The US Sent Billions In Military Aid To Ukraine. Many Weapons Are Massively Underperforming


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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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More than $1 billion in military aid that the Biden administration has committed to Ukraine may be performing worse than anticipated, with some weapons being discarded entirely, according to reports and public accounting reviewed by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Biden administration has committed more than $50 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, according to a Pentagon fact sheet. U.S. assistance has proven vital in helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s advances and mount counteroffensives, but some of the weapons have failed to have the desired impact as Russia’s military has adapted, according to media reports and experts.

The Department of Defense (DOD) did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the reports. (RELATED: Zelenskyy Says US Is Working On 10-Year Fixed Aid Plan For Ukraine)

Abrams Tanks

Ukraine has withdrawn some of the U.S. M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks from the front lines after Russian drones destroyed five of the heavy Western tanks it fought for months to obtain, The Associated Press reported on April 26, citing U.S. officials.

Droves of Russian surveillance and hunter-killer drones have been able to detect and pursue the tanks more quickly than expected. They are being relegated to the sidelines while new tactics are developed.

The 31 Abrams tanks of the generation sent to Ukraine cost roughly $10 million a piece, according to the AP.

Excalibur Munitions

M982 Excalibur precision-guided rounds have also lost their punch in Ukraine, reports suggest.

In March, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Daniel Patt told a panel of lawmakers that “Excalibur precision artillery rounds initially had a 70% efficiency rate hitting targets when first used in Ukraine. However, after 6 weeks, efficiency declined to only 6% as the Russians adapted their electronic warfare systems to counter it.”

Other experts agreed Excalibur effectiveness was degraded, although they disputed the degree of change.

“I am unsure about six weeks. My understanding is that the entire adaptability process lasted several months. Secondly, the effectiveness of Excalibur was never this high, although a drop to 6% was indeed observed,” Konrad Muzyka, a Russia-focused defense analyst and director of Rochan Consulting, said in a social media post.

As of April 26, the latest available tally from the Pentagon, the U.S. has provided more than 7,000 “precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds” to Ukraine. Most of these can be presumed to be Excalibur rounds; after the DOD revealed its October 2022 aid package included 500 precision-guided 155mm rounds, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper confirmed the announcement was referring to Excalibur.

Each round of Excalibur was priced at between $98,700 and $106,400 in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, Bloomberg reported, citing Army budget documents. In December 2022, the Army awarded Raytheon (now RTX) an $84 million contract to procure more than 1,000 Excalibur rounds to replenish some of the Army’s stocks sent to Ukraine, according to a press release.

Depending on how the rounds sent to Ukraine are valued, the Army has spent somewhere between $588 million and $744.8 million on the Excalibur rounds.

The U.S. began fielding the satellite-guided weapon in 2007 against al-Qaeda targets, Bloomberg reported. The munitions are capable of hitting within seven feet of intended targets, whose coordinates are programmed into the round before firing, and are compatible with the M777 Howitzer towed artillery system that has also been delivered to Ukraine in large quantities.

Excalibur munitions are more precise than the cheaper, unguided 155mm rounds supplied to Ukraine in much larger quantities. The weapon “enables a first-round effect on target, reducing the number of rounds required while reducing collateral damage,” Bloomberg reported, citing Army budget documents.

But new Russian GPS spoofers, which work by transmitting false location data to the GPS coordinate-seeking devices on the Excalibur and other precision-guided munitions in Ukraine’s employ that are strong enough to override the original target coordinates, according to Defense One.

Most of the weapons that have proven vulnerable to Russian GPS jamming were designed before GPS interference devices were so easy to develop and field in large quantities, according to Defense One.

“You didn’t really see the advent of miniaturized, capable GPS spoofers until the last ten years or so, because you needed the micro-electronics to be able to do it,” Clark told Defense One.

“Russian EW is very potent against GPS-guided munitions delivered by the West,” according to Muzyka. He cited the Excalibur and two more precision munitions from the U.S.

Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System

Russian electronic warfare has successfully redirected the Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS), another long-range precision munition off its planned course, according to reports.

However, by all accounts Ukraine continues to achieve success on the battlefield with the round and it is unlikely to discard the munition.

The Pentagon has delivered “thousands” of GMLRS to Ukraine but has not provided a specific number, The New York Times reported. Two types of mobile launchers can fire the GMLRS: U.S.-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems donated by the United Kingdom and other European partners, and newer M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems from the U.S.

The Biden administration has provided 39 HIMARS, each able to fire six GMLRS at once, to Ukraine as of the April 26 fact sheet.

A GMLRS round costs about $160,000 each, according to an accounting in a 2021 Congressional Research Service report, citing Army, Navy and Marine Corps budget documents.

The GMLRS is an explosive rocket propelled by a solid-fuel motor and can be launched individually or in rapid salvos, according to the NYT. With a range of about 45 miles and accuracy of within 10 meters, it’s been used to strike logistics hubs, headquarters posts and other high-value targets.

Both HIMARS and MLRS assisted Ukraine’s campaign to retake major territory in the summer of 2022, quickly becoming one of the most effective and deadly weapons in the fight, the NYT reported in March 2023. Even then, Russia had adapted its strategy to keep ammunition depots and other targets out of range.

Then, Russia discovered how to interfere with their satellite-guided homing technology, forcing Ukrainian officials and American advisers to reprogram the HIMARS software, CNN reported in May 2023. HIMARS were missing targets more frequently than they used to.

“We know that Russian EW capability has significantly degraded GMLRS’s effectiveness,” Muzyka wrote.

Michael Kofman, an senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has followed the war closely, also stated he “would not debate the end result and where we’ve ended up on either Excalibur or GMLRS.”

The Ground-Launched Small-Diameter Bomb

Pentagon acquisition head Bill LaPlante, speaking at a think tank event on April 24, said that a ground-launched version of an air-to-ground weapon has not performed as expected in Ukraine.

He likely referred to the Ground-Launched Small-Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), Bryan Clark, an expert at the Hudson Institute, told Defense One.

The total cost of the GLSDB, a blend of an existing small-diameter air-dropped bomb and a separate rocket motor in abundant supply, is unknown. One part of the bomb, the 250-lb GBU-39 small-diameter air-dropped bomb that serves as the GLSDB’s warhead, costs about $40,000 each, and the M26 rocket motor comes from an existing inventory, Reuters reported.

Ukraine only received the GLSDB in early February, Politico reported. The Pentagon did not disclose how many of the munitions Ukraine received or how many have been built but may not be delivered to Ukraine.

“Then we sent it to the Ukrainians. It didn’t work. It didn’t work for multiple reasons, including [electromagnetic interference] environment, including just really the dirt and doing it on ground,” LaPlante said.

“When you send something to people in the fight of their lives that just doesn’t work, they’ll try it three times and they’ll just throw it aside,” he added.

A Ukraine-based think tank corroborated the reports.

Ukraine has ceased deployment of the GLSDB due to Russia’s GPS jamming, the Kyiv-based Centre for Defence Strategies told the DCNF. The center was clarifying that a previous daily update had mistakenly stated the GMLRS was discontinued.

The Switchblade 300

The first weapon that showed itself vulnerable to Russian electronic warfare was the Switchblade 300, alongside a host of Ukrainian-made attack drones, according to reports.

The Biden administration began supplying the Switchblade 300, built by the Virginia-headquartered company AeroVironment, for attacks on “soft-skin” targets like tactial unarmored vehicles, NBC News reported. Each explosive-bearing drone is single-use, launched quickly from tubes, speeding toward their destination and blowing up upon impact with the target.

The Army budgets Switchblade 300 under the “Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS)” line item, according to the Defense Cooperation Security Agency. In fiscal year 2023, the Army asked for $37.9 million to buy 525 items, 11 fire control units, 152 inert training rounds, 11 training simulators and 7 multi-pack launchers, the budget documents show. That amounts to roughly $72,190 a pop, including the accessories.

The Army requested none for fiscal year 2024, budget documents show.

The Biden administration continues to commit Switchblade drones to Ukraine. The latest commitment did not specify the quantity but was authorized through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), an authority exercised by the Pentagon to contract for new equipment rather than drawing from existing U.S. stockpiles.

As of June 2022, the administration had delivered “over 700” Switchblades to Ukraine. A July 2023 package also included an unspecified number of Switchblades, and the DOD stopped providing total numbers in the accompanying fact sheets.

All told, that’s a minimum of $50.5 million — likely much more — for Switchblade 300 drones sent to Ukraine.

Ukraine is fielding thousands of domestically-produced first person view drones, the smallest of which can cost as little as $500 and deliver effective strikes against enemy targets, Reuters reported. Self-detonating drones and loitering munitions, which hover over the target and drop a payload, were seen as a cheaper, more effective alternative to artillery.

As time goes on, however, Russia’s ever-evolving electronic warfare capabilities are becoming more effective at countering all kinds of drones, regardless of their origin or function, according to the NYT.

Ukraine is investing in its own mid-range drones that come at a price point similar to the Switchblade, aiming to produce up to 500 a month, according to The Wall Street Journal. About 20% of drones launched reach their targets.

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