New $1B U.S. Aid Includes Harpoon Missiles, More Precision Rockets For Ukraine

U.S. officials: Ukrainians are ‘top-notch’ gunners who are putting NATO-donated artillery to good use against superior Russian firepower.

byDan Parsons| PUBLISHED Jun 15, 2022 6:06 PM
New $1B U.S. Aid Includes Harpoon Missiles, More Precision Rockets For Ukraine
190526-N-CP113-0010 PHILIPPINE SEA (May 26, 2019) – The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) launches a harpoon surface-to-surface missile alongside Arleigh-Burke-class Guided Missile Destroyer Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) as part of the HARPOONEX during Pacific Vanguard (PACVAN). PACVAN is the first of its kind quadrilateral exercise between Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, and U.S. Naval forces. Focused on improving the capabilities of participating countries to respond together to crisis and contingencies in the region, PACVAN prepares the participating maritime forces to operate as an integrated, capable, and potent allied force ready to respond to a complex maritime environment in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Fire Controlman Aegis 2nd Class Joshua Shafe).

Another $1 billion in U.S. military aid for Ukraine, including more long-range artillery and Harpoon anti-ship missile systems, was approved on June 15. The White House announced the package shortly before Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emerged from a meeting of 50 nations with a list of international military aid promised to Ukraine alongside the latest U.S. pledge of support. 

The new aid package includes a presidential drawdown — the 12th since August 2021 — of security assistance valued at up to $350 million, as well as $650 million in Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) funds. 

Included in the drawdown is:

USAI funding includes "near-term priority capabilities to defend against Russian aggression":

  • Two Harpoon coastal defense systems;
  • Thousands of secure radios;
  • Thousands of Night Vision devices, thermal sights, and other optics;
  • Funding for training, maintenance, sustainment, transportation, and administrative costs. 
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III greets Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov in Brussels, Belgium, on June 15. DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley

The two U.S. RGM-84 Harpoon systems will join an unspecified number of the anti-ship missiles and two shore-based launchers Denmark donated to Ukraine in May. Austin did not say how many missiles, which variants or what type of launchers will be sent to Ukraine, but did say that a "system" includes munitions, a launcher, and a trained crew to operate it. Bloomberg reporter Anthony Capaccio tweeted that the package includes two vehicle-based launchers but no missiles.

“Now, our allies and partners have also risen to the moment,” Austin said. “We heard some significant announcements this afternoon about new security assistance packages for Ukraine, and many countries are providing Ukraine with urgently needed systems and ammunition. Other friends have made new commitments to train Ukraine's forces and sustain its military systems, but there are too many countries to properly thank.”

Much of the pledged assistance aims to establish an arsenal of NATO-standard long-range artillery for Ukrainian forces to use against Russia in the Donbas. Austin singled out a commitment from Germany to send three M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) – which the German military refers to as MARS II – with precision-guided ammunition to Ukraine. Along with the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems from the U.S. and three M270s from the U.K., Ukraine will soon have 10 precision artillery rocket systems.

U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the first HIMARS system should be transferred to Ukrainian Army service by the end of June. He said the first class of 60 Ukrainian troops graduated from HIMARS training conducted by U.S. troops in Germany on June 15. 

U.S. Soldiers load an M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, in March. U.S. Army photo by Gertrud Zach

“We and other countries are building a platoon at a time to certify the Ukrainians to make sure that they can properly employ and maintain the system. Within a few weeks, the Ukrainians will have trained long-range rocket artillery in the flight,” Milley said in Brussels.

Ten guided rocket systems may not sound like a significant number of weapons to turn the tide of the all-out battle in the Donbas, which Milley described as akin to World War I trench warfare with massive artillery exchanges across relatively static lines. Ukrainian officials say they need 1,000 howitzers, 300 MLRS weapons and 500 tanks, among other weapons, to bring an end to the war.

He and Austin cautioned lumping precision-guided MLRS systems in with Russian massed artillery, which is far less accurate and uses far more ammunition. The War Zone explored the advantages of guided MLRS systems and how Ukraine could employ them in this in-depth piece.  

