As Ukraine's Soviet weapons dwindle, it races to adopt new gear

"Stocks of Soviet-era weapons dwindle, but Russian aggression does not," said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

 Vitalii, a Ukrainian Army officer, holds his weapon in a trench during tactical exercises at a military camp, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine April 30, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO)
Vitalii, a Ukrainian Army officer, holds his weapon in a trench during tactical exercises at a military camp, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine April 30, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO)

Ukraine's stock of Soviet-era weaponry is fast diminishing, requiring Ukraine to shift to modern weapon platforms, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday.

"Stocks of Soviet-era weapons dwindle, but Russian aggression does not," Kuleba wrote on Twitter. "This is why Ukraine shifts to modern equipment. Training is required, but we are fast learners. In fact, we learn to operate modern weapons faster than it takes some governments to decide upon providing them."

While Ukraine is not forthcoming about its losses, Russia says that it has destroyed 146 Ukrainian warplanes, 112 helicopters, 712 drones, 287 air defense systems, 2,817 Ukrainian tanks and armored vehicles, 323 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 1,292 artillery pieces and 2,624 other ground vehicles. Open-source intelligence analysts, keeping track of casualties with visual verification, often put the losses lower than Russian estimates.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also emphasized the need for more equipment, saying in an address on Wednesday that "in some territories, we are blocked by the Russian military and equipment. There we are waiting for the appropriate equipment to appear on our site, so we can push and move forward."

Both the flow of equipment and the training to use the gear has been a significant focus for US defense officials.

 Javeline anti-tank missiles sit onstage as US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on arming Ukraine after a tour of a Lockheed Martin weapons factory in Troy, Alabama, US May 3, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST) Javeline anti-tank missiles sit onstage as US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on arming Ukraine after a tour of a Lockheed Martin weapons factory in Troy, Alabama, US May 3, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

"We're focused right now every day, including this day on making sure that we can give the Ukrainians the tools and the weapons that they need as well as the training that may be required with some of those tools to succeed," said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby on Thursday.

"The flow into the region continues at an incredible pace and the flow of materials from the region into Ukraine also continues every single day," said Kirby. "We know that because we talk to the Ukrainians every single day, we know that that material, those weapons, those systems are getting into Ukrainian hands."

"90 percent of the 90 howitzers that were pledged to Ukraine in the last two presidential drawdown authorities are actually in Ukrainian hands," a senior US defense official said of specific platforms, in a Thursday briefing.

"As for the 155 ammunition that goes with them, nearly 90,000 155 projectiles have already been transferred to Ukraine and are in Ukraine, and to remind you the total of those two packages were about 144,000, so certainly a majority of the projectiles are also in Ukraine."

The pace of supply continued unabated, despite Russian strikes on critical Ukrainian utilities, such as electrical systems and railroads, in attempts to disrupt the flow of war materials to Ukraine. 

"We think this is an effort to try to disrupt the Ukrainians' ability to replenish and reinforce themselves," said Kirby. A senior defense official said there was no impact by Russian strikes on the transfer of arms.

"The United States and NATO allies continue to flood Ukraine with weapons," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday, Russian state media outlet TASS reported. "I would like to point out that we view all NATO vehicles that arrive in the country carrying weapons and supplies for the Ukrainian Armed Forces as legitimate military targets." 

The new NATO systems may have the same use as comparable Warsaw Pact systems, but the specifics of any different weapon platform need to be learned to maximize effectivity. Some weapons, such as the Switchblade loitering munition or the mysterious Phoenix Ghost drone have no defense market alternative, and Ukrainian soldiers need to be trained from scratch. 

The US Defense Department's strategy is to train Ukrainian trainers who can take what they've learned from the Americans and in turn teach it to their fellow countrymen. 

"What we would do, because they are in an active fight, is a 'train-the-trainer's' program. So, pull a small number of Ukrainian forces out so that they can get trained on these systems and then send them back in," Kirby told DoD News in April.

The Pentagon said that between 50-60 artllerymen are currently in training, but refused to give out exact numbers that have been trained by the US across all platforms like armored personnel carriers and radar operators.

"They're proficient with their own systems," said Lieutenant Colonel Todd Hopkins, in a Wednesday Pentagon briefing on the training of the Ukrainian military. "What we're doing is we're running through a streamlined course here on the new equipment that they'll be receiving. The goal in all of this is to get them back as soon as possible so that then they can train others within their army on the equipment that they're receiving. What we want make sure of is that they understand how to operate and employ those as effectively as they can on their own and in accordance with their own tactics and their own doctrine."

"from personally observing it, the soldiers that we are receiving here who are taking the training are absolutely motivated, incredibly professional, and they're doing really well with the training that we're given and I'm very confident with their abilities as the go forward," Hopkins continued.

“We believe that we can win; they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in late April.

On April 13, US President Joe Biden responded to pleas by Zelensky, promising to send an additional $800 million shipment of heavy weapons. The US committed to sending 100 armored Humvees, 200 M113 APCs, 11 Soviet-made Mi-17 helicopters,  M18A1 Claymore mines, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Switchblade suicide drones, medical gear, body armor and helmets, and sensor systems.

With the newest aid package, the approximate worth of US aid packages to Ukraine is over $ 2 billion. US security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration has been about $3 billion.