WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is finalizing a massive military aid package for Ukraine that U.S. officials say is expected to reach $2.6 billion. It is expected to include nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles and at least 50 Bradley armored vehicles for the first time to allow Ukrainian forces to move more quickly and safely to the front lines in the war with Russia, but not the tanks wanted by Ukraine.
Officials said the numbers could change as the Biden administration makes final deliberations on the package. An announcement is expected this week when defense leaders from the United States, Europe and other regions meet in Germany to discuss military support for Ukraine. The aid is also expected to include thousands of cartridges, including rockets for air defense systems.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the aid has not yet been made public.
The decision to send the Strykers, which could be delivered within weeks, follows the British announcement to send Ukrainian main battle tanks, long sought after by Ukrainian leaders. Strykers and Bradleys are armored personnel carriers.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters on Wednesday that a new phase of the war is looming as Russia takes deeper root and Ukraine will need mechanized infantry to cross these lines.
“The Russians are really digging. They dig. They dig trenches, they put in those dragon teeth, they lay mines. They are really trying to fortify this FLOT, this forward line of troops,” Kahl said. “To enable the Ukrainians to break through given the Russian defences, the focus has been on allowing them to combine fire and maneuver in a way that will prove most effective.”
Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told political leaders that Western arms deliveries must outpace attacks from Russia, urging the world to act more quickly because “the tragedies exceed the life; tyranny surpasses democracy.
The Stryker can carry a full squad of nine infantry and a crew of two. It is equipped with a 30 mm cannon, a machine gun and/or a grenade launcher, and can travel up to 60 miles per hour (nearly 100 kilometers per hour). It rolls on eight wheels, making it more nimble, quick and fuel efficient than the Bradley.
The first delivery of 50 Bradleys was announced two weeks ago. Known as a “tank killer” due to the anti-tank missile it can fire, the Bradley runs on tracks, making it more useful in muddy terrain than the Stryker.
The two vehicles serve different purposes. The Bradley brings more firepower but carries fewer troops. The more lightly armored Stryker, because it is wheeled, can move much faster on paved roads, meaning it can bring infantry squads into battle faster.
Ukraine has sought for months to be supplied with heavier tanks, including US Abrams and German Leopard 2 tanks, but Western leaders have been cautious. The UK announced last week that it would send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, but the US and Germany waited.
Kahl said the M1 Abrams had complex maintenance needs and might not be the best choice.
“The Abrams tank is very complicated equipment. It’s expensive, it’s hard to train. It has a jet engine, I think it’s about three gallons per mile of jet fuel. It’s not the easiest system to maintain. It may not be the right system,” Kahl told reporters.
“One of the things that Secretary (Lloyd) Austin has been focusing on is that we shouldn’t be providing Ukrainians with systems that they can’t fix, that they can’t maintain, and that they don’t can not afford in the long term, because it is not useful.
Poland has declared its readiness to provide a company of Leopard tanks. But, 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 Kyiv.
German officials have expressed reluctance to allow allies to give Ukraine the German-made Leopards unless the United States also sends Ukraine the Abrams, according to a US official who was not not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Poland and the Czech Republic have supplied Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces, and France has said it will send AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine, called “light tanks”. in French.
The influx of tanks and armored vehicles comes as Ukraine faces intense fighting in eastern Ukraine around the town of Bakhmut and the nearby salt mining town of Soledar. 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 Ambush Protected Vehicles, or MRAPS. These types of armored vehicles, along with the Strykers, will better protect Ukrainian troops who are waging a brutal campaign against Wagner’s forces, which are largely made up of convicts from Russian prisons.
The US Army has a large number of Strykers available to send. Last year, the Army announced plans to convert its Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Alaska into a more mobile infantry unit better suited to the frigid regions of the Arctic.
Associated Press writers Tara Copp and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report. Baldor reported from Brussels.