The Pentagon is sending an additional $800 million in defense aid to Ukraine that effectively will create five new Ukrainian artillery battalions, and includes more than 120 new drones built specifically for use by Ukraine’s forces. Officials made the announcement in a statement sent to reporters Thursday morning.
Shortly afterward, two senior defense officials described to reporters the efforts by the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, to move as many weapons as possible from American stockpiles to the border of Ukraine.
Representatives from 14 nations, including Ukraine, have posted liaison officers to a task force in Stuttgart that takes requests from the government in Kyiv and arranges for weapons and supplies from different countries to be delivered, said one of the officials, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the effort to arm Ukraine against Russia.
The existence of the task force, called European Command Control Center Ukraine, has not previously been disclosed.
The new drone that will soon head to the region, called Phoenix Ghost, is a previously-unknown design that “was developed rapidly by the Air Force” after discussions with Ukrainian troops about what kinds of weapons they need, the second official said.
It is roughly similar to the Switchblade drone already being sent to Ukraine, in that it is capable of surveillance but ultimately used to crash into a target and explode on impact, the officials said. Such “tactical drones” are useful in destroying high-value targets because they fly directly into them.
“It provides the same sort of tactical capability that Switchblade does,” the second official said. “It is clearly designed to deliver a punch.”
For the expected battle between large Ukrainian and Russian forces over the Donbas region, the United States is providing a significant new flush of artillery weapons: dozens of 155-millimeter howitzers.
Five new Ukrainian artillery battalions will be outfitted, each with 18 guns and nearly 37,000 rounds. Weapons of this type can generally fire three to five times per minute, according to military documents, striking targets about 25 miles away with 90-pound shells.
The howitzers, which have to be towed into position and then can be moved again after firing, are able to maintain a steady stream of fire that can be used to force Russian forces to duck into trenches while Ukrainian infantry troops advance.
“We think it could have significant additional firepower for the Ukrainians,” one of the senior defense officials said. “If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t have moved forward with that many howitzers and that many more rounds.”
The decision was made, the official said, in consultation with the Ukrainian military.
“We think it will be a significant contributor, and a meaningful contributor to their ability to continue to defend themselves in the Donbas,” the official added.
Some of the first batch of 18 howitzers have already arrived in Ukraine, having been drawn from U.S. Army and Marine Corps inventories in the United States, the Pentagon said.
Additional howitzers will arrive over the weekend, when more than 50 Ukrainian artillery soldiers are expected to complete their training on the new American guns at an undisclosed location outside their country, and then return to the fight against the Russians.