Ukraine Still Wants Heavy Metal

Kyiv remains frustrated with Western arms deliveries, despite a surge of support.

By , , and
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov attend a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group ahead of a NATO defense ministers' meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on June 15.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov attend a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group ahead of a NATO defense ministers' meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on June 15.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (left) and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov attend a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group ahead of a NATO defense ministers' meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on June 15. Yves Herman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The United States has approved a plan to send an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine following a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, but the promised delivery falls well short of what Ukrainian officials say they will need to roll back the Russian invasion.

The new military aid, announced by the White House, includes two truck-mounted anti-ship Harpoon missile launchers, 18 howitzer artillery systems, 36,000 artillery rounds, and additional ammunition for its donated High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The announcement is likely to be met with a mixture of enthusiasm and disappointment in Kyiv, as Washington signals that it will continue to deliver sorely needed military aid to Ukraine’s embattled forces but not at the level that they say they need to evenly match Russia on the battlefield.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, outlined on Twitter what Ukraine would need to win the war against Russia, which has been raging since Moscow invaded in late February.

The United States has approved a plan to send an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine following a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday, but the promised delivery falls well short of what Ukrainian officials say they will need to roll back the Russian invasion.

The new military aid, announced by the White House, includes two truck-mounted anti-ship Harpoon missile launchers, 18 howitzer artillery systems, 36,000 artillery rounds, and additional ammunition for its donated High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The announcement is likely to be met with a mixture of enthusiasm and disappointment in Kyiv, as Washington signals that it will continue to deliver sorely needed military aid to Ukraine’s embattled forces but not at the level that they say they need to evenly match Russia on the battlefield.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, outlined on Twitter what Ukraine would need to win the war against Russia, which has been raging since Moscow invaded in late February.

“Being straightforward—to end the war we need heavy weapons parity: 1000 howitzers caliber 155 mm; 300 MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket Systems]; 500 tanks; 2000 armored vehicles; 1000 drones,” he tweeted. So far the United States and its allies have pledged to send 10 rocket systems to Ukraine—far short of the 300 that Podolyak says his country needs.

“What the Ukrainians need most is long-range artillery and rockets and endless ammunition to counter Russia because that’s what Russia has so much of and that’s what’s causing all the damage now,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe.

Hodges said the United States should dramatically increase the number of heavy weapons it sends Ukraine to help tip the scales of the war in Kyiv’s favor, particularly since Russia has a dramatic advantage in terms of the number of troops and artillery systems it can put into the field—even if those troops are poorly trained and equipped.

“Unless we can help Ukraine destroy or at least disrupt all of this artillery and rockets pounding away at Ukrainian positions, then it simply becomes a matter of math,” he said.

Ukrainian officials are also voicing frustration that the delivery timetables for heavy weapons systems aren’t moving as quickly as they need. The United States and its allies face steep logistical hurdles in rapidly delivering such equipment—and it will take weeks or months to train Ukrainian forces on such systems.

“The assistance and support of the United States is the most strong from our partners and is absolutely vital to resist and to fight,” said Andriy Kostin, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who is part of the country’s delegation to negotiations with Russia. “However, for this support to be most effective, delivery of critical weapons systems should be accelerated.”

The United States has been the single biggest provider of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, committing $54 billion to support Ukraine and the wider region since the war began. U.S. assistance has played a decisive role on the battlefield but has struggled to keep pace with Kyiv’s voracious appetite for heavy weapons and ammunition, leading to tensions that have periodically played out in public.

“If I’m a Ukrainian, I want to receive as much as I can as rapidly as I can. But you have to remember to hold a balance of urgency, without panic, and pushing without denigrating,” said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland. “The Ukrainians also live in fear that we will cut a deal over their heads. They shouldn’t, but they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t.”

The timetable for providing Kyiv with two different systems—HIMARS launchers and a possible delivery of Gray Eagle drones—underscores the challenges in keeping up with Ukraine’s needs.

“We will get HIMARs in six to eight weeks, maybe the Gray Eagles in six to eight weeks, and that’s not good for us,” one Ukrainian military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about ongoing weapons transfers.

Officials in Washington are still debating the efficacy of providing the drones, which would add another Western system to an already backlogged training pipeline for the Ukrainians. The United States has trained more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops on NATO-level equipment flowing onto the battlefield since Russia’s full-scale invasion. Ukraine has also repeatedly asked the United States for more precision weapons in an effort to “de-populate” cities that Russia has occupied since the start of the conflict, where the Kremlin’s command posts are often intermingled with civilian areas to make targeting more difficult.

And Washington and Kyiv have been in an ongoing tit-for-tat debate over provisions of more weapons. Ukraine has repeatedly asked for the extended-range Army Tactical Missile System that can hit targets up to 168 miles away, known in Pentagon parlance as ATACMS, which would allow Ukrainian troops to knock out Russian batteries from beyond artillery range. The Biden administration has held off on providing those missiles for fear of provoking Russia, a view that has caused heartburn in Washington as Ukraine takes a beating in the Donbas.

“They really need fucking help right now. All of the stuff they’ve been foot-dragging on is now extremely urgent,” said a U.S. source familiar with the debate. “We’re pulling our punches to such an extent that it’s only emboldening [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

A senior U.S. defense official told reporters on Tuesday that the United States believes it has given Ukraine multiple rocket launch systems with enough range—more than 40 miles—to target Russian command nodes and interrupt supplies flowing onto the battlefield. The United States is also taking steps to increase real-time intelligence-sharing with Ukraine to help battlefield awareness, the official said.

At a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Brussels on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with counterparts from some 50 countries to source more military equipment. Milley said the United States would begin transferring the first HIMARS to Ukraine at the end of the month, one platoon at a time. Some 60 Ukrainian troops have been trained on the system.

“We and other countries are building a platoon at a time to certify the Ukrainians can properly employ and maintain this system,” Milley said at a press conference after the meeting. “This immediate assistance had exceptional impact on the battlefield. Russia halted and turned back their initial advances in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

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