Airmen from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron load cargo Jan. 13, 2023, during a security assistance mission at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Airmen from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron load cargo Jan. 13, 2023, during a security assistance mission at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (Marco Gomez/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Friday announced a new tranche of military aid for Ukraine worth more than $2 billion, including long-range precision rockets that could help Ukrainian forces retake territory from Russia.

Ground-launched small diameter bombs are being sent after weeks of repeated Ukrainian requests for more weapons and equipment to upgrade their battlefield capabilities and recapture lost territory in Ukraine’s eastern and southeastern regions, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

The long-range GPS-guided bombs are basically modified GBU-39 small diameter bombs combined with a rocket motor. Friday was the first time they were part of a U.S. military aid package, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, said Friday.

Also included in the latest military aid are more Javelin anti-armor systems, anti-armor rockets, two HAWK air defense systems and, also for the first time, equipment to marry Ukraine’s air defense systems with those supplied by the West.

“Today’s announcement includes critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively,” Ryder said.

Ukrainian officials said this week that they’re expecting a new wave of Russian attacks after observing a buildup of troops along sections of Ukraine’s border. Fighting across the country has been muted during the cold winter months, but Ukraine and Western allies expect Russia is gearing up for a new offensive once winter ends. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country has a chance to beat them back -- if it gets the weapons it wants from the U.S. and other nations.

Ukraine had lobbied for weeks for U.S.-made Patriot missile systems, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks. U.S. officials in some cases denied those requests initially, only to change their minds and give Ukraine the weapons. The long-range precision rockets have been on Ukraine’s wish list for months, and the ones included in the new package can accurately hit targets up to about 100 miles away, defense officials said.

Ukrainian military officials also have been pleading with the U.S. to send advanced fighter aircraft, such as the Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, believing they would be a game-changer in air superiority. Biden, however, said this week that the U.S. won’t send F-16s. He had said the same when Ukraine requested Abrams tanks before agreeing to do so. Ukrainian pilots are not familiar with the F-16 and they’d have to train with them if the U.S. decided to provide some aircraft to them.

The military aid package announced Friday is the first in February, which will see the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. Since the invasion Feb. 24, the United States has given close to $30 billion to help defend Ukraine. It includes $425 million in equipment through presidential drawdown authority and $1.75 billion through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. Drawdowns allow the U.S. to send items quickly from Defense Department stocks, while giving through the Ukraine initiative takes longer because the items are procured from industry.

The long-range rockets, which are fired through High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, are part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which means it will take more time to procure them and ship them to Europe. The M1 Abrams tanks that the U.S. will send to Ukraine are also provided through the initiative, and Pentagon officials have said it will be several months before Ukrainian troops can use them.

Ryder said the long-range rockets could be used in an Ukrainian attempt to retake Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

“Yes, as part of the package we will provide ground-launched small diameter bombs to Ukraine,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “This gives them a longer-range capability that will enable them to conduct operations in defense of their country and to take back their sovereign territory, Russian-occupied areas. When it comes Ukraine’s plans on operations, clearly that is their decision so I’m not going to talk about or speculate about potential future operations.”

Other items included in the military aid package:

• 181 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.

• Almost 200 heavy machine guns with thermal imagery sights and ammunition to counter drones.

• Claymore anti-personnel and demolition munitions.

• Cold-weather gear, helmets, and other field equipment.

• Counter-drone systems.

• RQ-20 Puma drones.

• Secure communications equipment, medical supplies and funding for training, maintenance and sustainment.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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