Ukraine's wish list of US weapons if $60bn Congress deal is struck

Zelenskyy renews call for air defences to be bolstered after latest Russia attacks, with missile defence interceptors top of Ukraine's requests

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The $60 billion US arms package for Ukraine that could be passed in Congress this weekend will be “bad news for the Kremlin” as it will arrive in time to head off a major Russian offensive, a retired American general has told The National.

With the cash will come a long list of arms that Kyiv urgently requires to help it fend off the Russian advance, as well as the bombing and missile attacks on its cities that are killing scores of civilians.

“This money will send a strong signal to the Kremlin that we're not going to turn our back on Ukraine and that Russia does not have the ability to knock Ukraine out of the war,” said Gen Ben Hodges, the former commander of US forces in Europe.

“Their only hope was that we would quit and they could just grind along and, over the next year or two, eventually overwhelm Ukraine. This package is bad news for the Kremlin.”

High on Ukraine’s wish list will be hundreds of thousands of 155mm artillery rounds, long-range precision missiles and F-16 fighters with their advanced missiles.

Weapons wanted by Ukraine - in pictures

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for additional air defences on Friday after the latest wave of attacks by Russia.

A major missile attack on the central Dnipropetrovsk region killed at least eight people, wounded 25 and damaged critical infrastructure, local officials reported.

Ukraine said that Russian forces had launched 22 missiles and more than a dozen drones across the country in an overnight barrage.

“Russia must be held accountable for its terror, and every missile, every Shahed [drone] must be shot down,” Mr Zelenskyy said. “The world can guarantee this, and our partners have the necessary capabilities.”

For the first time since Russia's invasion, Ukraine said it had downed a Russian long-range bomber used to fire cruise missiles at cities across the war-battered country.

Russian officials said the plane had crashed over the southern Stavropol region while flying back to base and at least one member of the crew had died.

G7 foreign ministers on Friday pledged to "bolster Ukraine's air defence capabilities" following a meeting on the Italian island of Capri.

In a final statement, they said that they were looking at "all possible avenues and feasible options" to use frozen Russian assets to help Kyiv, ahead of a G7 leaders' summit in June.

However, experts have warned that the Middle East crisis will probably lead to Ukraine receiving fewer of the Patriot missile interceptors that its requires, with American needing them to defend its international bases.

“There will be reluctance around Patriot interceptors as they are expensive, slow to build and need to also cover the US bases in the Middle East now,” said Sam Cranny-Evans, a Russian analyst at the Rusi think tank.

Military expert Tim Ripley agreed that the Americans have “not got much spare to give away” because they have to “defend against the Iranians”, as well as against North Korea and, in the Pacific, against China's aggression.

Gen Hodges said the long-delayed aid package would be welcomed because “thousands of Ukrainians have died and towns [have been] destroyed” but that might not have happened if America had acted decisively, although the Hamas attack on Israel had proved to be a major distraction.

Air interceptors

As the Israel missile defence system so amply demonstrated on Sunday, advanced interceptors can save lives and infrastructure.

Ukraine’s air defence largely depends on the Patriot system but the country's missile stock has been severely depleted by continued Russian barrages, using the same tactic Iran used with ballistic and cruise missiles, alongside drones.

To combat this, Ukraine adopted a risky tactic of putting Patriots close to the Russian border where, in late February, they shot down up to 12 Su-35 and Su-34 fighters.

But in early March, Russia retaliated by striking a convoy of Patriot launchers and missiles with Iskander ballistic missiles.

Since then the Russian’s have been able to lob their deadly and accurate glider bombs from fighters. The glider bombs, with a 65km range, have caused death and damage to the border city of Kharkiv.

“Patriots and artillery are key for the short and long term but would have to be delivered immediately or the situation will get worse,” said Mr Cranny-Evans.

Advanced missiles

When the first F-16s arrive around July, the Ukrainians will hope that they are equipped with the Aim-120 air-to-air missiles that have the ability to shoot down fighters “beyond visual range” using radar.

More than 14,000 of the missiles, which have a range exceeding 120km, have been produced. The Aim-120's accuracy is so good that it has been nicknamed the “Slammer”.

With Aim-120s, Ukraine will be able to push back the Russian bombers away from its border and attacks on cities.

In addition, the F-16s will provide greater surveillance and the ability to attack high-value targets behind Russian lines in occupied Ukraine.

Formidable Russian artillery

Since the Second World War the Russians have lauded its artillery as the “God of War” and that has proven the case in Ukraine.

Russian use of artillery has led it to draw down decades-old stocks, as well as up to a million rounds from North Korea, allowing it to fire at a ratio of seven to one against Ukraine’s guns.

With Russia on the offensive at several points along the 1,000km front line, Ukraine has reverted to a deeply defensive posture, with artillery playing a key role in fending off attacks, along with its extensive drone fleet.

But a European promise of a million rounds by this spring has produced barely a third of the figure, leaving some units dangerously exposed.

A massive delivery of 155mm rounds could prove crucial in preventing further Russian advances, particularly in its expected summer offensive.

Furthermore, the Ukrainians need many replacement M777 howitzer barrels that have been worn down by extensive use.

Precision strike

Russian command posts, artillery dumps and troop concentrations have suffered severely due to the western supplied long-range missile systems such as the US-made ATACMS and Himars.

The ATACMS have a range of 300km with the ability to land within a few metres of a target, while the Himars have about half the firing distance.

Gen Hodges suggested that the Ukrainians would want many more of the recently introduced ground-launched small diameter bombs that can be fired from the Himars system.

With a range of 150km, it carries a 93kg fragmentation warhead that can penetrate up to three metres of steel-reinforced concrete.

Twelve can be fired at a time, allowing defenders to wreak devastation against an advancing armoured formation or to wipe out artillery batteries.

No more tanks

The arsenal of western-supplied tanks was meant to give Ukraine the ability to break through Russian lines last summer but, ultimately, they failed largely due to deep minefields and artillery.

The demand for M1 Abrams is minimal, although spare parts would be welcomed. However, the Ukrainians have found the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, with its 25mm cannon, very useful in protecting troops and providing decent firepower.

Similarly, the 1960s-designed versatile M113 armoured personnel carrier has proven effective in protecting troops against minefields.

“Tanks have gone off the agenda as the Ukrainians are now very much in defensive survival mode,” said military analyst Tim Ripley. “It’s now artillery and the key thing is interceptors for air defence.”

Updated: April 19, 2024, 11:31 AM