As Ukraine pounds Russian targets, US sends more artillery

Filed in Latest post by on July 23, 2022 0 Comments

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US officials said Friday that they will send additional sophisticated artillery systems and ammunition to Ukraine, bolstering the country’s forces again as they carry out a coordinated campaign of strikes on Russian military targets.

The latest $270 million package includes four M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, boosting the total number the United States has provided Kyiv to 16, said John Kirby, a White House spokesman. The package also includes 36,000 rounds of ammunition for howitzers and funding for up to 580 Phoenix Ghost drones, unmanned aircraft that can be used to target opposing forces directly or to perform reconnaissance for artillery strikes.

“This is an ongoing process,” Kirby said of supplying weapons to Ukraine. “It’s almost in near-real time as we continue to follow events on the battlefield and talk to the Ukrainians about what they need.”

Ukraine’s strike campaign has put new strains on Russian forces that already have suffered at least 15,000 military fatalities since invading Ukraine in February, and are suffering hundreds more dead and wounded each day, according to Western estimates.

Among those combat losses are thousands of lieutenants and captains, hundreds of colonels, and “many” generals, said a senior US defense official. Like some others in this story, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.

Ukraine already has struck more than 100 “high-value” Russian military targets, including command posts, ammunition depots, air-defense sites, radar and communication nodes, and long-range artillery positions, the senior US defense official said. While Russia continues to launch thousands of artillery rounds per day, the official said, Moscow “can’t keep it up forever” and has now committed 85 percent of its army to the war in Ukraine and left other parts of Russia without military forces.

“They have expended a lot of smarter munitions,” the senior defense official said, referring to precision-guided weapons. “Their capabilities are getting dumber.”

Ukraine, meanwhile, is still adding to its own cache of precision weapons, relying heavily on HIMARS, which can launch rockets from the back of a truck and then quickly relocate to avoid being attacked. As of Thursday, Russia had not destroyed a single HIMARS provided to Ukraine, though it is likely that they will “get lucky” and do so at some point, the senior US defense official said.

A senior US military official, speaking Friday to reporters, said the Pentagon is seeing signs that the Russian military is trying to adjust to the Ukrainian strike campaign and mitigate Ukraine’s ability to attack. Moving their forces around more frequently and using camouflage to disguise units and weapons are among their tactics.

“I couldn’t tell you what level of effect they are having, but it doesn’t seem to be that good,” the US military official said. “We know from the way that the Russians fight that they need someone to tell them what to do, and when you are able to kill the people who are telling them what to do, you are able to stop those folks from moving forward.”

The HIMARS are “not a silver bullet” to beat Russia, the senior US military official said, but they make it more difficult for Russia to perform offensive operations. There are signs of Russian forces digging in where they are “with the expectation that they might be attacked.”

Russia has not made significant gains in Ukraine in the last week, the senior military official added. Ukraine, meanwhile, has begun to take back portions of some villages around the southern city of Kherson, the official said.

Ukrainian officials have asked for dozens more HIMARS to aid them in launching a counteroffensive against Russia. Kirby declined to say the maximum number of HIMARS the United States may provide Ukraine.

“As you’ve heard me say many, many times, we are in a constant dialogue with the Ukrainians, nearly every day at various levels up the chain of command, talking about their capability needs so that we can be as responsive as possible, ” he said.

Since the Biden administration took office, the United States has provided Ukraine with more than $8.2 billion in weapons. Allies have provided additional arms, including other multiple-launch rocket systems with similarities to the HIMARS.

Senior US officials and allies are discussing how to supply Ukraine in a long-term, sustainable fashion, a second senior US defense official said Friday. The United States already has provided some Phoenix Ghost drones to Ukraine, and will send the additional 580 beginning in August, the official said.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force, said this week that US officials and allies are discussing whether to provide Ukraine with Western fighter jets and training to use them.

For the “immediate fight” in Ukraine, that is not something the Pentagon is considering, the second senior US defense official said Friday. But US officials are involved in a larger discussion with Ukrainian officials about their future military needs, including aviation, the official said.

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said Friday that the gap between Russia’s military capabilities and their objectives in Ukraine “have grown with each passing month,” and credited both Ukrainians and the “enormous amount of sophisticated weaponry and training on that weaponry ” that Western nations have provided.

Sullivan said that if he were a senior Ukrainian official, he would ask for more weapons for their country the way that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his administration has done.

“Who wouldn’t who is a patriot for their country?” Sullivan said, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “That’s their job.”

Sullivan said he does not think that the United States has “undersupplied” Ukraine.

“We have moved billions of dollars of equipment … at what by any kind of reasonable, historical analysis would say is lightning speed, and we will continue to do so.”

Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian in Washington contributed to this report.

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