US to provide Ukraine with longer-range rocket systems

The Biden administration said Tuesday it will provide Ukraine with long-range rocket systems as the US begins to dole out a $40bn assistance package for the country meant to last through September.

The US will formally announce $700 million in new assistance on Wednesday, including long-range rocket launchers called himars and precision ammunition with a range of up to 80km, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

“The package will contain longer-range systems, specifically himars, and munitions that will enable Ukraine to more precisely strike targets on the battlefield from a greater distance inside Ukraine and to help them to repel Russian advances,” a senior administration official said.

The aid is part of the new $40bn in assistance that the Biden administration announced last month.

“We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” US president Joe Biden wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Tuesday evening.

“That’s why I’ve decided that we will provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

The decision illustrates the careful balance Washington is trying to strike to help Ukraine make decisive gains on the battlefield while trying to avoid drawing Nato into a larger conflict. Europe is increasingly divided on how much lethal aid to give Ukraine, and Washington wants to keep allies together as the fight goes on.

Biden on Monday said Washington would not “send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia”. People familiar with the decision said he was referring to a different kind of multiple-launch rocket system, or MLRS, which can travel farther distances than the ones it will be giving Ukraine.

A senior administration official said Ukraine provided the US with assurances it would not use the himars to attack into Russian territory.

Ukrainian officials have urged Washington to supply it with longer-range fire to try to gain an advantage in the artillery battles in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. They are pressing the US to send weapons with an even longer range than the ones announced on Tuesday. Those systems are known as ATACMS, or Army Tactical Missile System, and have a range of more than 180 miles.

The himars and accompanying longer-range munitions will mark an increase in firing distance from the dozens of M777 Howitzers the US has already provided.

Wednesday’s package will also include sophisticated radars, Javelins and anti-armour weapons.

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