Defense & National Security — US to fund tanks for Ukraine in $400M package

The Pentagon has announced it will be funding tanks sent to Ukraine for the first time as part of a $400 million military assistance package.

We’ll share the details of the latest lethal aid package for Ukraine and the unannounced trip a top Biden administration official made to reveal it, plus what a GOP-controlled House or Senate may mean for defense policy and budgets in 2023.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you?

Pentagon says it will fund tanks for Ukraine

The Pentagon on Friday announced it will be funding tanks sent to Ukraine for the first time, part of a $400 million military assistance package that will also provide armored vehicles, drones and a budget to refurbish air defense missiles.

The additional military, ground and air capabilities come as Ukrainian forces are pushing forward on an offensive to retake the southern city of Kherson, even as they come under increased aerial attacks from Russia, including from Iranian-supplied drones.

A long time coming: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had called for NATO to supply tanks within the first weeks of Russia’s invasion, which began on Feb. 24.

On Friday he tweeted that Ukraine is “thankful to [President Biden] and the people of [the United States] for another $400 military assistance package.”

The tanks mark the first provision of such equipment from U.S. funds since the war in Ukraine began, with some of the vehicles expected to be delivered by the end of December.

What’s included: The weapons package includes 90 refurbished T-72 tanks, which will all come from the Czech Republic. The United States will pay for 45 of them to be refurbished, while the Netherlands will pay to refurbish the other 45, according to Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh.

Also included in the package is 250 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles and 1,100 new Phoenix Ghost drones, although Singh did not “have an exact timeline for when this next tranche” of drones will be delivered.

‘Incremental progress’: Despite Russia’s efforts, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Ukraine is making “incremental progress” in the south.

“There is some incremental progress by the Ukrainians in the south and, quite frankly, up in the northeast as well, as they continue to try to push the Russian lines back even further,” he said.

A work in progress: Kirby added that the administration is going to keep working with Congress to sustain military, financial and economic support for Ukraine amid pushback from a vocal minority of Republicans critical of sending American dollars to Kyiv.

The U.S. has provided more than $18 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided $9.88 billion in development and humanitarian assistance.

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SULLIVAN MEETS WITH ZELENSKY TO ANNOUNCE NEW WEAPONS

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to Kyiv on Friday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and announce the new $400 million lethal aid package.

Sullivan visited with Zelensky to “underscore the United States’ steadfast support to Ukraine and its people as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said. “He also affirmed the continued provision of economic and humanitarian assistance, as well as ongoing efforts with partners to hold Russia accountable for its aggression.”

Also in meeting: Along with Zelensky, Sullivan met with Head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak, Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, and others.

Their visit came amid concern that both Republicans and Democrats are fracturing over American support to Ukraine after certain lawmakers in both parties have increased their criticism of the billions in military and economic support the U.S. has sent.

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How GOP midterm wins might affect defense policy

Bigger defense budgets, heavier scrutiny of military aid to Ukraine and a tougher line on China are all on the horizon should Republicans take control of the House or Senate after midterm elections, experts say.

Though not at the forefront of the 2022 midterms, foreign policy and national security issues will likely get a shakeup with a GOP takeover of either or both chambers, with wide-ranging impacts that could happen quickly after Nov. 8.

Targets for change: Experts already have their eyes on a spate of defense topics – both global and domestic – that are poised to change under a new Congress, ranging from spending levels to social policies and everything in between, Arnold Punaro, a retired three-star general and former staff director on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill.

“How do we deter China, particularly vis-à-vis Taiwan?…How much should really be invested in dealing with climate change as it relates to national security? The vaccine mandate, recruiting challenges; these are all things that they’re going to ask,” he said.

Earlier promises: Top GOP defense priorities were first highlighted in House Republicans’ “Commitment to America,” released in September, which laid out their goals should they wrestle back the majority.

The lawmakers promise to “support our troops, invest in an efficient, effective military, establish a Select Committee on China, and exercise peace through strength with our allies to counter increasing global threats.”

Bigger budgets: Republican leadership has not given specific details as to how it would achieve such goals but expected to drive many of their wants is an increase in defense budget toplines, with the sweeping defense appropriations bill to rise in fiscal 2024 should Republicans take more control, according to Punaro.

  • While the fiscal 2023 defense budget is still being worked out between the House and Senate, lawmakers are expected to agree to a $815 billion defense budget, about 9 percent higher than last year’s spending. 

  • Higher inflation costs drove much of that increase, but Republicans are expected to push for even more money next year, following past examples from a Republican-controlled House and Senate, Punaro said.

Foreign aid eyed: In keeping an eye on Congressional spending, among the most watched of the changes will be foreign aid – particularly to Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia – with a split on the issue between a small number of populist GOP House members and those in the establishment party.

The United States has given Ukraine nearly $20 billion in lethal aid since the war began in February, but Kyiv has stressed that more will be needed for defense as well as humanitarian efforts as Russia continues to damage critical Ukrainian infrastructure.

While Kyiv’s leaders believe a GOP-led House or Senate won’t pull back on giving Ukraine weapons, they are preparing for a scenario where Republicans may look to curtail future economic aid to their country, said Daniel Vajdich, a lobbyist that works with Ukrainian officials.

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ON TAP MONDAY

  • The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Belvior will hold its Industry Days event Nov. 7-9 at 9:30 a.m.

  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough will speak at The National Press Club at 12:30 p.m.

  • Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies will hear from Fatima Gailani, a former member of the Afghan government’s negotiating tea, at 12:30 p.m.

  • The Israel Policy Forum will host a conversation onWhat can we expect from the next Israeli government?” at 2 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you Monday!

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