How the US can rush weapons to Ukraine once Congress finally passes new funding

The House approved US$61 billion in funding for the war-torn country on Saturday after Speaker Mike Johnson, pushed a larger foreign aid bill toward a vote despite threats from within his party that doing so could cost him his job. It still needs to clear the Senate.

After the House vote, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said he was grateful “for the decision that keeps history on the right track”. He said on X, formerly Twitter that the House action “will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger”.

US President Joe Biden has said he would sign it “immediately”.

If that happens, “we have a very robust logistics network that enables us to move material very quickly,” Ryder told reporters this past week. “We can move within days.”

The Pentagon has had supplies ready to go for months but has not moved them because it is out of money. It has already spent all of the funding Congress had previously provided to support Ukraine, sending more than US$44 billion worth of weapons, maintenance, training and spare parts since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

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By December, the Pentagon was US$10 billion in the hole, because it is going to cost more now to replace the systems it sent to the battlefield in Ukraine.

As a result, the Pentagon’s frequent aid packages for Ukraine dried up because there has been no guarantee Congress would pass the additional funding needed to replenish the weapons the US has been sending to Ukraine.

The legislation would include more than US$20 billion to restock the Pentagon’s shelves and ensure that the military services have what they need to fight and protect America.

The lag in weapons deliveries has forced Ukrainian troops to spend months rationing their dwindling supply of munitions.

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A look at how the US can quickly move weapons to Ukraine:

Presidential Drawdown Authority

When an aid package for Ukraine is announced, the weapons are either provided through presidential drawdown authority, which allows the military to immediately pull from its stockpiles, or through security assistance, which funds longer-term contracts with the defence industry to obtain the systems.

The presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, as it is known, has allowed the military to send billions of dollars worth of ammunition, air defence missile launchers, tanks, vehicles and other equipment to Ukraine.

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“In the past, we’ve seen weapons transferred via presidential drawdown authority arrive within a matter of days,” said Brad Bowman, director at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies centre on military and political power.

Those stocks are pulled from bases or storage facilities in the US or from European sites where the US has already surged weapons to cut down on the amount of time it will take to deliver them once the funding is approved.

Dwindling US stocks

As the war in Ukraine has dragged on, the US began to send increasingly larger, more lethal and more expensive systems to the war front. They included entire air defence systems, armoured vehicles, sophisticated missiles – even Abrams tanks.

Those systems cost more to replace, so the military – in particular, the Army – went deeper into debt. Compounding that, the military in some cases opted to replace older systems sent to Ukraine with pricier, higher-tech ones at home.

As a result, Army leaders recently told Congress that without passage of the foreign aid bill, they will begin to run out of money and have to move funds from other accounts.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and General Randy George, chief of staff of the Army, said the branch would not have enough money to bring home troops serving in Europe or to train units in the US.

155mm M795 artillery projectiles are stacked during manufacturing process at the Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in April 2023. Photo: AP

US weapons storage

The military has massive weapons storage facilities in the US for millions of rounds of munitions of all sizes that would be ready to use in case of war.

For example, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma sprawls across 45,000 acres (70 square miles) connected by rail and has a mission to surge as many as 435 shipping containers – each able to carry 15 tons (13.6 tonnes) worth of munitions – if ordered by the president.

The facility is also a major storage site for one of the most used munitions on Ukraine’s battlefield, 155mm howitzer rounds.

The demand by Ukraine for that particular shell has put pressure on US stockpiles and pushed the military to see where else it could get them. As a result, tens of thousands of 155mm rounds have been shipped back from South Korea to McAlester to be retrofitted for Ukraine.

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Storing weapons in Europe

According to a US military official, the US would be able to send certain munitions “almost immediately” to Ukraine because storehouses exist in Europe.

Among the weapons that could go very quickly are the 155mm rounds and other artillery, along with some air defence munitions. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss preparations not yet made public.

A host of sites across Germany, Poland and other European allies also are helping Ukraine maintain and train on systems sent to the front. For example, Germany set up a maintenance hub for Kyiv’s Leopard 2 tank fleet in Poland, near the Ukrainian border.

The nearby maintenance hubs hasten the turnaround time to get needed repairs done on the Western systems.

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