Which weapons might the US send to Ukraine?

And which are unlikely to reach the war-torn nation?

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attending a news conference during a NATO defence meeting in Brussels [Yves Herman/Reuters]

Ukrainian leaders are pressing the United States and other Western allies for air defence systems and longer-range weapons to keep up the momentum in their counteroffensive against Russia and fight back against Moscow’s intensified attacks.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday said allies were committed to sending weapons “as fast as we can physically get them there”. He said defence leaders meeting in Brussels were working to send a wide array of systems, ranging from tanks and armoured vehicles to air defence and artillery.

But there are still a number of high-profile, advanced weapons that Ukraine wants and the US will not provide due to political sensitivities, classified technology or limited stockpiles.

A look at some of the weapons Ukraine will or will not get:

What weapons is Ukraine getting?

In a meeting with about 50 defence leaders this week, Austin and US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed plans to send more air defence weapons to Ukraine and increase training for Ukrainian troops.

“We know that Ukraine still needs even more long-range fires, and air defence systems and artillery systems along with other crucial capabilities,” Austin said on Wednesday. He said allies talked about a number of air defence systems.

The US has already provided 20 advanced high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) and has promised 18 more.

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And the Pentagon has said it will deliver the first two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) to Ukraine in the coming weeks, providing Kyiv with a weapon that it has pressed for since earlier this year. The systems will provide medium- to long-range defences against Russian missile attacks.

Germany is now delivering its first IRIS-T surface-to-air missile system, which has a range of about 40km (25 miles). It has promised four.

Overall, the US has sent Ukraine $16.8bn in weapons and other aid since the war began on February 24. That aid has included hundreds of armoured vehicles, 142 155mm Howitzers and 880,000 rounds of ammunition for them, plus thousands of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft weapons and 60 million rounds of bullets.

What weapons the US has not sent?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly made it clear that his country needs more advanced weapons to continue the fight. Russia launched a barrage of attacks using drones, heavy artillery and missiles this week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attacks in response to an explosion last weekend on a crucial bridge linking Russia to Crimea. The Russians are also struggling to beat back a fierce counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces, who have just retaken five towns and villages in the southern Kherson region. It was illegally annexed by Russia along with the neighbouring Zaporizhia region and Donetsk and Luhansk in the east.

Zelenskyy’s pleas for some weapons, however, are so far going unanswered.

A key request is for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). It would give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets from as far as about 300km (180 miles).

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The system uses the same launchers as the HIMARS rockets that Kyiv has successfully used in its counteroffensive but has as much as three times the range of those rockets.

A major US concern is that the longer-range capability could be used against targets inside Russia and further provoke Putin, said Brad Bowman, the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute.

Similarly, the US is unlikely to send Ukraine the highly sophisticated surface-to-air Patriot missile system, which has the ability to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles.

JD Williams, a senior defence researcher at the Rand Corp, said the Patriots are connected to some of the US’s most sensitive command-and-control networks and could require American troops on the ground to operate them. The Biden administration has ruled out using US combat forces inside Ukraine.

The US has only a limited number of those systems.

Zelenskyy has also pressed the US since March to provide fighter jets such as F-16s, but the US has repeatedly rejected the idea to avoid further escalation with Russia.

The US has so far declined to send Ukraine more sophisticated longer-range drones, such as the Gray Eagle, which would give Ukraine a longer-distance strike capability. There are also concerns about Russia gaining access to such advanced technology if one were to be shot down.

Source: AP