The Pentagon is expanding the use of ships to supply weapons for the war in Ukraine



SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — The Pentagon has expanded its use of maritime shipping to supply weapons for the war in Ukraine, U.S. defense officials said, after relying heavily on aircraft early in the Russian invasion to as soon as possible to bring weapons to Kyiv.

The Department of Defense began shipping some items by sea a few weeks after the invasion, but greatly expanded the effort This spring, as the United States began supplying Ukraine with howitzer artillery and other heavy weapons that require a steady flow of large-caliber ammunition, U.S. defense officials here at U.S. Transportation Command headquarters recently commanded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said was visited.

“When we started providing them with howitzers, we knew we were going to need more ammo,” said Army Col. Steven Putthoff, deputy chief of operations at US Transportation Command. “So we could plan a little bit more ahead and then we could use more sea transport to provide that support and sometimes even get them there ahead of the request.”

The expansion marks a new phase in the campaign after a Russian attack on Kyiv was repelled and Ukraine and its partners braced for a bitter war that could drag on for months and possibly years. The Biden administration has approved $12.9 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the February 24 invasion and pledged an additional $2.98 billion in assistance on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Independence Day.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the Washington Post on August 8 in Kyiv about the procurement of modern high-tech weapons from Europe and the United States. (Video: Whitney Leaming/Washington Post)

US military officials declined to name specific routes used to bring weapons into Ukraine, but said some of the weapons from the continental United States make their way directly to the battlefield, while others are used to Stocking up American stocks outside the US in Europe Military officials withdrew stocks to arm Ukraine.

While planes from the United States can reach Europe much more quickly, ships can carry massive amounts of cargo that could allow Ukraine to build a larger arsenal for future campaigns in the war.

The effort comes a year after the United States conducted a harrowing evacuation of more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan and taxed the Pentagon’s fleet of cargo planes. At the height of the operation, a C-17 landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport at least once an hour. That heavy schedule required Transport Command to suspend other operations until the evacuation was complete and then catch up planes for maintenance, Putthoff said.

During the evacuation, according to Putthoff, “everything else in the world that we call ‘broken glass’ was put on hold. We had to go back in and clean that up over the next few months.”

Arms deliveries to Ukraine are different, he said. While virtually all flights that landed in Kabul during the evacuation were military jets, the Pentagon has relied heavily on chartered planes and ships to transport equipment to Ukraine, leaving the US military free to perform a variety of other transport missions to perform.

At Transportation Command, Hicks met with military officials on August 18, including Air Force General Jackie Van Ovost, the command’s top officer. Van Ovost said it was crucial to anticipate potential needs and set routes as quickly as possible. Equipment is usually transported from a military depot by train or truck to an airport or seaport and then arrives at a second location, from where it often has to be transported again.

“We’re not being judged for taking it to a place where it’s not going to be used,” Van Ovost said when speaking to Pentagon Official No. 2 Hicks. “We’re consistently rated.”

Van Ovost said the manual calculations that US military officials had to perform to move equipment in the past took days.

“Now we have systems that we can use to perfect it,” she said. “There are fewer planes in the right places at the right time. And you can do that with the push of a button, and three or four seconds later we have three or four options.”

Hicks credited Transcom officials with pulling off an “impressive ballet” of moving everything necessary. She later told reporters that she wants to make sure the military is able to sustain its fleets and keep them adequately sized.

“Ukraine, as challenging as it is, doesn’t really compare to the level of buoyancy, mobility and refueling required in a major conflict,” Hicks said.

Among the weapons the Pentagon has delivered to Ukraine so far are more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, 8,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles (crucial for destroying Russian tanks), 700 Switchblade drones and 142 howitzer artillery pieces with more than 900,000 rounds.

On Wednesday, senior Pentagon officials said they expect more military aid to flow to Ukraine after the recent $3 billion pledge.

“This may be our largest security assistance package to date, but let me be clear: it won’t be our last,” Colin Kahl, the undersecretary for defense policy, said in a news conference. “We will continue to consult closely with Ukraine on their short-, medium- and long-term capacity needs.”


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