A senior defense official said Friday that President Biden had authorized up to $400 million in additional military supplies — including precision-guided shells and multiple rocket launchers — to be taken from Pentagon stockpiles and shipped to Ukraine.
Most of the matériel will be more of what the Pentagon has already provided to Ukraine, such as counter-battery radars, tactical vehicles and demolition munitions, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. But in a first, the president also has decided to provide precision-guided shells for the M777 155-millimeter howitzers already in use by Ukrainian troops, the official said.
The Russian military in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region has been relying heavily on its immense advantage in long-range artillery, pounding Ukrainian soldiers — as well as cities and towns — from a distance before trying to move in.
The official declined to specify exactly which shell will be shipped, but said that the United States would send 1,000 for use in the Donbas region.
“It has greater precision, it offers Ukraine precise capability for specific targets,” the official said. “It will save ammunition, it will be more effective due to the precision, so it’s a further evolution in our support for Ukraine in this battle in the Donbas.”
The two most likely candidates are the M982 Excalibur round — which is guided by GPS signals, has a range of about 25 miles and can hit within about two yards of its intended target — and the M1156 Precision Guidance Kit, which is also GPS-guided but screws into the nose of a normal high-explosive shell and is believed to be accurate to within 20 yards.
The most significant part of the new package will be four HIMARS rocket launchers along with additional guided rockets for them, which will join the eight HIMARS sent earlier which have been used to destroy Russian command posts and ammunition depots.
Ukraine’s military had eagerly awaited the arrival of the first batch of truck-mounted, multiple-rocket launchers, whose satellite-guided rockets have a range of more than 40 miles, greater than anything Ukraine had possessed. American and Ukrainian officials have said that the weapons are already making an impact in their first several days on the battlefield.
Still, Ukrainian officials have said they need as many as 300 multiple-rocket launchers to combat Russia, which is firing several times as many rounds as Ukraine’s forces in the artillery-driven war of attrition in the country’s east. And Michael G. Vickers, the Pentagon’s former top civilian official for counterinsurgency strategy, said the Ukrainians needed at least 60, and perhaps as many as 100, HIMARS or other multiple-launch rocket systems to win the artillery battle.
The senior defense official also pushed back on Friday against claims on pro-Russia social media accounts that some of the eight HIMARS launchers already delivered had been destroyed.
“The ones that have already been provided are fully accounted for, the Ukrainians are still using them in the fight,” the official said.