WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday promised more artillery to Kyiv amid a push among some key lawmakers for a czar to oversee the increasing flow of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
Biden told reporters during a trip to New Hampshire he would send more artillery to Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s invasion. And White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted the president discussed procuring more ammunition and security assistance for Kyiv during a Tuesday video call with the leaders of several U.S. allies, including Poland, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.
Additionally, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Tuesday the U.S. would “very soon” be training a small number of Ukrainian troops on American heavy artillery that was part of a package approved last week. Kirby said Ukraine’s forces, which also get supplies from European allies, “have received additional aircraft and the aircraft parts to help them get more more aircraft in the air.”
Now, a bipartisan group of four high-profile senators is calling on the president to appoint a Ukraine Security Assistance Coordinator to oversee the disparate streams of military equipment Washington continues to transfer.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, last week wrote a letter to Biden calling for a coordinator to “synchronize our whole of government approach to arming Ukraine.” The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, signed on, as did Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., respectively the No. 2 Republican and Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
“This person would also serve as the chief liaison between the United States government and our allies and partners abroad in matters relating to the transfer of existing stocks and assessment of partner capabilities, such as aircraft, heavy tanks and sophisticated weapons that could be made available to Ukraine,” the letter reads.
It noted the coordinator also “would be able to serve as a liaison to our domestic industry partners that are being called on to not only ensure the steady flow of defense articles to Ukraine but also to replenish United States and allied stockpiles.”
Since Feb. 24, the U.S. has provided $2.6 billion in security assistance to Ukrainian forces, most from U.S. military stockpiles. An $800 million package announced last week was the seventh such drawdown package.
The Pentagon has proposed a separate $300 million for Ukraine as part of the fiscal 2023 funding for its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative account, but has not made public the details of that request. The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative became DoD’s chief means for arming Ukrainian forces after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
But the Pentagon also now says said it wants more flexibility in spending from that account. It would like to stretch the pot of money from one year to two years — which could open the door to more advanced weaponry.
The Pentagon made the request to allocate the account’s annual funding over two years in a recent package of legislative proposals submitted for possible inclusion in the annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act.
According to the Pentagon, the proposal would cut red tape that prevents it from providing more advanced systems, “including air defense, armaments for naval vessels, coastal defense, and counter-unmanned aerial systems.”
“Although these more advanced systems will likely require additional multi-year funding, [cross-fiscal year] authority, and a longer authorization period will enhance DoD’s ability to meet Ukraine’s capability needs, while also reducing programmatic risk,” the proposal notes.
Though the Pentagon has been speeding aid to Ukraine since Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24, the plan was built as a bridge for unnamed “advanced systems” that can take longer to deliver.
“Extending the authorization period further reduces program risk and supports procurement of more complex, advanced equipment with longer delivery timelines,” the proposal reads.
Still, the Biden administration already obligated all $300 million in fiscal 2022 funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative earlier this month, mere weeks after Congress appropriated the funds through the government funding bill passed in March.
But that hasn’t stopped some Republicans from criticizing the Pentagon’s suggestion to spend future funds in the Ukraine initiative over two years.
“This proposal perfectly encapsulates why the administration’s Ukraine policy is so broken,” a senior Republican congressional aide who was not authorized to speak on the record told Defense News. “We need to focus on how to get capabilities into Ukraine now, not over the next couple of years.”
However, the American Enterprise Institute’s Dustin Walker said two-year money gives greater flexibility to DOD to support execution of larger-scale programs, especially those involving lethal assistance.
“Making 100% of Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds available for two years is a long overdue step that will better enable DOD to support Ukraine at this critical moment as well as over the long term,” Walker said. “The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative has an excellent track record of executing funds available for one year. But that has come at the expense of many of the capabilities Ukraine needed before the war began rather than after.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered the intersection of U.S. foreign policy and national security in Washington since 2014. He previously wrote for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.