supplying Ukraine with weapons to repel the Russian invasion, while still holding minimum stocks required for protection. of the United States.

Some Republican senators expressed doubts about this.

“Our missile stock is dwindling after years of minimal-maintenance production and increased demand as a result of efforts to bolster Ukraine’s defenses,” Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) Austin said, arguing that his contacts within the defense industry was concerned about “the challenges they face in trying to increase production rates and shorten lead times.”

sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) questioned whether Ukrainian troops were receiving adequate guidance on how to use the weapons provided by the United States, citing letters from senior officials in Kiev and reporting that their troops “are not receiving adequate training” to defend Javelin. missiles, she said.

Javelin throws have been a bedrock of deadly US aid to Ukraine since 2018. Austin said he was not aware of any such complaints.

The Pentagon recently restarted its training program for Ukrainian armed forces, using locations outside the war zone to teach small numbers of personnel how to operate certain systems supplied by the United States. Those troops then return to Ukraine and show their colleagues what they have learned.

Congress is weighing President Biden’s request for $33 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, including $20 billion in security assistance — a package that top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said would likely increase U.S. aid to Kiev over the next five years. months to support. However, the speed with which the United States can ship weapons to Ukraine will also depend, in part, on how quickly and skillfully American stockpiles can be replenished with new production.

“For Ukraine to succeed in this next phase of war, its international partners, including the US, must continue to demonstrate our unity and determination to keep the arms and ammunition flowing to Ukraine without interruption,” Biden said in his statement. “Congress must swiftly provide requested funding to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

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