Ukraine gets $400 million of U.S. war supplies; analysts ask how long it can go on

The United States is again dipping into its own supply of military hardware to ship $400 million worth of security assistance to Ukraine for its war against Russian invaders.

It is the 15th U.S. drawdown of weapons and other military hardware for sending to Kyiv since August 2021.

The U.S. has committed about $8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Biden administration, Pentagon officials said Friday when they announced the latest aid package.

So far, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with 12 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ammo; 126 155mm M-777 howitzers and more than 400,000 rounds; 20 Soviet-era Mi-17 helicopters; more than 6,500 Javelin anti-armor missiles; and more than 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems.

Also included in the total assistance package are 75,000 sets of body armor and helmets; thousands of night-vision goggles; maintenance equipment and spare parts; and tactical communications gear.

A military analyst with Defense Priorities think tank said merely shipping billions of dollars of equipment to a war zone is not a strategy.

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“How does that tie into what the Ukraine military’s plans are? What is the end result of this? What are the expected consequences of this?” said retired Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, a senior fellow with the libertarian-leaning think tank. “I can tell you that there are no answers to this. When you look at the cumulative total of all of it, it’s not a fraction of what Ukraine needs.”

At best, the haul of weapons removed from Pentagon supply depots might slow down Russia’s advance into Ukraine, Mr. Davis said.

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“In no case is it enough to turn the tide or even allow Ukraine to reach parity. Until you reach parity you can’t even get to the topic of a stalemate,” he said.

While everything the U.S. has shipped to Ukraine so far comes straight from the Pentagon’s own supply, a senior Defense Department official on Friday said the drawdowns are sustainable and won’t hurt U.S. military readiness.

“The process of deciding which systems (to ship) and the numbers of systems is absolutely validated to ensure that these are sustainable capabilities that we can donate to Ukraine and will not have a negative impact on U.S. readiness,” the Defense Department official told reporters at the Pentagon.

But Lt. Col. Davis said Ukraine’s military supply system is “completely broken.”

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“There’s no sustainability (and) no routine delivery of anything,” he said. The war supplies “are not getting to the front. That’s why Ukraine just methodically gets pushed back further and further.”

U.S. lawmakers want to create a new government watchdog to monitor the billions of dollars in security assistance now being shipped to Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion more than four months ago.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said that while the Kremlin’s aggression against its smaller neighbor was indefensible and the U.S. government should counter it, he is concerned about the spending discretion delegated to the White House and Biden administration officials.

“We must always make sure Congress maintains its constitutional role of directing engagement in conflict and ensure that we are not spending unnecessary funds while in a time of historic inflation and ballooning national debt,” Mr. Lee said in a statement.

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Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, introduced a bill that would establish a special inspector general for Ukraine to oversee the humanitarian, economic, and security assistance funding provided by the U.S. government.

“Congress has already supported [Ukraine] with billions and billions of dollars in aid and military equipment,” Mr. Kennedy said. “America’s taxpayers deserve to know that their money is helping Ukraine beat back Russia effectively, and Congress needs to guarantee that oversight.”

Continuing to support Ukraine at the same pace for an extended period is expensive but arguably worthwhile given the importance of both weakening Russia and supporting a nascent democracy like Ukraine, said retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The vast majority of the M-777 howitzers now earmarked for Ukraine have come from U.S. Marine Corps supply depots. The drawdown should pose little problem for the Corps because most of its artillery units are being eliminated as part of the plan by Gen. David H. Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Col. Cancian said.

“In storage, we still have the older version of the howitzer – the M-198,” he said. “It’s a perfectly good howitzer. It’s just not ‘top of the line.’”

The amount of military hardware sent to Ukraine pales in comparison to the $2 trillion that was spent in Afghanistan propping up a government in Kabul that collapsed in days once the U.S. military support dried up.

“There’s really no question that we can continue to supply Ukraine. The NATO ammunition is essentially unlimited,” Col. Cancian said.

But the U.S. might have reached its limit in the number of Javelin anti-armor systems it can supply Ukraine.

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“We’re at the number of what we can send them without taking too much risk in our own war plans,” Mr. Cancian said.

But there are still likely to be adequate supplies of other anti-tank weapons, such as the French-German MILAN or the U.S.-built M-47 Dragon, which was phased out in 2001 in favor of the Javelin, he said.

While European governments have been supportive of the NATO-led mission to back Ukraine’s defense following Russia’s invasion, polls show populations are more ambivalent.

The Biden administration says it is ready to support Kyiv for as long as it takes but the backing from the public can quickly disappear, Col. Cancian said.

“We’ve been sending a lot of equipment and we’re in the process of sending a lot of financial aid,” he said. “Ukraine is still a very inefficient, corrupt country. If people start seeing evidence of corruption – oligarchs buying yachts with American money – that would undermine support.”

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