The latest Ukrainian request to the US is an unprecedented list of more extensive strategic weapons. It contains multi-role fighters, strategic airlift aircraft, and heavy attack helicopters.
The development comes at a time of reported “weariness” in Western capitals in continuing to arm Ukraine, given its poor prospects on the battlefield and the defense industrial issues facing the US and Europe itself.
Thus, Ukraine’s current demand bares the state of mind in Kyiv’s leadership since it knows the arms have little chance of being approved — or at least a very long time until the transfer is okayed.
Moreover, Republicans in the US Senate also blocked legislation that would provide billions of dollars in new security assistance for Ukraine and Israel rather than pressing forward with their demands for stricter measures to control immigration at the US border with Mexico.
President Joe Biden has made the foreign policy issue of Ukrainian victory an election plank for re-election in November 2024.
But with support for Ukraine in the war having little domestic popularity in the US, Kyiv’s wist list entailing billions of dollars worth of weapons marks a sharp diversion in the perception with which the Biden administration and President Volodymyr Zelensky view the war.
Kyiv’s Latest Wish List
According to Reuters, Ukraine seeks sophisticated air defense systems, F-18 Hornet fighter jets, drones, Apache, and Blackhawk helicopters.
The “list of armaments to meet the needs of Ukraine’s defense forces” was presented by officials from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense during a closed-door session of a conference in Washington on December 6. Government officials and defense industry executives attended the meeting.
The comprehensive list included weapons Ukraine already has in stock, like Abrams tanks and 155-millimeter artillery, as well as some weaponry, such as F-16s, drones, and long-range ATACMS missiles that it has previously asked for.
But the list has a few surprises, including big-ticket items like Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster transport jets and the Lockheed Martin C-130 Super Hercules. Boeing’s Apache attack helicopters, as did the Black Hawk helicopter made by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit, created the list.
But the Ukrainians did not stop there. The documents show Ukraine is also seeking F-18 Hornet fighter jets and three types of drones made by General Atomics, including the MQ-9B Sky Guardian and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) air defense system made by Lockheed.
Ukraine already has two leading US-origin air defense systems. The most powerful is the Patriot PAC-3, which reportedly intercepted a Russian Kh-47 Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile on May 4.
It also has the Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile (NASAMS) that fired the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) in a SAM role.
Both these US systems can intercept Russian ballistic and cruise missiles like the Iskander or the air-launched Kh-101 or the Kh-555 that Russia frequently fires in long-range standoff strikes in coordinated Geran-2 kamikaze drone attacks.
The THAAD would presumably expand this potential, as the new system would allow intercepting ballistic missiles on approach in the outer atmosphere and covering a larger area.
Russia, however, hasn’t used such a missile and instead employs the land-fired Iskander tactical battlefield ballistic missile. But the Iskander, too, does not follow a fully parabolic path but a quasi-ballistic trajectory. It switches to a flatter trajectory after traveling a certain distance in a ballistic course. This makes its flight path harder to detect.
The sophisticated system, which, together with the AN/TPY-2 radar, may cost more than US$3 billion.
What Is Ukraine’s Thinking?
The report added that the “Ukrainians know they must secure Western military aid to carry on the fight.” It can be said that Ukraine knows the West will eventually try and settle the war with Russia, with Moscow having essentially the more considerable leverage since it has nearly captured all the breakaway pro-Russian regions in the east and the south.
But this would only be a temporary truce since Russia itself has been assessed to be preparing for a larger war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Naturally, even the West anticipates such a conflict and has set long-term plans to galvanize its defense industrial base.
Thus, while the West has little appetite for immediate support for Ukraine, which Kyiv has sensed, it is possibly piggybacking on the future military preparations for a bigger war with Moscow. It has demanded capital weapons, which can only be made available over the next couple of years.
Assuming this is the thinking in the Kyiv leadership, this raises two questions. Whether the US military would allow Globemaster, Super Hercules, or Hornets from its stockpiles if the White House approves the transfer as a part of the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA).
This is because the donations of HIMARS rockets or 155-mm artillery shells through PDA have already depleted the Pentagon’s war stores. Thus, another route could be placing fresh orders with the industry, which would take several years to execute.
If the above is invalid, a simple possibility could be that Ukraine is just making a last-ditch attempt. This appeases President Volodymyr Zelensky’s vehement anti-Russia political opposition, conveying they tried their best to continue fighting Moscow.