The U.S. has sent four advanced precision artillery systems to Europe and expects to have Ukrainians trained to fire them within weeks, the Pentagon’s top policy official said Wednesday.
These High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems are part of the Biden administration’s latest $700 million aid package to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s now almost 100-day-old invasion.
U.S. officials agreed to send the HIMARS only after their Ukrainian counterparts promised that the weapons would not be used against forces inside Russia, even if Putin was using weapons inside Russia to fire at them.
However, there are no limitations on their use against Russian units inside Ukraine, said Colin Kahl, defense undersecretary for policy.
“They have the right as a sovereign nation to defend their territory,” he said. “They didn’t start this war; the Russians did.”
Ukraine could also choose to fight to regain territory Russia took in 2014, Kahl said.
“So for example, the Ukrainians made a recent push into Kherson. If they push back along the line of contact and in the Donbass, we will consider that defensive,” he said.
The HIMARS rounds provided will give Ukraine a range of about 43 miles, farther than its current artillery can strike, Kahl said.
The administration has become more willing to send advanced weapons with each new security assistance package. In announcing today’s aid, President Joe Biden said the HIMARS “will arm them with new capabilities and advanced weaponry” to repel Russian attacks.
With each new system, the administration has weighed whether it would provoke Russian escalation. Kahl said the decision was made to provide medium-range HIMARS rounds that can be used in the ground fight inside Ukraine, but “would not be particularly useful to hit that Russian bomber launching an air-launched cruise missile hundreds and hundreds of kilometers away.”
The Pentagon estimates it will take about three weeks to train the Ukrainians to use the HIMARS systems. Kahl said the U.S. might send more HIMARS after that.
The $700 million package also includes five counter-artillery radars, two air-surveillance radars, 1,000 Javelin anti-tank weapons, 50 Javelin command launch units, 6,000 other anti-armor weapons, 15,000 155-millimeter artillery rounds for howitzers, four Mi-17 helicopters, 15 tactical vehicles, and spare parts.