The Biden administration for the first time will send Ukraine four Avenger air defense systems as part of its latest $400 million weapons package, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
The most recent lethal aid tranche — which comes less than a week after the Defense Department on Nov. 4 announced a $400 million military assistance package — comes as the Russian military has announced a withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson, though the move is viewed as a possible ruse to inflict massive casualties on Ukrainian forces. It also drops during a brutal Kremlin missile barrage on major Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, which began last month.
“With Russia’s unrelenting and brutal air attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, additional air defense capabilities are critical,” according to a Defense Department readout on the announcement.
The weapons package includes the four Avengers, missiles for Hawk air defense systems, Stinger missiles, additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, 400 grenade launchers, 100 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, and other artillery rounds and small arms ammunition, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.
This marks the first time the U.S. will send Ukraine the vehicle-mounted Avenger, a surface-to-air missile system meant to provide short-range air defense for ground troops.
Singh said the system is meant to complement weapons Western nations have already provided Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
“We’re basically creating … a net of air defense systems of different ranges that allows them to — whether it’s the Hawk missiles or the [IRIS-T medium range infrared homing missile] that the Germans provided or what we are providing today with the four Avenger air defense systems — all of them have different ranges, all of them contribute differently on the battlefield, which makes the Ukrainians effective,” she said.
There has also been some speculation as to whether Congress, once back from the midterm elections, will continue to work with the administration to keep military, financial and economic support flowing for Ukraine. A vocal minority of Republicans critical of sending American dollars to Kyiv has pushed back against the aid, and even a slim GOP majority in the House could throw a wrench in U.S. efforts to support Ukraine’s fight.
But Singh said she believes that “there is in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, a commitment to Ukraine that we’re in this for the long haul.
“So even with the midterms and the outcomes, I think that Ukraine will still see security assistance and support from the United States in their fight,” she added.
The U.S. has now provided more than $18.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
The latest package, which marks the 25th time the administration has sent lethal aid to Ukraine using presidential drawdown authority, will come from U.S. weapons and equipment stocks.