Ukraine Will Get Switchblade Suicide Drones As Part Of New U.S. Aid Package Lawmaker Says
A new $800 million U.S. aid package for Ukraine includes drones, air defenses, anti-armor weapons, and more.
Russia's war in Ukraine is now three weeks old. The Kremlin's advances on all fronts have slowed, if not largely stalled, as Russian forces suffer mounting losses in armored and unarmored vehicles, aircraft, and personnel. At the same time, multiple Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, continue to be subjected to ever-more punishing bombardments, causing hundreds of civilian casualties and forcing millions more to flee.
Earlier today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed members of Congress in the United States, remotely via a video conference call. In his remarks, he made a new plea for a no-fly zone over his country, asked for more air defenses and other military assistance, called for a new international alliance to help stop conflicts, and said more sanctions should be levied against Russia.
Soon after Zelensky's address, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a new $800 million military aid package for Ukraine, which will include 100 Switchblade loitering munitions, or suicide drones, according to senior American legislator.
Before getting into the latest updates below, readers can first get fully up to speed on the state of the conflict with our preceding rolling coverage here.
Readers can find our ongoing rolling coverage of the conflict in Ukraine here.
UPDATED: 4:50 PM EST—
Michael McCaul, a Republic Representative from Texas and the top member his party on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has told Politico that the new military assistance package for Ukraine that President Biden announced earlier today will include Switchblades. The White House, which described these drones as "Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems" in a press release, has not confirmed this, nor has the Pentagon. However, a senior U.S. defense official did tell reporters that it "safe to assume one of the purposes of these unmanned aerial systems would be to deliver a punch." NBC News had previously reported that the Biden administration was considering sending Switchblades to Ukraine, as well.
It's not clear what model of Switchblade the U.S. government is now planning to transfer to Ukrainian authorities. Sending older stocks of the Switchblade 300 still in U.S. military inventory might be one of the easiest options, rather than acquiring and delivering newer examples of that type or of the larger Switchblade 600.
Regardless, Switchblades of any kind, which are each loaded into an individual launch tube, would undoubtedly be a boon to Ukrainian forces. These backpack-portable loitering munitions, which you can read more about in detail in this past War Zone feature, offer even small squads of soldiers localized aerial surveillance capabilities, allowing them to scout ahead, locate obstacles, ambushes, and targets of opportunity. They can then attack those targets with extreme precision. It basically 'democratizes' basic aerial surveillance and air support down to the squad level.
These weapons would fit in well with the hit-and-run ambushes Ukrainian troops have been increasingly employing against their Russian adversaries. The video in the Tweet below, which was filmed using a small drone and reportedly shows Ukrainian special operations forces engaging a Russian truck with a shoulder-fired rocket launcher in the country's eastern Kharkiv region, offers a prime example of these tactics.
The video below, again taken by a drone and reportedly showing a T-64BV tank operated by Russian-backed separatists being hit by multiple anti-armor weapons in the southern port city of Mariupol, shows another example of the kind of street fighting that has emerged in many places in Ukraine.
The new Biden administration aid package also includes Stinger shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, Javelin anti-tank-guided missiles, and AT4 unguided anti-armor weapons, among other things, all of which you can read more about here.
McCaul further told Politico that the U.S. government was working with unspecified allies about potential transfers of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine. The Pentagon has also declined to confirm or deny reports that the ally in question may be NATO member Slovakia. U.S. Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin is due to visit Slovakia tomorrow and it is "safe to assume that the Secretary will also be talking to Slovakia about assistance that they can provide to Ukraine," a senior U.S. defense official told reporters today.
A senior U.S. defense official says that Kremlin has committed some 75 percent of its total military capacity to the war in Ukraine. Russian forces have also now fired at least 980 ballistic and cruise missiles at targets in Ukraine.
Bloomberg's Annmarie Hordern has reported, citing a Ukrainian official, that potential peace negotiations with Russia may not be as far advanced as previous reports have indicated.
Ukrainian authorities say that the country's forces were able to locate and free Ivan Federov, who had been mayor of the southern city of Melitopol. Fedorov was reportedly abducted by Russian forces on March 11, after they captured the city.
POSTED: 1:20 PM EST—
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's speech to Congress today was relatively short, but impassioned. His remarks, which you can watch in full below, included references to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, as well as a graphic video montage of scenes from the conflict so far.
