US officials plan to double the number of rocket launchers sent to Ukraine
The Department of Defense is still evaluating all options and the decision to send four more HIMARS is not yet final, one of the DoD officials said, noting that U.S. contributions to the Ukraine effort are made in consultation with allies and partners.
The decision will be “based on Ukraine’s immediate needs”, the official said.
The two DoD officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The administration plans to approve a number of additional HIMARS in the next package, a third U.S. official said, though the person pointed out that the next tranche of aid is still under development at the Pentagon and that the final number could change at the last minute.
“We plan to transfer more HIMARS and more [guided] is spinning soon,” the person said.
Even if the number of HIMARS would be doubled, senior Ukrainian officials say they need many more such systems, as well as longer-range ammunition, to destroy Moscow’s artillery on a battlefield that stretches for hundreds of kilometres.
“The Russians are 200 kilometers away on our land,” Oleksandra “Sasha” Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told POLITICO. “To shoot them there, we need a long range to use in our territory, because otherwise it’s just a game of artillery ping pong.”
Ustinova said the four HIMARS already approved would not be enough. “We asked for 10 times more,” she said.
The internal discussions about sending more HIMARS come as senior Ukrainian officials traveled to Washington this week to request additional aid to help their forces counter Russia’s steady advance into Donbass. Ustinova and other officials spent the week meeting with lawmakers as well as administration officials, they said. On Saturday, Russian forces were slowly taking ground in the city of Severodonetsk, one of the last Ukrainian strongholds in the region.
The rocket systems made by Lockheed Martin are a step up from the M777 howitzers – a towed artillery with a range of 20 miles – that the United States sends to Ukraine. The first batch of 60 Ukrainians have completed training on the HIMARS, and the four systems already approved for donation will be delivered to the frontline by the end of the month, said Chiefs of State Chairman General Mark Milley. joint major. , said in Brussels this week.
Senior US officials say the new rocket launchers, along with precision munitions, will prove effective in countering the advance of Russian forces in Donbass.
“If they’re using the weapon correctly and it’s being used correctly, they should be able to take out a significant number of targets,” Milley said. “It will make a difference.”
But Kyiv asks for more, much more. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, asks the West to provide 300 rocket launchers, 500 tanks and 1,000 howitzers.
“If Ukraine does not receive weapons, heavy weapons, air defense and missile defense today, then we will not be able to survive this war,” the deputy defense minister said this week. Hanna Maliar at POLITICO.
But not only does Kyiv want hundreds more rocket launchers, officials are also advocating for longer-range munitions. HIMARS can be equipped with rockets that can hit targets nearly 200 miles away, but the Biden administration has so far decided against providing the longer-range munitions for fear of pushing Vladimir Putin into escalating the conflict.
Ukrainian officials say they need longer-range ammunition to gain a critical advantage on a battlefield that now stretches hundreds of miles.
“The problem is that the front line is about 800 miles away now,” David Arakhamia, majority leader of Ukraine’s parliament and chief negotiator between Russia and Ukraine, told POLITICO. Kyiv must be able to destroy Russian air defense systems hundreds of kilometers away so that Ukrainian forces can use drones and other weapons without fear of being shot down.
White House fears Ukraine may use long-range rockets to strike targets inside Russia, but Arakhamia said Kyiv assured Washington the weapons would only be used inside from Ukraine.
“We are ready to sign all guarantees in written form,” he said, even offering to vote in parliament. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov recently wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin making that guarantee, Ustinova said.
Still, the US official said he does not expect the administration to approve long-range projectiles in the next package.
Ustinova said 500 soldiers die or are injured on the battlefield every day.
“One of the strategies considered by foreign partners is to exhaust Putin. I’m sorry, we’re exhausting our own people. We are literally losing our people,” she said. “Four HIMARS is nothing.”