Why advanced weapons can help Ukraine defeat Russia

Russia’s new offensive in Ukraine calls for a change in the Western response. NATO countries should supply the Ukrainian military with advanced systems and the training to use them.

Mar 3, 2022 – Ie Shima, Japan – FILE: The United States has delivered Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine for the first time directly, including over 200 on Monday. Earlier this year the US gave the okay to Baltic countries including Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to send American-made weaponry to Ukraine, including Stingers. But until now the Biden administration had held off on the US providing the Stingers directly. FILE PHOTO SHOWS: March 3, 2022, Ie Shima, Japan: Handout file photo dated March 16, 2021 of U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua English (left), and Lance Cpl. Griffin Rose, both low altitude air defense gunners with 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, provide surface-to-air defense using the FIM-92 Stinger during Castaway 21.1 on Ie Shima, Okinawa, Japan. (Credit Image: © U.S. Marine Corps/ZUMA Press Wire Service/ZUMAPRESS.com
The United States has delivered Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine for the first time directly, including over 200 on Mar 1, 2022

Events of recent weeks indicate that Russia’s war on Ukraine will continue for months or even years. This requires NATO countries to develop new approaches to providing Ukraine with military support. It is vital that they transfer Soviet-designed weapons to Ukraine, as these authors have argued. For example, the Czech Republic has already sent several dozen T-72 tanks and BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, while Slovakia has provided S-300 air defence systems. It is likely that similar support will come (and, according to some sources, already has come) from Poland, given that the country has agreed to purchase 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks from the United States. Warsaw has several hundred Soviet-designed T-72 tanks and their Polish analogues.

However, this will not be enough to adequately support Ukraine’s military, which faces a much larger Russian army and must not only defend itself but also regain the parts of its territory seized by the Kremlin. Therefore, Kyiv will need additional supplies of military equipment produced by NATO countries. Ukrainian soldiers have quickly mastered the use of advanced Western weapons such as Javelin and NLAW anti-tank systems, Stinger and Starstreak portable air defence systems, and Switchblade loitering munitions.

As it will take greater time and effort for the Ukrainian military to learn to use more advanced weapons, NATO countries should immediately launch training programmes to this end. Such programmes could help Ukraine defeat Russia.

It takes between a few days to a week to learn to use Western-made tanks and self-propelled artillery units – less time than for any of these other systems. The most time-intensive programmes would be those to train fighter pilots – which can take several months. In any case, the war in Ukraine will almost certainly continue far longer than any such training programme.

NATO states should host Ukrainian forces for these programmes. For example, Lithuania has recently offered to organise them on its territory. After the training was complete, Ukrainian troops would be able to operate Western weapons without the need for NATO soldiers to deploy to Ukraine.

The supply of weapons needs to occur on a large scale and to be as free of bureaucratic obstacles as possible

The provision of these weapons could be based on a lend-lease principle, which has already been approved by the US Congress. After all, the supply of weapons needs to occur on a large scale and to be as free of bureaucratic obstacles as possible. The terms of supply could be similar to the arrangements between the US and the United Kingdom in the second world war: Ukraine would receive the equipment it needed virtually free of charge, and would then pay only for those units that survived the war. It should also be possible to provide credit for the payment of this equipment. According to our estimates, the systems Ukraine needs could cost more than $30 billion at market prices. These systems include the following capabilities.

Aviation. Control of the airspace is a key requirement of successful military operations. And the Russian Air Force has a significant quantitative and qualitative advantage over its Ukrainian counterpart. Ukraine needs not only to achieve a balance of power with Russia in Ukrainian skies but also to seize the initiative.

One option could be to provide Ukraine with F-16 and F-15 fighter jets, hundreds of which are still in service in NATO countries (especially the US). This would require training for Ukrainian pilots to fly mass-produced Western fighters. Another option is Eurofighter Typhoons, several hundred of which are in service in European countries.

Ukrainian pilots flying outdated MiG-29s have proven their ability to destroy more advanced Russian fighters, such as Su-30s and Su-34s. With more advanced Western aircraft at its disposal, Ukraine could significantly increase the Russian Air Force’s losses.

