WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will provide Ukraine with additional high-tech defensive weapons that are easily portable and require little training to use against Russian tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft, according to U.S. and European officials.
In remarks on Wednesday, President Biden announced $800 million in new military aid for Ukraine, including 800 additional Stinger antiaircraft missiles, 9,000 antitank weapons, 100 tactical drones and a range of small arms including machine guns and grenade launchers.
The Ukrainians have already proved their prowess at using British-provided and American-made antitank weaponry against Russia’s much larger military. But in an impassioned speech to Congress on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine asked for additional help as Russian troops pushed to encircle major cities.
U.S. and European officials want to send more equipment that is easy to use by small teams, and that has technology that can overcome Russian defenses or exploit weaknesses — rather than offensive weapons like tanks and warplanes that require significant logistical support. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the details of the weapons transfer publicly.
In addition to sending its own equipment, the United States is helping coordinate donations from European countries. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III is visiting Slovakia and Bulgaria this week in part to help with that effort.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, a senior defense official said that the United States was focusing on sending supplies quickly, and that the Pentagon would figure out how to replenish its stockpiles later. The official said the focus now was to make sure that the Ukrainians get the items quickly. The Ukrainian military needs easy-to-carry and easy-to-use defensive weapons to continue to stall the Russian advance. The Ukrainians will succeed, U.S. and European military experts said, if they can operate in small teams, strike assembled Russian forces, then melt away to set a new ambush later.
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As part of the package, the Biden administration will provide Switchblade drones, according to people briefed on the plans. Military officials call the weapon, which is carried in a backpack, the “kamikaze drone” because it can be flown directly at a tank or a group of troops, and is destroyed when it hits the target and explodes.
“These were designed for U.S. Special Operations Command and are exactly the type of weapons systems that can have an immediate impact on the battlefield,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
Bigger, armed drones, like U.S.-made Predators or Reapers, would be difficult for Ukrainians to fly and would be easily destroyed by Russian fighter planes. But former officials said small, portable kamikaze drones could prove to be a cost-effective way to destroy Russian armored convoys.