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Pentagon sending Ukraine new air defenses as Russia pummels key cities

A new $400 million package of U.S. security assistance includes four Avenger air defense systems and the Stinger missiles they fire

U.S. Army personnel train with an Avenger air defense system in Germany earlier this year. (Sgt. 1st Class Terrance D. Rhodes/U.S. Army)
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The Biden administration is ratcheting up air defense for Ukraine with an influx of surface-to-air missile systems and other ammunition designed to give Kyiv what Pentagon officials are calling a “net” of interlacing capabilities to protect against Russian bombardment on civilian areas.

The administration announced Thursday that it would send Ukraine more security assistance valued at up to $400 million, a package that contains four mobile short-range systems known as Avengers and the Stinger missiles they fire, plus missiles for use in medium-range HAWK air defense systems. The fresh infusion of arms also includes ammunition for the HIMARS long-range artillery systems that Ukrainian forces have used to destroy Russian command nodes, tens of thousands of howitzer artillery rounds and a staggering 20 million small-arms rounds.

Ukraine has clamored for the United States and its other Western allies to help protect its skies. Those pleas have gained urgency as Russian missiles and drones have pummeled cities and the energy infrastructure that keeps them heated and powered through winter. Many fear that trend may worsen in the aftermath of Russia’s apparent retreat from the Kherson region in Ukraine’s south.

Russia orders exit from Kherson city, giving up key regional capital

The newly announced transfer of air defenses follows the delivery in recent days of two advanced midrange systems known as NASAMS. The Pentagon has said that six more NASAMS would be produced and sent to Ukraine in coming years.

Sabrina Singh, the Defense Department’s deputy press secretary, told reporters that the Avenger system can protect against cruise missiles, helicopters and drones, saying it “will fit in well with some of the capabilities that they’re already using on the battlefield.”

Avengers fire Stinger missiles, long a part of Ukraine military assistance packages. Defense acquisition specialists have expressed some concern about the United States’ diminishing supplies of those weapons due to the constant provision of them to Ukraine. Singh said Thursday that, “We wouldn’t have provided these Stinger missiles if we didn’t feel that we could.”

She declined to say why the administration decided to dramatically increase the amount of small-arms ammunition it was sending to Ukraine and whether it was an indication Ukrainian forces are burning through what they have at a high rate.

“This is a changing war, it’s a changing battlefield, it’s dynamic,” Singh said. “And of course these rounds are being used. I wouldn’t be able to get into how quickly.”

Because the new package is under the president’s drawdown authority, it is likely that most systems will be sent to the Ukrainians quickly, allowing them to be introduced on the battlefield soon.

The missiles being furnished to be used in HAWK air defense systems, though, first must be refurbished, Singh explained. Contracts for that work have yet to be awarded. It is unclear how many are being readied for transfer to Ukraine.