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(Washington, D.C.) While the Pentagon continues to massively fast-track weapons and supplies to Ukrainian defenders fighting in the Southern and Eastern parts of the country, US and allied supporters of Ukraine are also increasingly thinking about the long-term effort to “sustain” Ukraine’s war effort.
A key part of this involves support for the Ukraine’s Air Force, in large measure because the Russians have still as of yet been “unable” to achieve air superiority, something which is quite surprising given the massive deficit in air fighters between Russia and Ukraine.
“There is work being done here at the Pentagon and elsewhere out in Europe, at EUCOM and elsewhere, to help work with the Ukrainians to identify their kind of medium to long term requirements. So think of things that aren't measured in days and weeks but measured in months and a handful of years,” Colin Kahl, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told reporters Aug 8 in a Pentagon media discussion, according to a transcript of his remarks.
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Specifically, of great interest was his discussion of the possibility that, in time, there may be an opportunity for the West to send fighter jets to Ukraine.
“There are real questions about what would be most useful in terms of assisting the Ukrainian Air Force and improving its capabilities. It's not inconceivable that down the road, Western aircraft could be part of the mix on that, but the final analysis has not been done. I will say, though, in the near term, we've been doing lots of things to make Ukraine's existing Air Force stay in the air and be more capable,” Kahl said.
For example, Kahl explained that despite the wide-spread focus on the US unwillingness to shepard through Polish MiG-29s months ago, the Pentagon has continued to take many steps to support Ukraine's Air Force.
“A lot was made about the MiG-29 issue several months ago. Not very much has been noticed about the sheer amount of spare parts and other things that we've done to help them actually put more of their own MiG-29s in the air and keep those that are in the air flying for a longer period of time,” Kahl said.
The Pentagon has also included a large number of anti-radiation missiles that can be fired from Ukrainian aircraft to destroy Russian radars or “jam” their communication systems.
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This development would seem to indicate that US and allied supporters of Ukraine are perhaps more inclined to think Ukraine might ultimately prevail in stopping or even destroying Russian advances. Clearly Ukrainian air defenses seem to be having an impact, as well as whatever fighting is going on in the air. Also, if Russia is still unable to achieve air superiority, something which could completely change the tactical situation on the ground, is it even considerable to envision a scenario wherein Ukraine is able to take control of the skies if fortified by large numbers of fighter jets? It seems, given Kahl’s comments, there may be some emerging thinking along these lines, if not at very least a growing consensus that Ukraine may succeed in continuing to shut down Russian air attacks.
President Biden and the Pentagon have now authorized the single largest weapons support package for Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, pledging as much as $1 billion in rockets, ammunition, anti-tank weapons, surface to air missiles and armored vehicles.
The initiative, announced Aug. 9th at the Pentagon by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, lends additional evidence to recent comments from the Pentagon and US allies that supporters of Ukraine are preparing for long-term support against the Russian invasion. Another key indication or signal this aid package suggests is that the Ukrainians continue to have very substantial success using weapons and technology provided by the US, NATO and other allied countries.
Kahl detailed a host of various items to include “additional ammunition for High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, 75,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition, 20 120mm mortar systems and 20,000 rounds of associated mortar ammunition, munitions for national advanced surface-to-air missile systems, or NASAMS, 1,000 Javelin systems and hundreds of AT-4 anti armor systems and 50 armored medical treatment vehicles.” Kahly went on to explain that the materials also included large amounts of smaller, high-value items such as medical supplies such as bandages and first aid kits as well as lethal small weapons such as C-4 explosives.
The Western support announced by Kahl is entirely aligned with the collective sense of resolve expressed at the recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group of more than 50-countries supporting Ukraine’s defense against invasion. The sentiment expressed at this most recent meeting by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and multiple NATO leaders was firm in its resolve to prepare the international community for an ongoing, longer-term strategy in support of Ukraine.
Key NATO allies such as Germany, the UK and others have been adding critical support since the earliest days of the war, and Kahl explained that both Britain and Germany have supplied three M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems.
As for the US, more GPS-guided, precision Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems able to fire 70km are on the way.
“We provided a tremendous number of GMLRS in the last PDA package and we are now on a rhythm of shipping it so that things are arriving on a steady cadence. So I think you can expect that in the next PDA package there will be the next increment of GMLRS,” Kahl said.
These land rockets continue to exact an enormous toll upon vital Russian assets such as command and control centers, troop concentrations and critical systems such as mobile launchers capable of firing missiles into civilian areas in Ukraine.
The size of the aid package, coupled with an ongoing multi-national collective resolve to sustain support to Ukraine seem to indicate that the international will to offer “long-term” support to Ukraine remains strong. This is perhaps in large measure due to the success of the weapons thus far, which Pentagon officials say continues to be used to great effect by Ukrainian defenders.
Ukraine’s ability to employ offensive and defensive tactics with dispersed, maneuvering units armed with anti-armor weapons has shined light upon the growing extent to which precision-munitions, networking and ambush-style “hit-and-run” kinds of disaggregated formations can succeed against a heavier mechanized force. The range, precision and lethality of modern anti-armor weapons, and how they are being tactically employed by the Ukrainians, indicates that newer technologies are reshaping maneuver formations and informing concepts of operation for future warfare. For instance, in Force Design 2030, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger specifically cited Ukraines success as one of several reasons why the Corps can increase its mobility, range, deployability and lethality with a fast, high-tech, expeditionary force armed with long-range, yet highly lethal anti-armor weapons. Berger cited Ukraine in the context of explaining why the Corps was divesting all of its Abrams tanks and shifting toward a more agile, dispersed, multi-domain fighting force using more drones, long-range anti-armor weapons and a new generation of networking technology.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization