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US Gets 500,000 Artillery Shells On Loan From South Korea To Fill Plummeting Stocks

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. reached an agreement last month to obtain 500,000 rounds of 155 mm artillery shells on loan from South Korea, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing a South Korean newspaper.

U.S. stocks of the 155 mm round, which see a high level of consumption on the battlefield in Ukraine, have fallen to critically low levels, and the Biden administration sought artillery ammunition from South Korea in March, according to documents seen by the DCNF. South Korea will “lend” the shells to the U.S. rather than selling to avoid the possibility of those shells being delivered to Ukraine in a future assistance package, thereby violating a South Korean policy against supplying lethal items to countries at war, the DongA Ilbo outlet reported, citing government sources, according to Reuters.

South Korea’s defense ministry told Reuters that Seoul and allies are exploring a variety of ways to provide Ukraine with much needed munitions but did not speak to specific discussions or agreements. (RELATED: Key US Ally Had Plans To Give Russia Lethal Aid, Docs Show)

“We’ve opted to significantly increase the volume of shells but take the rental method, after exploring how to respond to the request of the blood ally in good faith while sticking to the government principle of not providing lethal weapons to Ukraine,” DongA Ilbo quoted a source as saying, according to Reuters.

The U.S. for the first time struck a deal with South Korea to purchase 100,000 155 mm rounds for ultimate delivery to Ukraine in November. Routing the deal through the U.S. allowed South Korea to avoid complicity in Ukraine’s attacks on Russian forces, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The shells will primarily serve to backfill U.S. stockpiles, DongA Ilbo reported, according to Reuters.

News of the agreement comes after leaked Pentagon documents from March described a conversation between two South Korean national security officials about potentially routing artillery through Poland — alarming officials and prompting Seoul to confront Washington about the disclosure, Reuters reported.

The South Korean president’s office affirmed the leaked documents would not damage relations with the U.S., The New York Times reported. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup agreed in a phone call Tuesday that “quite a few of the documents in question were fabricated.”

So far, the country has declined to provide overt military assistance to Ukraine, citing its own precarious security situation as its northern neighbor has not relented on threats against Seoul’s sovereignty, according to Reuters. However, Seoul is one of the U.S. key allies in Asia and a large ammunition producer.

The U.S. has sent more than 1.5 million 155 mm shells for the Howitzer system to Ukraine, as well as an additional 6,500 GPS-guided rounds, according to a fact sheet that was accurate as of April 4. For comparison, the U.S. produces about 15,000 rounds per month, the NYT reported.

The Pentagon pledged never to allow American stockpiles to fall below critical levels, but officials worried as early as August that stockpiles had fallen below what they considered comfortable levels in a conflict scenario. 

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