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U.S. pledges $3 billion in arms to help Ukraine ‘retake territory’

Largest weapons package to date includes new armored vehicles, artillery and missiles designed to change the battlefield dynamic

M109A6 Paladin self-propelled howitzers are positioned for a test fire at an army training area in March 2015 in Grafenwoehr, Germany. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Nicole R. Paese)

The United States has moved to a new level of military assistance to Ukraine, adding armored combat vehicles and mobile artillery in the largest package of military aid since the Russian invasion last February. The Defense Department said the equipment would allow Kyiv’s forces to launch aggressive ground offensives against entrenched Russian lines in the east and south of the country.

“We are positioning Ukraine to be able to move forward and retake territory,” Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper told reporters Friday in outlining $3 billion worth of new security assistance for Ukraine.

Coupled with recently announced U.S. and European training for thousands of Ukrainian troops in Western-style combined arms maneuvers, the new weaponry marks an inflection point for the United States and its allies, who until now have characterized their aid as largely defensive.

While continuing to provide defensive equipment, including the sophisticated surface-to-air Patriot missile system, Ukraine’s backers are now making clear that they intend to help “change the dynamic” on the battlefield from what Cooper called hard-won “inches forward” along largely static front lines, to greater progress in regaining territory lost to the Russians.

“That’s what we’re looking forward to seeing in the coming months,” she said.

Ukraine’s significant territorial gains, such as the retaking of the Kharkiv region in the north in September, have often depended on surprise maneuvers against a poorly supplied, trained and positioned enemy. Russian troops retreated in November from the southern city of Kherson to more defensible positions on the other side of the Dnieper River that Ukraine has had difficulty penetrating.

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At the top of the list of new items are 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles — armed with tank-busting TOW missiles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of 25mm ammunition — and 18 self-propelled howitzers.

While not the heavy battle tanks Ukraine has been seeking, the Bradleys are agile and fast, with “mounted firepower,” a “significant armor capability,” and the ability to transport troops, Cooper said. They complement French AMX-10 RC light tanks and German Marder infantry fighting vehicles also announced this week, she said, along with agreements by the United States and the Netherlands to refurbish Russian-made T-72 battle tanks obtained from former Soviet-bloc countries to supplement Ukraine’s existing stocks.

All, except the T-72s, were long on Ukraine’s wish-list, but denied by the West on grounds that they were logistically complicated and would send an escalatory signal to the Kremlin. But Moscow’s relentless bombardment of civilian areas and energy infrastructure in recent months, the stalemate along the eastern and southern fronts, and the demonstrated ability of Ukraine’s forces to adapt their existing weaponry and utilize new equipment, appear to have changed the Western calculus.

RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles — air defense weapons designed to fire from sea or land — are also part of the package and will be paired with Soviet-era Buk launchers, Cooper said, “a creative solution that did require some engineering finesse.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that the new assistance was among the “concrete results” of his visit to Washington late last month, and talks with other partners.

“Finally, we can say that we have managed to bring Ukraine’s strength and defense cooperation with partners to a new level. The one we really need right now,” Zelensky said in his nightly address in Kyiv. “For the first time, we will get Bradley Fighting Vehicles — this is exactly what is needed. New guns and projectiles, including high-precision ones. New missiles. New drones.”

Washington has touted the necessity of “combined arms” a warfighting concept that unites armor, infantry, aviation and other weapons and tactics to complement and support one another. It is a key element favored by commanders to overwhelm enemies and exploit weaknesses.

Experts have pointed to Russia’s failure to protect its armored units with infantry as a key reason they were picked apart in their effort to conquer Kyiv in the early days of the invasion.

Much of the new weaponry, along with the training to operate it, will take months to arrive on the battlefield, and seems timed to anticipate a spring Ukrainian offensive across the broad, flat land of the eastern part of the country. An offensive against dug-in Russian positions would require soldiers to move quickly in well-protected vehicles, said Bradley Bowman, a foreign policy and military analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.

The Bradleys will bolster firepower and allow Ukrainian infantry to keep up with armor units. “Their primary purpose is mechanized warfare,” he said. “And mechanized warfare is mobile warfare.”

U.S. and Germany will send armored combat vehicles to Ukraine

Other weapons on the list, including additional Humvees, M113 armored personnel carriers and mine-resistant vehicles, also suggest a need for mobility and protection.

The self-propelled M109 howitzers are a first, augmenting what other Western allies have provided. Howitzers previously sent by the United States require a separate truck to tow them around the battlefield, but M109s are built on tank-like tracks, allowing them to fire and quickly move to safety, a technique known as “shoot and scoot.”

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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