The Pentagon is preparing detailed analysis and working out how to support Ukraine’s military in the medium and long term, including after the war with Russia has ended, according to three defense officials.
The efforts are being led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and would build on the billions of dollars in military aid the US has given to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.
The process is at an early stage and a senior defense official said it is looking at the “future of Ukrainian forces,” aiming to answer key questions about “what makes sense?” and “what do we want Ukraine to start having in the mid and the long term?” in terms of military support. As well as the current conflict, which is expected to be lengthy, the US is looking, at least, at the next five years after the war is over.
“What are the things that if we wanted to imagine with Ukraine, what their future force would be, let’s say if they want to be a maneuver force and they want to have these defensive capabilities as well as offensive capabilities, what seems to make sense?” the official told CNN.
The analysis is being conducted in conjunction with the Ukrainians and if approved by President Joe Biden it could lead to years of future arms sales and the establishment of a long-term military training program by the US. It would be presented to Kyiv as an assessment, but it would provide a clear road map showing how the US believes it should develop its military.
The analysis is expected to “come together in the next month or two,” the senior defense official said, emphasizing that Ukraine’s views will be central to the final effort. “What’s their strategy, what do they want?” they added. The effort will continuously evolve over the next few months as the battlefield shifts and Ukraine’s forces advance.
The initial effort could lead to recommendations for weapons and training, depending on the military strategy Ukraine approves. That could ultimately extend US and allied involvement with Ukraine for years to come through long-term, multi-year weapons contracts that could be initially finalized before the end of Biden’s first term.
‘Defending Ukraine for years to come’
Last month when discussing aid to Ukraine, Colin Kahl the Department of Defense undersecretary for policy, noted “While many of these capabilities are not intended to directly contribute to today’s fight, they will form the backbone of a robust future Ukrainian force, capable of defending Ukraine for years to come.”
The US assessment and initial plans could be discussed when Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet counterparts from allied countries in Germany on Thursday.
The analysis and planning follow a recent war game the US and Ukraine conducted in advance of the current counteroffensive into the Kherson region. Some of the lessons learned from that war game are being incorporated, one of the officials said.
The analysis will also include initial consideration of Ukraine’s needs for a modernized air force of fixed wing and helicopter aircraft to support a highly mobile ground force, officials said.
While Ukrainian air forces firing long-range HARM missiles are having some success, the US is looking at helping make Ukraine’s ground forces, which have proven successful in the most recent combat operations, more maneuverable.
The Pentagon has also established a working group intended to streamline the foreign military sales process, according to two defense officials.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks created the group, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which will help allies and partners including Ukraine with their requests for US military equipment. Ultimately, this effort could streamline the process for Ukraine to purchase advanced American weaponry, as the US and NATO seek to transition Ukraine’s military away from Soviet-era equipment to modern Western weapons.
Weapons and hardware
Ukraine currently has an inventory of roughly 1,000 drones of various capabilities, according to Pentagon officials. The US and Ukrainians are finding that drones with shorter ranges and small amounts of explosives may not be as useful as larger drones, the senior defense official said. Therefore, it’s expected a long-awaited contract for 10 Switchblade 600 drones equipped with anti-armor warheads could be issued within a month. After that, decisions could come on what, if any, additional airborne capabilities are needed.
One of Ukraine’s most enduring needs is for an ongoing supply of 155 mm artillery ammunition. The Ukrainians are using it at a high rate and the US will have to replenish its own stockpiles
The Pentagon issued $364 million in contracts late last month to a variety of US and international suppliers. “This is a big deal,” said William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told CNN. “I can’t say the sources, but they are around the world.”
The goal is to deliver 100,000 rounds in 90 days and 15,000 a month after that.
The longer-term goal is to deliver more than 30,000 rounds a month in the next two to three years. Separately, another defense official said a contract is expected from the Army in the coming days to begin to replenish US 155 mm ammunition stocks due to the high volume being sent to Ukraine.
Current US production is about 15,000 rounds a month at facilities in Pennsylvania but additional government funding is aimed at getting production up to more than 30,000 rounds a month.
The Pentagon is working with industry across the board to increase production rates for both export to Ukraine and to rebuild US stockpiles of munitions and launch systems.
To alleviate the pressure on US supplies, several additional production contracts have been issued since April for surface-to-air missile systems, additional unmanned aerial vehicles, radars and highly precise ground-launched rockets with advanced fuses designed to limit civilian casualties in close combat.
To replenish US weapons stocks from the drawdown of inventory sent to Ukraine, the US has issued several critical contracts since May including: $624 million to Raytheon for Stinger missile systems; $352 million to Raytheon and Lockheed Martin for the Javelin anti-armor system; $33 million to Lockheed for HIMARS multiple rocket launcher, and $8 million to AeroVironment for smaller Switchblade drones. The Pentagon also hopes to more than double monthly HIMARS production to 12 launchers per month.
The US is also looking at funding modifications to existing systems such as the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle to allow Ukraine to use them to collect vital electronic battlefield intelligence on Russian targets such as radar and electronic communications systems.