WASHINGTON — The United States will send Ukraine more precision rocket systems along with hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery shells, part of a new security assistance package unveiled Friday aimed at giving Kyiv an upper hand in what Western military officials describe as a grinding war of attrition with Russia.
The highlight of the $270 million U.S. pledge, the 16th since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, is the addition of four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, each with a range of about 70 kilometers, which U.S. officials credit for helping to stymie Russia's advance in the Donbas.
"We're seeing Ukraine employing very precise, very accurate targeting of critical Russian positions," a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set out by the Pentagon.
"They're [Russia] paying a high price for every inch of territory they try to take or hold."
Ukraine's military has deployed at least eight HIMARS to the front lines in its fight with Russian forces, while another four are either on the ground or on their way.
The latest U.S. pledge will bring the total number of HIMARS to 16. In addition, Ukraine has deployed six medium- to long-range rocket systems from Germany and Britain.
Russia's Defense Ministry earlier Friday said it had destroyed four of the U.S.-made HIMARS in recent fighting. But U.S. and Ukrainian officials quickly rejected the claims as nonsense, though not for a lack of Russian efforts.
"They're probably the most hunted things in all of Ukraine," according to a senior U.S. military official, who, like the U.S. defense official, also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"This speaks to the exceptional abilities of the Ukrainians," the military official added. "The ability for these men and women to shoot, move and stay alive is just exceptional."
U.S. intelligence estimates suggest Ukrainian forces have used the HIMARS to take out more than 100 "high-value" Russian targets, and that nearly a month after the first HIMARS were introduced on the battlefield, Russian forces have struggled to find an answer.
"The Russians are attempting to mitigate those effects through a number of means – camouflage, movement, changing locations,” the senior U.S. military official said. "It doesn't seem to be that good."
Contrary to U.S. and other Western assessments, Russia's Ministry of Defense on Friday insisted on its Telegram feed that Ukraine "is suffering considerable losses of armament."
And Russian officials continue to express confidence that Ukraine's forces will eventually succumb.
'Peace — on our terms'
"Russia will achieve all its goals. There will be peace – on our terms," former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now chief of the Kremlin's Security Council, said earlier this week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov likewise threatened that Russia would expand the scope of its so-called special operation in Ukraine if the West continued to arm Ukraine's forces.
Increasingly, Western officials are downplaying such threats as fanciful thinking.
"I think they're about to run out of steam," Richard Moore, the chief of Britain's MI6 intelligence service, told an audience Thursday at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.
At the same forum on Friday, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said Russian troops in Ukraine are facing "significant difficulties" as they attempt to muster the type of force needed to make meaningful gains.
And all indications are that more U.S. security assistance will be coming.
"It is our strategic objective to ensure that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not a strategic success for [President Vladimir] Putin, that it is a strategic failure," Sullivan said. "That means both that he be denied his objectives in Ukraine and that Russia pay a longer-term price in terms of the elements of its national power, so that the lesson that goes forth to would-be aggressors elsewhere is if you try things like this, it comes at a cost that is not worth bearing."
In addition to the HIMARS, the security package announced Friday includes more rockets, 360,000 rounds of artillery and anti-armor systems, all slated for immediate delivery.
A second part of the package, up to 580 Phoenix Ghost drones, will start arriving next month.
U.S. officials said Ukrainian forces had used a previous shipment of more than 100 of the drones to great effect against Russia's armored vehicles, and the goal is now to make sure Ukraine has a "steady supply."
The U.S. is also looking at eventually providing Ukraine with U.S.-made fighter jets, possibly to replace Soviet-era MiGs and Sukhoi jets that Ukraine is currently using.
"This is not something that's going to happen anytime soon," John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters Friday, describing the discussions as "preliminary explorations."
"Integrating and operating any kind of aircraft, especially an advanced fighter aircraft … that's a difficult endeavor," Kirby said.
Despite repeated requests from Kyiv, U.S. officials said they will not provide Ukraine with the Army Tactical Missile Systems, with a 300-kilometer range and the ability to reach deep into Russian territory.
"While a key goal of the United States is to do the needful to support and defend Ukraine, another key goal is to ensure that we do not end up in a circumstance where we're heading down the road towards a third world war," Sullivan said.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.