US confirms new heavy weapons for Ukraine
US President Joe Biden formally confirmed on Wednesday that Washington will be sending HIMARS rocket artillery systems to Ukraine, as part of the latest “security assistance package” to Kiev.
The launchers will come with “battlefield munitions,” as Biden and multiple officials in his administration have insisted that the US doesn’t want Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia.
“Thanks to the additional funding for Ukraine, passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support in the US Congress, the United States will be able to keep providing Ukraine with more of the weapons that they are using so effectively to repel Russian attacks,” Biden said in a statement published by the White House.
The package will include “new capabilities and advanced weaponry, including HIMARS with battlefield munitions,” the US president added.
HIMARS is a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) that fires barrage rockets with an effective range of around 30 kilometers, but can also deploy tactical ballistic missiles with a range of up to 300 kilometers.
The first batch of US aid will include four HIMARS systems, which were pre-positioned in Europe in anticipation of the decision, US Undersecretary of Defense for policy Colin Kahl told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday afternoon. It will take about three weeks to train Ukrainian troops how to use them, he added.
The Pentagon statement about the military aid did not include the specific number of HIMARS launchers. In addition to them, however, the US is sending five counter-artillery radars, two air surveillance radars, 1,000 Javelin missiles and another 6,000 anti-tank weapons, four Mi-17 helicopters – presumably originally intended for the US-backed Afghan military – and 15 “tactical vehicles,” along with 15,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition. These will come out of US military stockpiles and are valued at around $700 million.
Moscow has repeatedly warned the US that sending more weapons to Ukraine risks direct confrontation between Russia and NATO.
Since the start of hostilities in February, Kiev’s forces have lost more than 450 MLRS launchers in addition to more than 1,700 artillery pieces, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday. Over the past week, Ukraine has also admitted a major defeat in Donbass, retreating from the key town of Krasny Liman, northeast of Slavyansk.