Air defence. Another crucial way to help Ukraine establish control of the airspace is to supply it with advanced air defence equipment. Ukraine has repeatedly asked its Western partners to provide these types of weapons, including the Norwegian NASAMS and American Patriot air defence systems.

Ukraine’s lack of indigenous air defence systems prevents it from effectively protecting the airspace above major cities and military facilities. And, even if NATO members supplied Ukraine with all the Soviet-designed air defence systems they have in service, there would still be too few of them to solve this problem. Given that the West refuses to secure Ukraine’s airspace by establishing a no-fly zone, it will need to strengthen Ukrainian air defences enough for the country to do so without the direct involvement of NATO personnel.

Anti-ship weapons. Russian forces have imposed a naval blockade on Ukraine, dealing a colossal blow to the Ukrainian economy. While they largely control the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, the Ukrainian military can still use land-based anti-ship systems to great effect.

One option could be to provide Ukraine with US-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which are currently in service with more than a dozen NATO countries. According to some sources, the UK has agreed to send Harpoon missiles to Ukraine.

Ukraine has recently developed its own anti-ship missile – the Neptune – but it only has a few of this type and the systems that fire it. Anti-ship missiles have already proven their effectiveness: on 13 April, the Ukrainian military used the Neptune to destroy the Moskva, a missile cruiser that was the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. Therefore, Harpoon missiles will be able to significantly affect the balance of power in the Black Sea region.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These systems can also help negate Russia’s aerial advantage in Ukraine. The Ukrainian military has repeatedly used Turkish Bayraktar UAVs to destroy Russian air defence systems, tanks, and other armoured vehicles. However, Ukraine only has a few dozen of these UAVs, which is not enough for it to use them effectively on all fronts. The West could build up Ukraine’s UAV fleet with its own systems, such as the United States’ new MQ-9 Reaper or the MQ-1 Predator, which the US military has already decommissioned.

Artillery. The current transition to a protracted conflict around fortified positions in Donbas increases the likelihood of positional battles in which artillery plays a vital role. Ukraine would benefit from acquiring the M109, 155mm self-propelled artillery made in the US (which has almost 1,000 of them), and the German-made PzH 2000.

Other options are the US-made M270 multiple launch rocket system and M142 high mobility artillery rocket system. Today, the US military has almost 1,500 units of these types. Such systems can use ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles, which have a range of up to 300km. This would help to compensate for the Ukrainian army’s relative lack of operational and tactical missile systems – it currently has only between 12 and 16 Soviet-designed Tochka-U tactical missile systems.

Tanks and armoured vehicles. Ukraine would benefit from supplies of advanced Western tanks such as the M1 Abrams, the British Challenger 2, the French Leclerc, and the German Leopard 2. German arms manufacturers have already started discussions about the possibility of sending 50 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine. While these models are not as advanced as the others, such discussions could indicate that Ukraine’s partners have become more willing to supply it with heavy weapons.

Ukraine also needs armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, such as the American Bradley and Stryker, the British Warrior, and the German Marder. Collectively, NATO countries have thousands of these vehicles.

Only a defeat of the Russian military can prevent the Kremlin from carrying out its plans in Ukraine and committing more alleged war crimes to create dozens of new Buchas. President Vladimir Putin clearly thinks that there can be either a Ukrainian state as a part of the Russian dominion or no Ukraine at all. Hence, the Ukrainian army will need advanced weapons to prove him wrong. Indeed, even high-ranking representatives of the European Union say that Ukraine must win this war on the battlefield.

Western weapons have already played a significant role in helping the Ukrainian military stop the Russian blitzkrieg. However, Russia has changed its plans and is now preparing for a huge new offensive in eastern and southern Ukraine. Therefore, NATO countries need to move on to the next stage of their support for Ukraine. If Ukrainians have advanced Western weapons and the training to use them, they can defend themselves and retake the territory occupied by Russia.

Margaryta Khvostova, Olga Lymar, and Denys Davydenko are members of the Reanimation Package of Reforms Coalition, a leading coalition of 26 Ukrainian NGOs created after the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. The fourth author of this commentary cannot be named for security reasons.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Visiting Fellow
ECFR Alumni · Visiting Fellow

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