WASHINGTON — The Defense Department plans to “expedite” an additional $300 million designated for military supplies for Ukrainian forces, including drones and armored vehicles it must procure from industry, a spokesman said Monday.
The aid, announced Friday, includes the AeroVironment-made Puma and Switchblade unmanned aircraft, armored vehicles, laser-guided rocket systems, night vision devices and ammunition. Also included are secure communications systems, machine guns and commercial satellite imagery services.
The package will require the Pentagon to contract with the defense industry for the equipment, where other recent packages were made up of equipment drawn from existing U.S. military supplies. The intent is to fast-track the process, though DoD has not detailed how.
“This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process that will provide these new capabilities. I would hasten to add that we are going to expedite that contracting process as fast as we can,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday. “I don’t have exact delivery dates for you, or procurement dates today, but rest assured we’re going to be moving it as fast as we can.”
Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon plans to order and send Ukraine 10 of the newest version of the Switchblade, which is armed with an anti-tank warhead. The 50-pound, tube-launched Switchblade 600 is operated by a touch-screen and can fly 40 kilometers and loiter in the air for 40 minutes, according to the manufacturer. The Switchblade 300, an earlier version, is 5.5 pounds, can fly 10 kilometers and loiter 15 minutes.
AeroVironment has production capacity to spare for the Puma and Switchblade, Charles Dean, the company’s vice president of global business development and sales for unmanned systems, told Defense News in an interview. He said the company is assisting with both the 300 and 600 models.
“We are exceptionally proud and privileged to help the Ukrainian forces defend against this Russian invasion. Anything that we at AV can do to help push those enemy forces back; we are actively working on Switchblades,” Dean said, adding that the stand-off range of the drones puts “Ukrainian defenders in much safer places.”
He said the company has already ramped up production.
“We have a production capability in the United States, we produce those systems already. We’ve been producing them for years,” Dean said. “Of course, with the interest levels today, we are increasing our production, but our production capabilities far exceed [current demand].”
Since the start of the Biden administration, the U.S. has given Ukraine more than $2.3 billion in defense assistance. Kirby said the Pentagon is prioritizing shipments of Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and the unmanned systems.
Friday’s announcement came as the New York Times reported the U.S. will be assisting allies in giving Ukraine Soviet-made tanks to respond to a request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Monday, and the two are in regular contact, with resupply of defensive materiel a regular topic, according to Kirby.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.