Pentagon Can Ship More Weapons to Ukraine After Congress Replenishes Aid Funding

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Airman loads ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine.
Senior Airman Jacob Wilcox loads ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Feb 10, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mauricio Campino)

The Senate gave final approval Thursday on a multibillion-dollar bill that will extend the Pentagon's ability to ship weapons to Ukraine the same day arms funding was set to dry up.

The Senate voted 86-11 to approve $40 billion in security and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, including nearly $20 billion in Pentagon funding to send more weapons to the front lines of the three-month-old war with Russia and support U.S. troops stationed elsewhere in Europe. All the "no" votes came from Republicans.

The bill, which already passed the House, is expected to be quickly signed into law by President Joe Biden.

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Biden administration officials had been warning they expected to exhaust all of the existing funding to send weapons to Ukraine by Thursday, potentially stalling the flow of arms amid fierce fighting in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region. The Pentagon said the shipments will now continue and could include new types of weapons, depending on what is requested by the Ukrainians.

"The future drawdown packages will probably, at least in terms of frequency, look a lot like what we've done in the past," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. "We now have some longer runway, and so we're going to meter these out appropriately so that Ukraine is getting what it needs in the fight that they're in, and that flight could change over time."

Shortly after the Senate's vote, the Pentagon announced it was using the last $100 million of the previously approved funding to send Ukraine another 18 howitzers, 18 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers, three counter-artillery radars, and field equipment and spare parts.

The bill approved Thursday gives the Pentagon another $8.7 billion to replenish U.S. weapons stockpiles being sent to Ukraine, as well as $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the program Congress created in 2016 to buy weapons for and help train the Ukrainian military.

Ahead of Thursday's vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the funding could help "make sure that the Ukrainians are victorious," an outcome that seemed far-fetched ahead of the invasion -- when U.S. intelligence was warning Kyiv could fall to the Russians in days -- but which lawmakers are increasingly saying should be the goal of U.S. support to Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the United States has committed to sending about $3.9 billion in weapons and other military equipment, including thousands of Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, hundreds of Switchblade kamikaze drones, more than 100 howitzers and more.

The bill also has $3.9 billion for U.S. military operations in Europe, including "mission support, intelligence support, hardship pay for troops deployed to the region and equipment including a Patriot battery," according to a summary of the bill released by House Appropriations Committee Democrats.

Thursday's bill brings the total U.S. funding approved to bolster Ukraine during the war to more than $53 billion, about half of which has been for the Pentagon.

Congress butted up against the deadline to refresh funding despite broad bipartisan support and hopes for a Senate vote immediately after last week's House vote because of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who would not agree to bypass lengthy Senate procedures unless the bill included his amendment.

Paul wanted the bill to add language that would expand the role of an inspector general for Afghanistan to include overseeing the Ukraine funding. Senate leaders were willing to give him a vote on his amendment, but Paul wanted the underlying bill to be rewritten to include his proposal.

While Paul's proposal was not included, the bill approved Thursday does require the Defense Department inspector general to conduct oversight of the funding.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

-- Deputy Managing Editor Travis Tritten contributed to this article. He can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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