The Pentagon intends to significantly expand weapons for Ukraine

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To update

A previous version of this article reported that Mi-17 helicopters could be among the new arms transfers slated for Ukraine. After the release, a US defense official said that had been ruled out. The article has been updated.

The Biden administration is poised to dramatically expand the range of weapons it is making available to Ukraine, US officials said Tuesday, with the Pentagon intending to transfer armored Humvees and a number of other sophisticated vehicles Gear.

The new aid package could be worth $750 million, these people said. Like others, they spoke on condition of anonymity as the transfer is ongoing.

Tentative plans circulating among government officials and lawmakers in Washington also included Mi-17 helicopters, howitzer guns, coastal defense drones and hazmat suits to protect personnel in the event of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack, officials said, although they warned it wasn’t immediately clear whether all of these articles would end up in the final aid package.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to comment. On Tuesday night after that article was published, another US defense official said the Russian-made helicopters would not be included.

Pentagon supplies Ukraine with drones, armored vehicles and machine guns

The expected new shipment, first reported by Reuters, comes on top of the more than $2.4 billion in US security aid made available to Ukraine since President Biden took office last year, including 1, $7 billion in aid since the invasion of Russia began on February 24.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government have advocated more sophisticated weapons to counter the technological advantages of the Russian military. Defying initial expectations, the Ukrainian military has put up a fierce resistance after repelling a bloody week-long attack on the capital Kyiv aimed at toppling the Zelenskyi government. As a result, Russia has shifted its targets and consolidated its attack on key cities in the south and east.

Washington Post Pentagon and National Security reporter Karoun Demirjian explain the difficulties in deciding which weapons to send to Ukraine. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post, Photo: The Washington Post)

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov spoke with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday, Kirby told reporters during a Pentagon news briefing. The discussion was part of an “ongoing dialogue and conversation” between the two officials and focused in part on the arms and other aid being made available to Ukraine. No further details were given, but Reznikov wrote on Twitter earlier this week that Ukraine is looking for additional unmanned aerial vehicles, air defense systems, artillery, armored vehicles, fighter jets and anti-ship missiles.

Some of the weapons expected in the next package are new to Ukrainian troops and would likely need training before they can be used in combat. A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules laid down by the Pentagon, told reporters Tuesday that the Biden administration stands ready if it meets specific needs of Ukraine.

The United States and its allies have been supplying arms to Ukraine for weeks, with the United States alone sending eight to 10 military-assistance flights to neighboring countries every day, the senior US defense official said. These supplies are then transported to Ukraine by ground convoy, which determines how and where the equipment is distributed.

Pentagon chooses size and scope of Ukrainian military aid

On Tuesday, the Pentagon was close to completing delivery of the final items of an $800 million security aid package approved by Biden March 16 and a $100 million package of supplies approved last week, the said senior defense officials. The larger package included switchblade drones that can be armed with explosives and flown into targets, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons including Javelin missiles. The package approved last week included additional javelins following a request from Ukraine preparing for a renewed Russian offensive in the east.

“These items don’t sit around very long,” the senior defense official said. “Once they arrive at the transshipment points, they are palletized and loaded onto trucks, these trucks are picked up by Ukrainian forces and taken to Ukraine.”

Ukrainian officials have also begun meeting with US defense contractors to see how else they could improve their defenses. In a recent example, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova met with officials from General Atomics, the maker of Reaper and Predator drones, last week, said C. Mark Brinkley, a company spokesman.

Brinkley said Tuesday the company was “currently evaluating options” to support Ukraine, which would require US government approval.

“We now have aircraft available for immediate transfer,” Brinkley said. “With US government support, these planes could be in the hands of Ukrainian military pilots within days.”

Such a transfer, Brinkley said, would expand Ukraine’s ability to survey the battlefield from the air and provide “very lethal attack capabilities that smaller unmanned aerial vehicles cannot provide.” Ukrainian pilots, already familiar with drone operations, would not “start from scratch” to learn how to fly them, he said.

In a statement Tuesday night, Markarova confirmed that she had met with General Atomics officials.

“Together with our team, we discussed with General Atomics the prospects of increasing the capacity of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the current situation in Ukraine,” she said.

When asked what hardware she expects from the company, Markarova’s spokeswoman declined to specify, saying Ukraine would prefer “to surprise Russia on the battlefield.”

General Atomics supplies the US Air Force with the Reaper and the US Army with the Gray Eagle, an upgraded version of the Predator that was widely used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

John Hudson contributed to this report.

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