Biden Ponders Historic Missile Transfer to Ukraine Amid Rising Tensions

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Anticipation charges the air as the world braces for President Joe Biden’s conclusion on the proposal of transferring long-range missiles to Ukraine for the first time. This undeniably weighty decision has permeated the discourse within the hallways of the State and Defense departments for months, spurred by persistent appeals from Ukrainian quarters.

The dialogues surrounding the potential transmission of the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, more commonly known as ATACMS, have surged in intensity during the past weeks. Despite the heightened discussion, no official confirmation has been offered, though an official privy to the matter suggests the possibility of such a transfer is considerably higher now than before.

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American officials have historically maintained a cautious stance on the issue, concerned about exacerbating conflicts. The ATACMS, which are long-range surface-to-surface guided missiles, held potential for sparking international strife should they end up being launched into Russia directly. It seems this apprehension has largely dissipated in light of Ukraine’s track record of restraint, upholding their promise to not unleash American-supplied armaments within Russian territory.

Currently, the United States has committed weapons with a maximum range of 93 miles, embodied in the ground-launched small diameter bomb, for Ukraine’s use. The introduction of ATACMS, possessing a desirable range of approximately 186 miles, would significantly broaden the operational capabilities of the Ukrainian military. This would effectively outstrip the UK-furnished long-range Storm Shadow missiles, whose range teeters around 155 miles. The ATACMS are launched from the HIMARS, a rocket launching vehicle akin to the one that propels the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) missiles, a system Ukraine already employs.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his country’s hopes to secure an ATACMS supply by autumn, elaborating on his plans to continue discussing this pivotal matter with President Biden. Zelensky’s recent engagement with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, also added to the growing expectations.

Although the exact number of missiles the US intends to provide is unclear, officials within the State Department and Pentagon believe the additional firepower could give Ukraine the upper hand in its enduring counteroffensive.

However, domestic considerations have also caused some hesitance, raising concerns about potentially depleting the US military readiness. With Lockheed Martin, the producer of the ATACMS, currently manufacturing around 500 annually to satisfy the US Army contracts, the potential supply for Ukraine might be tight.

In contrast, Ukrainian forces have proven their responsible usage of the Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK. These missiles have enabled Ukraine to effectively target Russian ammunition depots and repair facilities in far-off Crimea, validating France’s decision to supply their SCALPs, a version comparable to the Storm Shadows.

Ukrainian officials have lately intensified their advocacy for the ATACMS, firmly asserting their necessity in driving back Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. Underpinning the military effectiveness and the soldiers’ safety, the argument has gained a sense of urgency.

This potential transfer of ATACMS continues a trend of US acquiescence to Ukrainian appeals for different weapons systems, overruling initial resistance. This includes the multi-launch rocket systems, Patriot air defense systems, Abrams tanks, and cluster munitions. Furthermore, despite initially dismissing the need for F-16 fighter jets, the US has since relented and endorsed a training coalition for Ukraine, shifting from its initial restraint.

While US officials maintain that such weapons and equipment are withheld until their necessity for Ukraine’s battlefield objectives are evaluated and validated, critics argue that these repeated delays in provisioning advanced weaponry simply extend the conflict’s timeline, effectively providing Russia with an extended opportunity to fortify its defense lines. Propelling this narrative, Senator James Risch has voiced his impatience and desire to see a shift in the strategic dynamic to keep Russia apprehensive.