October 05, 2023

Ukraine Needs Weapons, Not Debates Over Which Ones

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal

The debate in Washington among those who favor continued support for Ukraine has focused too much on individual weapons systems. Skeptics and military professionals rightly point out that there are no “magic bullets” in warfare. But that misses the point. F-16s, on which Ukrainians have started to train in anticipation of receiving some from U.S. allies, may not be magical, but air superiority would be a game-changer. M1 tanks, a small group of which have reportedly arrived in Ukraine, won’t by themselves transform the war, but Ukraine’s ability to field a large armored force could be decisive. Ukraine needs these and other systems urgently so that it can obtain the capabilities they bring. It’s time to end the argument about specific weapons platforms and get Ukraine what it needs.

Breaking through a well-prepared defense requires an extraordinary number of capabilities, many of which Ukraine lacks despite generous Western aid. It requires tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery systems in sufficient numbers to absorb heavy losses while retaining enough combat power to exploit a penetration. It requires air superiority—the ability to operate friendly aircraft over the battlefield and prevent the enemy from using its own aircraft—and the ability to target positions deep in the enemy’s rear, including headquarters, supply points, transportation bottlenecks and concentrations of reserves. And it requires engineering assets of all types, including armored mine-clearing equipment and vehicles that can break through antitank obstacles, cross trenches, and otherwise overcome fortifications and obstacles.

The U.S. and its allies have given Ukraine some tanks and armored personnel carriers, artillery systems and ammunition, and mine-clearing equipment. The F-16s are on their way. But the Ukrainians still lack many of the capabilities necessary to break through Russian lines. They have some tanks and armored personnel carriers, but not enough to afford losing many of them. They don’t have air superiority—Russian aircraft, both fixed-wing and helicopters, regularly attack advancing Ukrainian troops. The Ukrainians have some ability to hit the Russians at long range, but the U.S.-provided Himars systems reach only about 60 miles. The Russians have adapted by moving key positions back. The West has given Ukraine some mine-clearing and engineering equipment, but not enough to handle the dense and deep minefields the Russians have laid all along their defensive lines in southern Ukraine. These limitations have slowed the counteroffensive, raising the cost in Ukrainian lives and equipment.

Read the full article in The Wall Street Journal