The Pentagon will buy laser-guided missiles and surveillance drones from Ukraine

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Expanding shipments of commercially available weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, the Pentagon on Friday announced its $136 million purchases of flying drones, laser-guided missiles, binoculars and other items to be shipped shortly.

The arms and equipment to be purchased from US companies represent a different category of military aid than the vast amounts of arms that the United States has already provided to Ukraine from existing Pentagon stockpiles. This round includes $22.6 million in 70mm missiles — known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System — that can be fired from helicopters, and $17.8 million in additional Switchblade drones that can be fired armed can be flown into Russian armored vehicles and troop formations. The Pentagon will also procure Puma man-portable surveillance drones for $19.7 million, officials said, a decision originally announced last month.

Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for procurement and receipt, told reporters Friday that the Department of Defense has $300 million in congressional-approved funds available for commercially available military equipment. Regardless, LaPlante said the Pentagon is negotiating with defense contractors to replace the thousands of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles already shipped to Ukraine from its stockpiles.

“We are in touch with the industry every day as our needs evolve,” said LaPlante, “and [the Biden administration] will continue to use all available tools to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the face of Russian aggression.”

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LaPlante’s announcement was the first of two announcements by the Pentagon on Friday that outlined additional support for Ukraine as its forces defend against Russia’s attempt to seize more territory in the east of the country. Officials said a separate aid package — totaling $150 million in artillery shells, anti-artillery radar, electronic jamming equipment and other equipment — was designed to meet the specific needs of the fighting in Donbass.

President Biden issued a statement saying that with this tranche of weapons from US stockpiles, the administration has “nearly exhausted” its available funds to arm Ukraine and begged Congress to approve his request for more money.

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The hardware purchased from US defense contractors has a range of capabilities. The advanced precision killing system, for example, works by converting inexpensive ammunition into guided weapons. US forces have used it to supplement the firepower of a wide variety of aircraft, including helicopters and fighter jets.

The switchblades, also called “kamikaze drones,” require little training to operate, defense officials say, and have already proven effective against Russia’s more advanced military. The Puma surveillance drones are designed to expand Ukraine’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.

LaPlante said in an interview Friday that these commercial shipments are in addition to arms shipments that the Pentagon has shipped from its existing inventories. Officials received more than 300 responses from defense contractors after making a request last month for information on commercially available weapons that could prove helpful to Ukraine, LaPlante said.

As government officials consider what weapons to send, they are assessing not only what is available but how much can be provided without compromising US national security, how easy it will be for Ukrainian soldiers to handle such systems, and whether there are any classified components that could make exporting difficult, LaPlante said. While many weapons have secret aspects, some also come in easily exportable versions, he added.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers earlier this week that the Pentagon is “in pretty good shape” when it comes to supplying Ukraine with weapons to repel the Russian invasion while maintaining the minimum supplies needed to protect the United States .

Some Republican senators expressed doubts.

“Our missile stockpiles are stretched thin after years of production at a minimal conservation rate and the increased demand resulting from efforts to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses,” Austin Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said, arguing that his contacts Within the defense industry, there has been concern about “the challenges they face in trying to increase production rates while reducing lead times.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) questioned whether Ukrainian troops are receiving adequate guidance on how to use weapons provided by the United States, citing letters from senior officials in Kyiv and reporting that her troops are “not being adequately trained.” to power Javelin missiles, she said.

Javelins have been a bedrock of deadly US aid to Ukraine since 2018. Austin said he was unfamiliar with such complaints.

The Pentagon recently resumed its training program for Ukraine’s armed forces, using locations outside of the war zone to train a small number of personnel how to operate certain systems that the United States is providing. These troops then return to Ukraine and show their colleagues what they have learned.

Congress is considering President Biden’s request for $33 billion in additional assistance to Ukraine, including $20 billion in security aid — a package that Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said the U.S -Support for Kyiv would likely be maintained for the next five months. However, the rate at which the United States could ship arms to Ukraine will also depend in part on how quickly and skillfully U.S. stockpiles can be replenished with new production.

“For Ukraine to be successful in this next phase of the war, its international partners, including the United States, must continue to demonstrate our unity and determination to keep the arms and ammunition flowing to Ukraine uninterrupted,” Biden said in his statement . “Congress should quickly provide the requested funds to strengthen Ukraine on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

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