US will ‘continue to provide” ATACMS for Ukraine, National Security Advisor says

The United States is now in a position to provide a “significant number” of long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a small group of reporters Thursday. And, he said, they can be given to Ukraine without harming U.S. readiness. 

The ballistic missiles, produced by Lockheed Martin, are “a capability we will continue to provide,” he said. 

Ukraine has been asking for ATACMS—Army Tactical Missile Systems—since Russia invaded in February 2022. The missiles have a range of 185 miles, which would allow Ukraine to strike key supply lines in Crimea or, possibly allow them to hit Russian lines from further inside Ukraine. They could also theoretically allow Ukraine to strike Moscow from Ukrainian territory—one reason the Kremlin in 2022 said awarding ATACMS to Ukraine was a red line. 

While speculation that Ukraine might have ATACMS has been bubbling for months, Sullivan confirmed they were first shipped as part of the March 12 presidential drawdown authority package, which came about after the Pentagon discovered $300 million in unaccounted-for “cost savings.” 

“They are now in Ukraine, and have been in Ukraine for some time. They arrived there before the supplemental was done,” he said. 

Sullivan  said President Biden made the decision after a series of engagements from December to February between the National Security Council and the Defense Department about the supply of the weapons. Once enough ATACMS missiles had been produced, the White House was more comfortable sending them, “especially on the back of Russia receiving and using [North Korean] long-range, ballistic missiles, and renewing and escalating its attacks on energy infrastructure in Ukraine,” Sullivan said. 

But unlike many of the items that make their way onto the list of weapons the United States provides to Ukraine, Sullivan said giving specific numbers of ATACMS could hurt Ukraine on the battlefield. 

“If I told you how many, then, you know, basically, the adversary could just count down from that number and it could give them advantages,” he said. 

He also pointed out that, unlike the ramp-up of traditional, low-tech artillery rounds such as 155mms for howitzers, ATACMS is a far more sensitive capability and can’t easily be produced in the same volume. “So the way we think about transferring them is different from your kind of run-of-the-mill ammunition. But this is not a one off,” he said.

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