“These are precision munitions,” Austin said. “With a properly trained crew, They will hit what they're aiming at, and it provides some pretty good capability in terms of distance. … Over time, we think the combination of what we, the allies and partners can bring to the table will make a difference. But again, this is a different kind of capability than what you've seen from other multiple launch rocket systems.” 

Milley said the 10 promised systems would come with an initial package of 100 guided rockets but that the “capability will build” as more Ukrainians are trained to employ the precision weapons against specific high-value Russian targets.

“Because it's a precision weapon, the amount of ammunition that we’re giving, if they use it properly — and we just ran the certification exercise in the last 48 hours for these guys — if they use the weapon properly and it's employed properly, they ought to be able to take out a significant amount of targets, and that will make a difference in combination with the 777s,” Milley said. 

U.S. soldiers fire an M777 howitzer at Fort Carson, Colorado. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Joshua Zayas

Milley rated Ukrainian artillery units as “top-notch gunners” that are “very, very good” at using the M777 towed howitzers — with both conventional and rocket-assisted projectiles that extend their range — and other NATO-standard 155mm artillery systems like the French Caesar self-propelled howitzer against superior numbers of Russian cannons. The same precision and effectiveness are expected of Ukrainian troops armed with HIMARS, he said.

“The Russians are using artillery just to mass fire on Ukrainian positions, but also civilian populations in urban areas …  without necessarily achieving military effect,” Milley said. “The Ukrainians, on the other hand, are using much better artillery techniques, and they have a pretty good effect on the Russians. The Russians have lost probably somewhere in the tune of 20 to 30 percent of their armored force. That's significant. That's huge. So the Ukrainians are fighting very effectively, tactically with both fires and maneuver.”

Those precision munitions are most effective when augmented with conventional artillery like the M777 towed howitzer, which the U.S. and its allies are eager to furnish the Ukrainian Army. Canada, on June 15, promised 10 replacement barrels for M777 howitzers. A need for new barrels for howitzers already in the fight could indicate that barrels are wearing out or there are concerns that they might through heavy use dueling Russian artillery in the east. So far, about 420 Ukrainian troops have been trained by U.S. and allied troops to operate the M777, Milley said. Another 300 have been trained on the M109 self-propelled howitzer, he said. 

Ukrainian soldiers fire a French Caesar 155mm self-propelled howitzer. Aris Messinis via Getty Images

Poland and the Netherlands also pledged NATO-standard howitzers and ammunition, Austin said. About 400 artillery pieces — not counting rocket artillery — have either reached Ukraine or are promised. 

 “These are key investments in Ukraine's long-range fires capabilities, and they’ll be crucial to Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's assault in the Donbas,” Austin said. 

U.S. President Joe Biden informed his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the boost in aid in a Wednesday morning call. He reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to stand by Ukraine in defending its democracy “and support its sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.”

Meanwhile, Adam Smith, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, accused the administration of slow-rolling longer-range weapons to Ukrainian forces. So far, the U.S. has donated artillery and other weapons capable of striking Russian targets inside Ukraine. It has stopped short of sending weapons like the Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) — with a maximum range of 187 miles — or long-endurance drones like the MQ-1C Gray Eagle that could allow Ukraine to strike targets deep within Russian territory. 

Smith told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. needs to be “more aggressive” with the weapons it is sending Ukraine. "When it comes to drones and when it comes to long-range artillery, we've been too cautious," Smith said at a Defense Writers Group meeting in Washington, D.C., according to Voice of America reporter Jeff Seldin. "I don't agree with the president's take that we can't give the Ukrainians anything capable of striking Russia. … We should give them [#Ukraine] more of that"

“We could be doing more with the type of weapons we're sending," Smith said. "We need to be giving more sophisticated systems, particularly when it comes to drones and long-range artillery.” 

For their part, Milley and Austin said that official requests for military assistance from Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, with whom they had just huddled, are being met and exceeded. There is no foreseeable cap on the amount of military assistance NATO will need to send for Ukraine to turn back the Russian tide slowly rolling westward. A security assistance program that began with only defensive weapons has expanded to include conventional artillery, tanks, guided rockets, and now anti-ship missiles. If more sophisticated and longer-range weapons are what’s needed to secure some sort of victory for Ukraine eventually, it is more likely now that NATO will indeed send them. 

Contact the author: