Pentagon prepares to send artillery, air defenses to Ukraine as House approaches vote

“We certainly understand and appreciate the urgency and are poised to move quickly,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.

The Pentagon is preparing to quickly approve a weapons package for Ukraine that includes urgently needed artillery and air defenses as Congress lines up votes to pass additional funding for the country, according to two U.S. officials.

The Biden administration has not made a final decision on how large the tranche would be and what will be in it, said the officials, who were granted anonymity to speak about sensitive internal deliberations. But Defense Department officials are working on putting together a package of U.S. equipment that can move quickly through the bureaucratic process once the legislation passes and is signed by the president, one of the officials said.

“They will have that recommendation to the secretary very quickly, and that gets to the president shortly thereafter,” the official said.

The tranche — which would be only the second the U.S. has sent since running out of funds in December as Congress stalled on the president’s request for additional aid — will include artillery and air defenses to replenish Ukraine’s arsenal, the officials said. The White House approved one emergency package of $300 million last month, using cost savings from previous contracts.

Many U.S. weapons are already positioned in stores across Europe that could be pulled immediately for Ukraine, the first official said. Some materiel could reach Ukraine in days; others may take weeks.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder declined to get into specifics about what will be in any forthcoming package, but told reporters on Thursday that the U.S. has a “very robust logistics network that enables us to move materiel very quickly” – possibly within days.

“We certainly understand and appreciate the urgency and are poised to move quickly,” Ryder said.

The House is nearing a vote Saturday on four bills that would allocate $95 billion in funding to assist Ukraine, Israel and Pacific partners. Once passed, the Senate must still clear the aid package before Biden can sign it.

Of the nearly $61 billion for Ukraine, approximately $48 billion would go to the Pentagon to finance arming Kyiv, replenish weapons and pay for military operations in Europe.

The bill touts $23.2 billion for the military to replenish stocks of weapons and equipment provided to Ukraine. Another $13.8 billion would go toward the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative for the Pentagon to purchase new weapons for Kyiv.

And $11.3 billion would finance intensified troop operations in Europe.

The legislation also reauthorizes the Pentagon to send up to $7.8 billion worth of existing weapons from military inventories to Ukraine, which would then be replaced by the added funding in the package.

The Pentagon’s assistant secretary for international security affairs, Celeste Wallander, told lawmakers recently that the Pentagon would begin moving ammunition, artillery shells and air defenses quickly once Congress finally approves the aid.

“We would be able to, with [European Command’s] support and [Transportation Command’s] support, begin immediately, within a week or two, to provide the ammunition, the artillery ammunition, to provide interceptors to Ukraine,” Wallander told the House Armed Services Committee.

Top U.S. officials stressed this week that Ukraine will soon be in dire straits if Congress does not pass additional funding. CIA Director Bill Burns said without new U.S. weapons, Ukraine could lose by the end of the year.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers that Russia is making gains, as Ukraine struggles with ammunition shortages.

“We’re already seeing things on the battlefield begin to shift a bit in Russia’s favor. We are seeing them make incremental gains. We’re seeing the Ukrainians be challenged in terms of holding the line,” he said.