Weapons to Ukraine: Artillery and Helicopters Meant for Afghanistan

April 13, 2022Matt White
weapons to ukraine

US Marines with Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fire an M777 towed 155 mm howitzer. US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert.

The US is sending over a dozen 155 mm howitzers and helicopters among thousands of weapons to Ukraine in the coming weeks as part of a new $800 million aid package approved by President Joe Biden on Wednesday, April 13.

The list of weapons headed to Ukraine includes the most capable and deadliest yet provided by the US to Ukrainian forces in their seven-week fight against the invading Russian army. The package includes Javelin anti-tank missiles, Switchblade anti-armor drones, and armored vehicles, along with the artillery and helicopters. All weapons and systems will be drawn from current US military inventory.

“The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect,” the White House said in a statement. “As Russia prepares to intensify its attack in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself.”

weapons to ukraine
US Air Force airmen from the 444th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron fly an Mi-17 helicopter at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan, Jan. 10, 2011. The US is sending 11 Mi-17s originally intended to be sent to Afghanistan to Ukraine instead. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris.

The biggest-ticket items approved by the White House are 11 Mi-17 helicopters — a fleet originally purchased for use in Afghanistan but still in US hands — and a full suite of artillery systems, including 18 155 mm howitzer cannons, 40,000 rounds, and 10 AN-TPQ-36 counterbattery radar systems.

The Mi-17s are Russian-designed helicopters originally purchased by the US to outfit the Afghan air force. Like the Afghans, the Ukrainian air force already flies the Mi-17, which should allow pilots and crews to almost immediately put the new ones into service. Primarily designed to carry troops and cargo, the Mi-17 is slightly smaller than the US Army’s CH-47 Chinook. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the US is sending 11 Mi-17s to Ukraine as part of this round of weapons transfers, to join five already delivered.

The artillery package includes both the cannons and AN/TPQ-36 counterbattery radar systems. Known as a Firefinder, the radar system, which can be towed behind a truck, can spot and track the flight path of incoming artillery rounds to calculate exact coordinates from where the rounds were fired. Those coordinates can then be passed to friendly artillery units for almost immediate targeting.

weapons to ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier gestures at a Molotov cocktail March 17, 2022, near Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Jariko Denman/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Artillery, said Kirby, will likely play a major role in the fight for eastern Ukraine.

“That part of Ukraine is a bit like Kansas, so it’s a little bit flatter, it’s a little bit more open,” Kirby said. “It’s the kind of place where we can anticipate to use direct fires and rocket fire to achieve some objectives before committing ground troops.”

The artillery, Kirby said, is “what the Ukrainians say they need for that particular kind of fighting.”

The $800 million package, Kirby said, brings the total US commitment to Ukraine to $2.6 billion since the invasion.

Also headed to Ukraine:

  • 2 AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel air surveillance radars, designed to spot drones, helicopters, and other low-flying threats.

  • 300 Switchblade “suicide” drones.

  • 500 Javelin missile and “thousands” of other anti-armor systems.

The US will also, for the first time, provide significant numbers of vehicles, including:

  • 100 armored HMMWVs.

  • M113s, a Vietnam-era armored personnel carrier.

  • Unmanned coastal defense vessels.

Small arms and individual equipment will include:

  • Individual chemical/biological/radiological protective equipment.

  • Medical supplies.

  • 30,000 sets of body armor and helmets.

  • Over 2,000 optics and laser rangerfinders.

  • C-4 explosives and M18A1 Claymore munitions.

Matt White
Matt White

Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.

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