It is urgent to deliver new Western weapons to Ukraine while Russia prepares to launch the long-awaited offensive in Donbas. The offensive could begin as early as this week, senior US officials report NBC News† Instead of waiting for all troops, which are strengthening in Belarus after the withdrawal from Kiev and the surrounding area, to be ready again, Moscow would like to send part of eastern Ukraine. This is faster than the United States previously thought.
According to the Pentagon, the first heavy weapons could arrive in Ukraine these days, which the United States promised on Wednesday. This $ 800 million weapons package is the deadliest U.S. release since the invasion. The British and various Eastern European countries are also rushing to provide the Ukrainian army with heavy weapons to thwart a Russian military frontal attack in the east. These include howitzers, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, anti-ship missiles and air defense systems.
Artillery will play an important role in the new, second phase of the Russian invasion. “This part of Ukraine looks like Kansas,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. “It’s more open, flatter terrain.” The Ukrainian army in Donbas, which is threatening to be surrounded on three sides, could then use long-range artillery to harass Russian tank and armored units approaching.
The reason the U.S. is delivering eleven 155-mm howitzers, including 40,000 grenades. The Pentagon did not want to say which howitzers the Ukrainians would get. One of the options is the M777, which is one of the largest and most modern cannons in the US military. The big advantage of this artillery cannon is that at only 4,200 kilograms it is much lighter than other howitzers.
This makes it easier to quickly bring these weapons to Donbass. It also requires far fewer troops to manage, and can be moved much faster and set up elsewhere to take on new targets. The United States used M777 in Syria, among other things, to end the IS caliphate. In 2017, the U.S. Marines fired 48 kilograms of one-meter-long precision grenades at IS positions near Raqqa.
If the Ukrainians still get this modern artillery cannon, they will soon be able to fire two to seven grenades per minute on Russian units 40 kilometers away. This cannon also allows Ukrainians to hit the Russians with great precision thanks to the high-tech Excalibur grenade that uses GPS. In Iraq, where the U.S. also used the M777 against IS, much of those grenades ended up within four meters of the target. By comparison, old-fashioned ‘stupid’ artillery shells are much less accurate and often land more than two hundred meters from the enemy.
Ukraine will receive eleven Mil Mi-17 medium-weight transport helicopters from the United States to supply and relocate troops and equipment. They were originally purchased for the Afghan army. Prior to the invasion, the Americans had already promised five such Russian-made helicopters. The Mi-17 entered service in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and is one of the most widely used transport helicopters in the world.
The aircraft can carry 24 soldiers. It could also possibly be used to move 155mm howitzers – provided it’s a lightweight M777 – behind a hundred-kilometer-long battlefield line in Donbas. Ukraine already had about 50 Mi-17s before the invasion, but it is unclear how many of those helicopters survived the battle in the past 52 days.
For use on battlefield lines in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. supplies 200 M113 type armored personnel carriers. Widely used in the Vietnam War, this vehicle dates back to the 1960s, but is still in use in many countries such as the United States and Israel. M113 is intended for the Ukrainian army in Donbass, estimated at about 40 thousand people, to give an opportunity to fight against Russian mechanized units.
The Russians are expected to use this heavy equipment on a large scale to defeat the Ukrainians. The disadvantage of the M113 is that it is quite vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and RPG-7 rocket launchers. This became apparent during the Arab-Israeli wars and during the fight against the Palestinians in Lebanon and Gaza. In order for the Ukrainians to be more mobile and provide greater protection, the Americans are also sending 100 Humvee jeeps.
Washington is increasing the number of armed drones to land on Russian tanks and other heavy vehicles. Kyiv already received 100 Switchblade kamikazedrons in March, and now another 300 are arriving. These are light disposable drones. The small version weighs only 2.5 kilograms, fits in a backpack and can be launched in ten minutes.
After being fired by a short barrel, the drone turns into a “kamikaze rocket” that shoots at its target. Columns and troops can also be bombed with it. The Ukrainian military is already using a Turkish Bayraktar drone armed with an anti-tank missile. But Ankara does not want to supply new ones so as not to offend Moscow.
Ukraine would now prefer the most efficient armed drone in the U.S. Armed Forces: the MQ-9 Reaper. Ukrainian officials last week visited the manufacturer, General Atomics, which has supplied the US Air Force and CIA with a drone for 20 years to hunt down terrorists and reconnaissance.
If it is up to the company, Reapers, equipped with an anti-tank missile Hellfire, will soon fly over Donbass. Safe from a base in western Ukraine, Ukrainian pilots can send Reapers to Russian forces. “With the support of the US government, those planes could be in the hands of Ukrainian military pilots in a few days,” a General Atomics spokesman said. But for the Biden administration, this is still a step too far, given the delivery of smaller Switchblades.
Anti-ship missiles and air defense
The British have announced that they will deliver anti-ship missiles that could complete the launch of Caliber cruise missiles by Russian ships into the Black Sea. Moscow reacted angrily to London’s decision. Ukraine’s deployment of a home-made anti-ship missile on Wednesday against the Russian cruiser Moscow, Neptune, indicates that British missiles have not yet arrived.
London is silent about which missiles will be delivered. Maybe it’s Harpoon, an American missile that is even more advanced than Neptune. What Ukraine already had, from Slovakia, is the S-300 air defense system. This delivery further complicates the operation of the Russian Air Force in Ukrainian airspace. With the S-300, the Russian system, aircraft up to 200 kilometers can be fired from the sky.