In speaking to members of Congress, Zelensky again asked for a no-fly zone to be implemented over his country, something he has called for numerous times now. He said that the Ukrainian people have been subjected to a "terror" from the sky that no country in Europe has seen in 80 years. U.S. and other officials from NATO member states have soundly rejected launching such an operation, which would put their forces in direct confrontation with the Russian military and could easily spark a broader conflict.
The Ukrainian President said that if a no-fly zone was not possible that his country needed additional air defenses. He specifically mentioned a desire for more Soviet-designed S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. It's not immediately clear if he was referring to S-300P or S-300V types, also known as the SA-10 and SA-12 to NATO, respectively. The Ukrainian military already operates variants of both of those systems.
The U.S. government has previously said that it is looking into assisting its allies and partners in transferring various Soviet-era air defense systems to Ukraine, with a particular focus on types already in service with the country's armed forces. Earlier today, CNN reported that American authorities and those in other NATO member states were preparing new military aid packages for the country containing 9K33 Osa (SA-8), S-300 (SA-10), S-300V (SA-12), and 9K34 Strela-3 (SA-14) surface-to-air missile systems. You can read more about all of these systems in this recent War Zone piece. A subsequent CNN report, citing Michael McCaul, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Texas, that additional S-300s had already been sent has turned out to be incorrect.
U.S. President Joe Biden has announced plans for another $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which will include additional air defense systems, as well as anti-armor weapons, unmanned systems, and other items.
Zelensky, pointing to the fact that existing international organizations have so far proven unable to halt the conflict in his country, called for a new international alliance that he has dubbed the U24. The Ukrainian President's vision for the U24, which would be "united for peace," is a grouping of nations "that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflict immediately," being able to step in within 24 hours.
The Ukrainian President included a call for even more sanctions against Russia in his speech. He said he wanted to make sure the "Russians don't receive a single penny" from U.S. companies and pleaded for American firms to fully abandon Russian markets that are "flooded with our blood."
"President Biden, you are the leader of the nation. I wish you would be the leader of the world," Zelensky said at the end of his remarks. "Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace."
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke today to his Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, the highest-level known interaction between the two governments in weeks. Sullivan reiterated the U.S. government's commitment to imposing punishing costs on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine and to providing military and other assistance to Ukrainian authorities. The U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments announced separately today that they had launched a task force specifically designed to help enforce sanctions against Russian oligarchs.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made his own televised address today in which had insisted that the "special military operation" in Ukraine was going according to plan and has been a "success" so far. He also reiterated long-standing arguments for why he launched the invasion in the first place, including a purported need to prevent Ukraine from becoming a "springboard" for threats against Russia. He repeated various wholly unsubstantiated claims about Ukraine and its international partners, as well, including that the government in Kyiv is seeking to develop nuclear and biological weapons with help from the United States.
There have been reports today that the Kremlin may be softening its demands for what Ukrainian authorities would have to agree to in order to bring the conflict to an end. A story from the Financial Times newspaper in the United Kingdom says there are negotiations currently revolving around a 15-point plan that would still see the government in Kyiv formally adopt a position of neutrality and limits on its armed forces, which have been among Russia's key stipulations. The model under discussion now could see Ukraine adopt neutral policies similar to those currently in place in Austria and Sweden.
Fighting in Ukraine is, of course, still ongoing at the moment. However, Russian forces continue to struggle to make substantial gains and have faced growing losses in personnel and materiel.
The video reportedly shows the wreckage of another Russian Ka-52 attack helicopter that Ukrainian forces have shot down.
The video below reportedly shows a number of abandoned Russian T-80U tanks stuck in the mud in Ukraine's northeastern Sumy region. These vehicles appear to have been there for a number of days now.
The Russian Navy's Project 22160 patrol ship Vasily Bykov sailed into the port of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea today. There had been unconfirmed reports that a Ukrainian rocket artillery barrage had at least severely damaged this vessel while it operating in the Black Sea last week. Video footage of its arrival in Sevastopol shows no readily visible damage.
Civilians in Ukraine continue to face significant threats of violence, including areas now under Russian occupation. The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, which was relocated from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv for security reasons prior to the invasion, says that 10 people standing in a breadline in Chernihiv were shot and killed by Russian forces, but provided no further information about this attack. It's unclear whether Chernihiv, in this case, refers to the city, which is currently under siege, or the surrounding region, portions of which are now in Russian hands.
The Russian government's international isolation continues with the country now being excluded from the Council of Europe. This is a multi-national organization that was founded after World War II with the express purpose of promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law on the continent.
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