The U.S. is completing a massive package of military aid to Ukraine, which U.S. officials say is expected to total $2.6 billion. It is expected to include for the first time nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles and at least 50 Bradley armored vehicles to allow Ukrainian forces to move faster and more safely across the lines The front in the war with Russia – but not the tanks that Ukraine was looking for.
The officials said the numbers could change as the Biden administration goes through final discussions on the package. An announcement is expected this week as defense leaders from the US, Europe and other regions gather in Germany to discuss military support for Ukraine. The aid is also expected to include thousands of rounds of ammunition, including rockets for air defense systems.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the aid had not yet been made public.
The decision to send the Strykers, which could be delivered within weeks, follows announcements by the British to send battle tanks to Ukraine, which have long been sought by Ukrainian leaders. The Strykers and Bradley are armor carriers.
Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl told reporters Wednesday that a new phase of the war is taking shape as Russia entrenches deeper, and that Ukraine will need mechanized infantry to break through those lines.
“The Russians are really digging in. They’re digging. They’re digging trenches, they’re putting in these dragon’s teeth, laying mines. They’re really trying to reinforce this FLOT, the front line of the soldiers,” Kahl said. “In order to allow the Ukrainians to break through given Russian defenses, the emphasis has been shifted to allow them to combine fire and maneuver in a way that will prove to be more effective.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told political leaders that Western arms supplies must outpace Russia’s attacks, urging the world to move faster because “tragedies exceed lives; tyranny trumps democracy.”
The Stryker can transport a full squad of nine infantry and a crew of two. It is equipped with a 30 mm cannon, machine gun and/or grenade launcher, and can travel up to 60 miles per hour (almost 100 km/h). It operates on eight wheels, making it more agile, fast and fuel efficient than the Bradley, which is more heavily armored and carries fewer troops.
The first shipment of 50 Bradleys was announced two weeks ago. Known as the “tank killer” because of the anti-tank missile it can fire, the Bradley runs on tracks, making it more useful in muddy terrain than the Stryker.
For months, Ukraine has sought a supply of heavier tanks, including the American Abrams and the German Leopard 2 tanks, but Western leaders have tread carefully. Britain announced last week that it would send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, but the US and others have delayed.
Germany is facing pressure to send Leopard 2 tanks, and Poland has expressed willingness to provide a company of Leopard tanks. However, Polish President Andrzej Duda stressed during his recent visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv that Poland would only do so as part of a larger international coalition of tank aid to Kiev.
The Czech Republic and Poland have provided Ukrainian forces with Soviet-era T-72 tanks, and France has announced that it will send Ukraine AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, known as “light tanks” in French. US officials say there is still no movement to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine, said this month that Ukrainian forces have improved maintenance and upkeep of complex armored vehicles, and they will receive additional training. But, she said, tanks, like the more complex, gas-guzzling, heavily armored Abrams, will require Much more maintenance and other training.
The influx of tanks and armored personnel carriers comes as Ukraine faces intense fighting in eastern Ukraine around the city of Bakhmut and the nearby salt mining town of Solder. The fighting is expected to intensify in the spring.
In addition to the Bradleys, the previous US aid package included 100 M113 armored personnel carriers and 55 mine-resistant armored vehicles, or MRAPS. These types of armored personnel carriers, along with the Strykers, will better protect Ukrainian troops fighting a brutal campaign against Wagner’s forces, consisting mostly of prisoners from Russian prisons.
The US Army has a large number of Strykers available to deploy. Just last year, the Army announced plans to convert the Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Alaska into a more mobile infantry unit better suited to frozen Arctic regions.
Associated Press writer Tara Cope contributed to this report. Baldur reported from Brussels.