What US Arms for Ukraine Says About the State of the War: NPR


This image provided by the Marine Corps shows a Switchblade drone. About 100 Switchblades – which are small enough to carry in a backpack – are part of the new US package to Ukraine.

Cpl. Alexis Moradian/AP


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Cpl. Alexis Moradian/AP

What US Arms for Ukraine Says About the State of the War: NPR

This image provided by the Marine Corps shows a Switchblade drone. About 100 Switchblades – which are small enough to carry in a backpack – are part of the new US package to Ukraine.

Cpl. Alexis Moradian/AP

President Biden on Wednesday approved another massive arms package for Ukraine. This brings the total amount of US aid to the Ukrainian military to more than $1 billion since the Russian invasion three weeks ago.

This latest round of aid will consist of direct transfers of equipment from the US Department of Defense to the Ukrainian army, with the aim of helping it to strengthen security measures.

The Biden administration says the $800 million package includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 shoulder-mounted anti-armour missile systems to destroy tanks, 7,000 small arms, including rifles and grenade launchers , 20 million cartridges and drones.

The type of weapons it provides is even more remarkable than the cost of the package. Here’s what they reveal about the state of the conflict and where it could be headed.

What’s in the package?

Three key elements are all considered very urgent.

The package calls for more Javelin missiles, which have been very effective against Russian tanks so far – perhaps the most powerful weapon Ukraine has had.

It also includes Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which Ukraine already uses against low-flying Russian planes and helicopters.

And it introduces 100 drones, which would be so small that soldiers can carry them in their backpacks before taking them out to deploy. They are officially known as Switchblades, but are often referred to as “kamikaze drones” because they explode when they hit their target.

How do these weapons compare to those of Russia?

The drones would not completely bridge the gap between the Russians’ manned aircraft. They have a small explosive charge – nothing on the scale of a fighter jet with huge, powerful bombs.

But they should allow the Ukrainians to carry out additional attacks against Russian forces from the air. As one senior US defense official put it, they are meant to “pack a punch”.

And while Ukraine cannot match Russia tank for tank, small units or even individuals are well equipped to ambush Russian forces.

The common thread here is that the Ukrainians rely on very nimble, nimble and portable systems, while the Russian forces use larger, more powerful and somewhat heavy weapon systems.

Has there been a movement towards the no-fly zone claimed by Ukraine?

Ukrainian officials are still calling on Western leaders to implement a no-fly zone over their skies and supply them with MiG fighter jets, although that is unlikely to happen.

The jets are a small number of older planes owned by Poland, and US officials have said they don’t think they will make much of a difference in airpower.

And the United States remains strongly opposed to a no-fly zone. The first step to creating one would be to attack the Russian air defense system on the ground or destroy Russian aircraft in the sky. That would involve an almost certain fight with Russia, which Biden says won’t happen.

Where could the conflict go next?

More battles are expected for Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, with each side likely to fight in very different ways.

US military officials say the Russians flew an average of about 200 sorties – or air missions – per day, compared to only five or 10 for the Ukrainians. This reflects both the larger and more advanced Russian Air Force, as well as Russian air defense systems that can shoot down Ukrainian planes and pilots.

The Russian forces are essentially pinned down outside the towns, unleashing intense bombardments in an effort to encircle them and subjugate the Ukrainians.

The Ukrainians cannot stop these artillery attacks, but they can prevent large Russian armored columns from entering their cities – and the weapons the United States supplies are designed to help them do just that.

The audio version of this story was edited by Andrew Sussman and produced by David West.

The digital version of this story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog.


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