How will Ukraine spend its new US aid?

How will Ukraine spend its new US aid?

With a long-anticipated supplemental bill passed in the House, Ukraine’s supporters can breathe slightly easier after months of increasing Russian pressure on the beleaguered country’s  outgunned and undermanned formations. 

Still, Kyiv now faces the important choice of how best to spend that money—a fraught question amid Russian gains, uncertain long-term U.S. support, and Ukraine’s eventual need to end the war. 

On Saturday, the House passed a supplemental spending bill to fund the purchase of new arms and defense gear for Ukraine as well as the replacement of U.S. weapons sent to Kyiv. 

The bill would add $13.7 billion to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which procures new weapons. It would also give $1.6 billion to the Foreign Military Financing program, a separate weapons acquisition program run by the State Department. 

Another $13.4 billion would be set aside to replace U.S. weapons sent to Ukraine and to fund training for Ukrainian troops. This sum would cover the $12 billion that Congress has authorized in Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA), which allows the President to send stockpiled U.S. weapons to Ukraine. The PDA authorization includes $8 billion authorized by the new supplemental and $3.9 billion previously authorized.

The first tranche of weapons to reach Ukraine under the new supplemental is expected to be valued at $1 billion and focus on munitions including 155mm shells, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, long range rockets, and armored vehicles useful for evacuating casualties. 

The aid package will likely be the last before the U.S. presidential election in November, according to Mark Cancian, senior advisor at think-tank CSIS. 

“The administration certainly won’t want to send another package right before the election,” he said. 

The previous U.S. aid package to Ukraine passed in December 2022. Representatives proposed another tranche in December 2023, but the measure was stopped by Republican congressional opposition. 

It is unclear whether Ukraine can expect another aid package, particularly if Donald Trump returns to the White House. He was impeached during his presidency for withholding aid to Kyiv and, as the presumptive GOP nominee for this year’s election, has railed against providing more, softening his stance only as momentum grew for the new supplemental.

Ukraine, meanwhile, finds itself with two competing priorities. 

“The conversation is how much of this aid will go towards immediate needs, and how much will go towards supporting Ukraine for 2025,” said Nick Reynolds, a research fellow for land warfare at think tank RUSI. 

In the short term, Ukraine must beat off Russian assaults that saw the fall of Ukraine’s eastern city of Avdiivka in February and further gains in recent weeks in the same area. Russian advances were enabled in part by dwindling U.S. military aid that left Ukrainian units increasingly rationing shells. 

In the long term, Ukraine has said it seeks return of all its territory. With 18 percent of Ukrainian land under Russian control, though, that will mean launching a major offensive. Heavy Ukrainian losses in a failed summer counter-offensive into southern Ukraine last year and a similar losses in 2022 suggest that any future attacks must be well resourced in terms of soldiers, equipment, and munitions. 

Ukraine may want to stretch its money to go further, according to Cancian and Mark Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who previously served as U.S. European Command deputy director for plans, policy and strategy. 

Although most of the munitions the U.S. sends are cost effective — like 155mm shells — advanced aviation systems and anti-air systems could eat up large amounts of the money earmarked for Ukraine.

The U.S., for example, has been supplying Ukraine with highly effective Patriot missile interceptors at an estimated cost of $4 million each. “That’s a pricey weapon for a constrained budget,” said Montgomery. 

Instead, Ukraine could receive the somewhat more affordable National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), at an estimated cost of $1.37 million per missile, said Cancian. 

Montgomery said another solution would be pushing forward with a program the Defense Department has dubbed “FrankenSAMs,” in which Soviet-designed air defense systems are fitted to fire cheaper U.S. missiles like the Sidewinder. 

Ukraine has also received a wide variety of counter-drone gear that uses jamming or cheap missiles and cannon-shells to take out drones at the fraction of the cost of more expensive missiles.

Future U.S. packages could include weapons that have been shown to be highly effective, like unguided systems, Montgomery added. The U.S. has supplied Ukraine with AeroVironment loitering munitions to Ukraine, with “thousands” of drones used in the country, according to a company press release. 

Some relief will also come from Europe. On Tuesday, Britain’s Defense Ministry announced plans to send $619 million of defense goods to Ukraine. A Czech-led effort seeks to buy as many as 1.5 million artillery shells for Ukraine, and an EU effort will see one million 155mm artillery rounds sent to Ukraine by the end of this year. 

Western allies are also likely getting better at planning weapons transfers, said Reynolds. There is “much better appreciation of the challenges that Ukraine faces,” he said, with countries recognizing that there is no “quick and easy” solution to defeating Russia. 

Russia also faces problems supplying its troops, according to a new report from CSIS. Russia’s Defense Ministry estimates it needs 5.6 million artillery shells in 152mm and 122mm calibers in 2024 to make major gains in Ukraine. However, Russian production is set to increase to just 1.9 million rounds in 2024. 

Russia can at least partly make up for shortfalls through purchasing weapons from North Korea and Iran, with North Korea potentially sending Russia three million 152mm rounds between August 2023 and February 2024. 

No matter what, though, Russia likely has enough industrial capacity to continue pressing the attack until at least the start of 2025, the CSIS reports’ authors concluded.

“The Russian [Defense Ministry], despite facing a number of weaknesses from labor shortages to entrenched corruption in the field of military procurement, will be able to sustain domestic arms production and import diversification efforts to continue its war effort [in 2024].” 

Read the full article here