U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine Accelerates
The White House announced a new military aid package of $800 million on April 21, just five days after the previous $800 million aid package. The new package has many similarities to the earlier one described in a recent CSIS commentary: it expands U.S. support by including U.S. weapons, requires the United States to train Ukrainians in the use of these systems, and implicitly assumes a long war. The new aid package includes two new items: an increase in the overall rate of support and a mysterious custom-designed unmanned aerial vehicle.
This package greatly increases the number of howitzers (by adding 72 on top of the 18 in the previous package) and explicitly includes trucks to tow those howitzers. As the earlier package implied, these are towed howitzers, which are easier to maintain than self-propelled howitzers.
The expansion of howitzer transfers will require many more Ukrainians to be trained on the equipment’s operation and maintenance. Although the Pentagon has not specified where the training will occur, it has stated that it will be “in the region,” implying Europe.
By expanding the amount of training to be provided, the administration again signals that the war may go on for weeks or months.
One surprise is that the package came so quickly. Previously, the United States had been spending about $52 million a day supporting Ukraine. At that rate, a follow-on package would be expected at the end of the month. The rapidity of this package implies a doubling of that support rate to over $100 million a day. The timing of the next aid package―it is reasonable to assume that aid packages will continue as long as the war lasts―will determine whether this increase is enduring or just a one-time spike. (Note: As this commentary was being published, the administration announced a $713 million military finance package, thus continuing the pace of over $100 million per day.)
The package also provides the somewhat mysterious Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial system. This system is new and not widely fielded to U.S. forces. Although initial statements indicated that the system had been designed specifically for the Ukrainians, that was unlikely given the short amount of time available. Rather, the United States adapted an experimental Air Force system. The United States will deliver at least 120 of these drones, which can take off vertically, fly for over six hours searching for a target, and operate at night using infrared sensors. These capabilities imply a larger system than the previously provided Switchblade, which can fly for less than an hour.
Phoenix Ghost is consistent with prior U.S. practice of providing systems that require relatively little training or maintenance. What is new is the implication that the U.S. acquisition establishment is rummaging through a wide variety of programs, even those not fully fielded to U.S. forces, to find systems that might be useful for the Ukrainians.
The “field equipment and spare parts” in the package are likely intended to keep this and previously supplied equipment operating. Although these items sound mundane, they are vital because militaries in combat need a continuous flow of such supplies to sustain combat power.
According to the press release, the capabilities in this package include the following:
- “72 155mm Howitzers and 144,000 artillery rounds;
- 72 Tactical Vehicles to tow 155mm howitzers;
- Over 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems; and
- Field equipment and spare parts.”
Mark F. Cancian is a senior adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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