500-plus drones, extra HIMARS headed to Ukraine in latest U.S. package
By Leo Shane III
The White House will provide 580 Phoenix Ghost drones and five high-mobility artillery rocket systems to Ukraine as part of the latest security package to help in the fight against Russia, officials confirmed Friday.
White House national security council spokesman John Kirby also acknowledged that U.S. officials have begun discussions on potential aircraft acquisition for Ukrainian pilots as part of long-term partnering with America. But he said that work is not likely to produce any short-term changes for Ukraine’s air forces.
“[The White House] is making some preliminary explorations in the feasibility of potentially providing fighter aircraft to the Ukranianas, but it’s not going to be something that they’re going to be able to execute immediately,” he said.
“Integrating and operating any kind of aircraft, especially advanced fighter aircraft, involves complex systems and weapons capabilities, and that’s a difficult Endeavour. So, this is not something that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
But the White House confirmation solidifies comments from senior U.S. Air Force officials earlier this week that they will work with Ukrainian leaders to shift its air force away from legacy Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighters and toward more modern Western-made aircraft.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly said his nation needs more advanced fighters, such as F-15s and F-16s, to counter Russian air forces.
The drones and M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, are part of the 16th package of military equipment being sent to Ukraine by the United States. Kirby said altogether the White House has authorized more than $8.2 billion in weapons transfers since the start of fighting in February.
In the coming weeks Ukrainian forces will have access to more than 20 HIMARS, including contributions from Britain and Germany.
The rocket launcher has a range of more than 50 miles and has been hailed by Ukrainian leaders as a key tool in halting Russian attempts to advance further into their country. A senior U.S. military official said the skill of Ukrainian forces in using HIMARS, a wheeled platform, has kept them from being destroyed by Russian forces.
“All of the HIMARS has continued to really be a thorn in the Russian side, and … continue to prosecute [Russian] targets related to command and control, ammunition, logistics, support areas ― all of those having a very significant effect on the Russians’ ability to mount offensive operations,” the official said.
But this week, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that his forces “would need at least 100″ of the long-range weapons systems to sustain an effective counter-offense against advancing Russian forces.