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New York Times
22 Apr 2023

NextImg:Western Weapons Supplies Fall Short of Ukraine’s Needs, Documents Show

Western allies this week delivered some of the most powerful weapons that Ukraine says it will need for a looming counteroffensive against Russia: a Patriot air-defense system from Germany and the Netherlands. Fighter jets from Slovakia. More 155-millimeter artillery from the United States.

And on Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced that Ukrainians would soon begin training, for the first time, on American M1 Abrams tanks — an important step to getting the sophisticated weapon to the battlefield.

But the reinforcements still fall short of what even American military planners have assessed that Ukraine needs to make the most of an offensive expected to begin in coming weeks to retake more territory captured by the Russians.

Classified military assessments dating to February and March, from leaked documents, show dire gaps in what allies had pledged to Ukraine and what, at least by then, had been delivered.

John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, said the American government would not confirm the validity of any of the leaked documents. But other U.S. officials have acknowledged that they are legitimate Defense Department documents, and military analysts have said that many appear authentic.

American and other Western officials note that additional weapons and supplies have been streaming into Ukraine in the weeks since those assessments were made. That will certainly help the Ukrainians gear up, but even Abrams tanks, on an accelerated pace from initial projections, are not expected to make it to Ukraine for the beginning of the offensive.

Still, Mr. Austin, when asked in Germany about Ukraine’s preparedness, said the United States and other allies had “met our initial goals to provide what’s required to get started.”

Here is a look at some of the weapons systems that Ukraine wants most — and what its allies so far have been able to deliver.

An Abrams from the United States being unloaded in December in the Polish port of Gdynia.Credit...Kacper Pempel/Reuters


On Friday, U.S. defense officials said that about 31 Abrams tanks could reach Ukraine by the fall, bringing one of America’s most powerful weapons a step closer to the war. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.

Initial plans had been for the tanks to arrive in Ukraine next year. On Friday, one of the defense officials said that the tanks could arrive during the offensive in time to help Ukrainian troops hold onto any reclaimed territory.

The leaked documents show that senior military leaders and planners from NATO states determined that 253 tanks were necessary for Ukraine to defend its territory in the coming counteroffensive. But the documents concluded that only 200 tanks would be delivered or otherwise ready to fight by the end of April. The majority, 140, would be refurbished Soviet-era tanks, including from Ukraine’s current arsenal.

Only 60 tanks were made by Western manufacturers — the kind of sophisticated weaponry that Ukraine most wanted and that NATO states pledged to deliver after much diplomatic haggling last winter. The Abrams tanks, not mentioned in the documents, would be in addition to the 60.

One of the documents, dated Feb. 28, also showed that three brigades that were preparing to fight in the counteroffensive were short at least a dozen tanks each.

Patriot missiles last March at an airport in Poland.Credit...Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Air-Defense Systems

Ukraine has repeatedly called for more air-defense systems, saying it lacks the ability to protect against certain types of Russian missile attacks. And the downing of an American drone by a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea last month exacerbated fears that the Kremlin was looking for ways to use its air force more forcefully in the war.

So far, NATO allies have promised to send Ukraine two Patriot batteries — one from the United States and the one from Germany and the Netherlands, which was sent this week. Several dozen Ukrainian troops wrapped up 10 weeks of accelerated training on the Patriot systems last month in Oklahoma.

While Ukrainian officials have thanked NATO allies for the Patriots and other sophisticated weapons, they have also lamented the lag time in getting the weapons delivered.

Other allies have offered similar air-defense systems to protect Ukraine’s skies. But they had yet to be fully delivered, the leaked documents show.

Italy and France, for example, announced in February that they would send an unspecified number of their jointly manufactured SAMP/T air-defense systems to Ukraine this spring. An initial battery is scheduled to arrive from Italy next month, according to another document dated Feb. 28.

But even that will come with “partial” ability, the document shows. Another document, from March 2, shows that France has notified Italy that parts of the system will not be ready until June.

The United States has sent two air-defense systems known as NASAMs to Ukraine, and the documents note that six more are to come, as well as one from Canada and one from Norway. Additionally, Germany recently delivered its second of four IRIS-T systems — which it has not even used itself — along with missiles to avoid running out in May.

The documents also raise concerns about how quickly Ukraine was burning through missiles and other ammunition needed to intercept Russian airstrikes.

Still, a Western military official, who briefed reporters this week on the condition that he not be identified, played down worries about Ukraine’s air defenses, saying that continuing deliveries from allies and a decrease in Russian strikes had allowed Kyiv to rebuild its stockpiles.

Ukrainian soldiers receiving coordinates to pass along to the soldiers who were to fire 155-millimeter shells from an American-made howitzer toward Russian positions in Bakhmut this month.Credit...Mauricio Lima for The New York Times


The United States is believed to have sent more than one million rounds of 155-millimeter shells to Ukraine since the start of the war in February 2022, and European Union officials pledged last month to send another million over the next year. The NATO-caliber rounds have been a weapon of choice in what has devolved into a war of attrition between Ukraine and Russia.

But as of March 1, the documents suggest, Ukraine was believed to have only 9,788 rounds from America on hand and was expected to run out within days.

Over the next 12 days, the United States delivered another 30,000 rounds, and there have been multiple other deliveries since then.

But at this point, Ukraine’s appetite for 155-millimeter rounds is essentially limitless, and ammunition manufacturers in the United States and Europe say it will take years to catch up with the demand.

MiG-29 fighter jets taking part in the NATO Air Shielding exercise in October near an air base in Lask, Poland.Credit...Radoslaw Jozwiak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Fighter Jets

Ukraine is continuing to push for American-made F-16 fighter jets over refusals by the Biden administration, which has maintained that it could take months, if not years, to train Ukrainian pilots to fly and maintain the highly technical aircraft.

Last month, after Poland said it would send four of its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Slovakia pledged to send 13 of its own, though many are old and would simply be used for spare parts for Ukraine’s own planes. On Monday, the Slovak defense minister, Jaro Nad, said the jets “have been safely handed over” to Ukraine.

Last week, Poland received approval to send Ukraine five additional MiG-29s that were inherited from East Germany during the Cold War and needed Berlin’s blessing to export.

But Ukraine still wants the F-16s, which have sophisticated radar that can spot targets from hundreds of miles away, potentially allowing pilots to fire their weaponry while remaining a safe distance from Russia’s air-defense weapons.

On Friday, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was also at the allies’ meeting in Germany, was asked whether the United States had changed its mind about providing Ukraine with the fighter jets. He noted that Ukraine’s air-defense system had been working effectively for more than a year and kept Russian air forces “cautious.”

Ensuring the rigor of that air-defense system “is the most critical thing right now,” he said.

But Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament who was in Washington this past week, urged the Biden administration to allow other countries that have bought F-16s from the United States to transfer them to Kyiv. That is currently not possible without re-export licenses from the United States.

“Every day of postponing the decision is Ukrainians losing their lives,” Ms. Ustinova told reporters at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.