WASHINGTON — The Ukrainians say they need faster shipments of long-range artillery and other sophisticated weaponry to halt Russia’s steady advance. The United States and the Europeans insist more are on the way, but fear sending too much equipment before Ukrainian soldiers can be trained. The Pentagon fears it could potentially run out of inventory in the coming months.
The Biden administration and its allies are struggling to balance their priorities with Kyiv’s demands as Russian forces step up their bombardment of towns and villages in eastern Ukraine, diplomats, officials say US and Western military and lawmakers.
U.S. officials say Ukraine could mount a counterattack and reclaim some – but not all – of the territory it lost if it can continue to exact a heavy toll on Russia until more new weapons may arrive from the West. But some officials worry that pulling too many Ukrainian artillery specialists from the front lines for weeks of training on the new weapons could weaken Ukrainian defenses, hasten Russian gains and make any future counterattacks more difficult. to bring.
“There are no good choices in a situation like this,” said Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island who heads the Armed Services Committee. “You have to take your best artillery officers and enlisted personnel and send them back for a week or two of training. But in the long run, I think it’s probably the smartest decision.
Additionally, Pentagon officials have expressed concern about the U.S.’s combat readiness if the war continues for months or longer. After two decades of supporting counterterrorism missions, the US defense industry has largely stopped making the kinds of weapons Ukraine will need to survive a long war of attrition. The United States authorized $54 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and sent more than $7 billion in weapons from existing Pentagon stockpiles.
Ukraine’s urgent requests come at a time when the United States appears to have reached the high end of the type of sophisticated weapons it supplies. Upcoming shipments will include truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers called HIMARS, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and precision-guided Excalibur howitzer shells. But advanced fighter jets and armed drones on Ukraine’s wish list have been shelved for now because they are either too provocative for Moscow or take too long for Ukrainians to learn to use. .
The nearly five-month war is at a critical juncture, according to US officials and others familiar with intelligence assessments. As many as 100 to 200 Ukrainian soldiers have died every day since Russia shifted its military campaign to spring to focus on eastern Ukraine. But in total, about 20,000 Russians were killed. The injuries wiped out around 60,000 more people from the battlefield. Nearly a third of Russian equipment was destroyed during the war, according to Western officials, several of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
To reconstitute its army, Russia should mobilize more of its population, by declaring war – officially, the conflict remains a “special military operation” – or by moving troops and equipment from the Far North or from the Russian Far East to Ukraine.
The fact that President Vladimir V. Putin has been reluctant to take either step is a sign that he believes time is on his side, officials say. Instead, the Kremlin is trying to fill its manpower shortage with a motley mix of Ukrainians from breakaway territories, mercenaries and militarized National Guard units, and by promising large cash bonuses to volunteers.
Mr Putin may also think that Western support for Ukraine will soon reach its limit as Americans and Europeans worry more about energy prices, which have soared since the start of the war.
A sign of Mr. Putin’s current approach, according to people briefed on campaign assessments, is that the Kremlin is no longer pushing for quick wins on the battlefield as it did in the beginning to seize Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Mr Putin has again shuffled his top battlefield commanders in Ukraine in recent weeks, and US officials say the Russians have moved on to slow and brutal tactics that the Kremlin seems content to let play.
The Russian military has relied heavily on its immense long-range artillery advantage in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, pounding Ukrainian soldiers – as well as towns and villages – from a distance , before trying to intervene.
In recent days, some Russian forces have reportedly taken a strategic break, according to an assessment by the Institute for the Study of Warfare, while others have begun shelling towns in Donetsk, a territory of Donbass.
Many of these Russian troops are slow to rearm and reorganize after brutal artillery duels in the Lugansk part of the Donbass, while the Kremlin scrambles to fill its manpower shortages to continue the war.
“The Russians are literally scratching the bottom of the barrel for replacement troops and equipment,” said Frederick B. Hodges, a former top US Army Europe commander who now works at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
US officials say it will be difficult for Ukraine to mount a short-term counteroffensive, but it still has advantages. Throughout the war, combat has heavily favored the defenders, who can inflict heavy casualties from well-protected positions. The Ukrainians used modern weapons of American and European design, including HIMARS and anti-tank missiles like Javelins and NLAWs, with deadly effectiveness against the Russians. But Russia’s superior firepower allowed its battered forces to advance.
The key to Ukrainian survival and further slowing the Russian advance will be additional Western training and equipment.
The first batch of Ukrainian soldiers arrived in Britain last week to take part in a new program which officials say will eventually train up to 10,000 Ukrainian recruits in weaponry, patrol tactics, first aid and to other skills,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said recently. .
“The UK’s response to evolving Ukrainian needs takes into account both the equipment needed to mount and sustain an effective response to Russian aggression and the training needed to utilize the respective capability,” said Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath, the British Defense Attaché in Washington.
US intelligence agencies are struggling to gauge how quickly Ukrainian forces can absorb and use sophisticated US equipment. HIMARS – for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System – are the centerpiece of a series of new Western long-range weapons that the Ukrainian military is turning to as its arsenal of Soviet-era howitzers and rocket ammunition decreases.
The truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers fire satellite-guided rockets that have a range of more than 40 miles, more than anything Ukraine had possessed. The first two batches destroy Russian ammunition depots, air defenses and command posts far behind the front lines, US and Ukrainian officials said.
“HIMARS has already made a HUGE difference on the battlefield,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in a statement. a twitter post during the weekend.
The White House said Friday it would send four more HIMARS from Pentagon stockpiles, joining the eight already on the ground in Ukraine with their US-trained crews of about 100 Ukrainian soldiers. Administration officials privately say more will be sent. Britain and Germany have each committed to providing three similar launchers.
Ukrainian officials, however, say they need 300 multiple rocket launchers to fight Russia, and some former Pentagon officials say at least 60 to 100 launchers are needed to disrupt the Russian offensive.
A report released last week by the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization in London, warned that the well-intentioned delivery of various artillery systems to Ukraine was having unintended consequences.
“The current approach of each country donating a battery of weapons piecemeal is quickly turning into a logistical nightmare for Ukrainian forces, with each battery requiring a separate training, maintenance and logistics pipeline,” indicates the report.
The report’s authors, Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, also concluded that Ukraine needed electronic warfare equipment, such as jamming devices, to combat advanced Russian systems. Ukrainian surveillance drones, which help target Russian troops, only survive about a week before Russian defenses force them to crash or shoot them down, according to the report.
“Ukraine has the will to achieve the operational defeat of the Russian army,” the report said. “At present, however, several Russian advantages and Ukrainian weaknesses are leading to an attrition conflict that risks a protracted war, ultimately favoring Russia.”
Jean Ismay contributed report.