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With help from Maggie Miller and Erin Banco
The U.S. will send 100 Switchblade drones to Ukraine as part of the Biden administration’s new $800 million weapons package, Texas Rep. MIKE MCCAUL (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told NatSec Daily. An administration official confirmed McCaul’s account that the U.S. is sending the Switchblade.
The Switchblade is a small, light drone that can loiter in the air for up to 30 minutes before being directed to its target by an operator on the ground, dozens of miles away. The drone is launched from a tube, like a mortar shell. Its real-time GPS guidance allows a service member in the field to fly it until the moment it crashes and explodes into a target.
The weapon was first fielded in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations forces, but quickly was picked up by the Army and Marine Corps, who saw value in the light, accurate munition that can help thwart ambushes or take out vehicles.
McCaul also said that the U.S. was “working with allies” to send more S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine. The country has fielded the S-300 for years, so troops should require little-to-no training on how to operate the Soviet-era anti-aircraft equipment. CNN reported that Slovakia had preliminarily agreed to transfer their S-300s to Ukraine.
The revelations come shortly after President Joe Biden announced the new $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which also includes 800 more Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 anti-armor Javelins, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems. The AT-4 is a lightweight recoilless rifle already used by American special operations forces.
“The United States and our allies and partners are fully committed to surging weapons of assistance to the Ukrainians, and more will be coming as we source additional stocks of equipment that we’re ready to transfer,” Biden said.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY delivered a virtual speech to members of Congress, imploring the president and lawmakers to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine and provide his country with more materiel.
A Western diplomat familiar with Ukraine’s requests said Kyiv specifically has asked the U.S. and allies for more Stingers and Starstreak man-portable air-defense systems, Javelins and other anti-tank weapons, ground-based mobile air-defense systems, armed drones, long-range anti-ship missiles, “off-the-shelf” electronic warfare capabilities, and satellite navigation and communications jamming equipment.
“I have a dream. These words are known to each of you today,” Zelenskyy said. “I can say, I have a need. I need to protect our sky. I need your help.”
SITUATION REPORT: We will only cite official sources. As always, take all figures, assessments and statements with a healthy dose of skepticism.
War in Ukraine:
— Since the war began on Feb. 24, Russia has lost 13,800 personnel, as well as 430 tanks, 1,375 armored combat vehicles, 190 artillery systems, 84 warplanes, 108 helicopters, three ships and 11 drones (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
— Russia “does not abandon attempts to capture the city of Chernihiv, however, does not conduct active offensive operations. [Russia] regroups troops and tries to organize logistical support, but has no success.” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
— “Enemy aircraft continue to launch missile and bomb strikes on military and civilian infrastructure in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Sumy and Donetsk oblasts, actively using the airfield network of the Republic of Belarus and the occupied Crimea” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
— Ukrainian authorities “discovered a cache of goods that Russian operatives had secretly stored near Lviv in advance of the invasion. This cache was part of a network of secret stashes of goods/equipment the Russian operatives had planted throughout Ukraine for use post-invasion. The Lviv discovery consisted only of dress military uniforms, which SBGS believed were intended for victory parade use, further evidence that the Russians had anticipated a quick nationwide victory.” (U.S. State Department cable)
— U.S.: Biden announced a $800 million military assistance package that includes Switchblade drones and other lethal weapons.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE DEAL FORMING? Ukraine and Russia have drafted a 15-point peace plan which, if adhered to, could bring an end to the war — though it’s unclear how serious Moscow is.
“The proposed deal, which Ukrainian and Russian negotiators discussed in full for the first time on Monday, would involve Kyiv renouncing its ambitions to join Nato and promising not to host foreign military bases or weaponry in exchange for protection from allies such as the US, UK and Turkey, the people said,” per the Financial Times’ MAX SEDDON, ROMAN OLEARCHYK and ARASH MASSOUDI.
But sticking points remain, namely what to do about Crimea and the two Russia-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, which Moscow demands must be “independent.” Plus, Russia has insincerely engaged in diplomatic dialogue before — right before the war, in fact — as a means to buy its military more time to prepare for future operations.
Kyiv quickly downplayed the report. “FT published a draft, which represents the requesting position of the Russian side. Nothing more. The [Ukrainian] side has its own positions,” tweeted MYKHAILO PODOLYAK, an adviser in Zelenskyy’s office who’s taken part in talks with the Russians.
NATO Secretary General JENS STOLTENBERG today said “we don’t see any sign” that Russia intends to make peace with Ukraine.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– MEEKS TOLD BLINKEN MiGS HAVE VOTES: A fun little tidbit here, per two Congressional aides: When a congressional delegation met with Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN on March 5 in Poland, House Foreign Affairs Chair GREGORY MEEKS (D-N.Y.) told the secretary that there were enough votes on his panel and in the whole House to support sending MiG-29s to Ukraine.
A spokesperson for HFAC confirmed the exchange: “The Chairman expressed to Secretary Blinken during his delegation to Poland that he believed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Congress would be in favor of Ukraine receiving MiG-29 aircraft, more capable anti-air systems such as SA-8s and S-300s, and additional support for Ukrainian military needs.”
Days after the exchange, the U.S. came out against Poland sending its MiG-29s to Ukraine, saying such a transfer would escalate tensions with Russia while not significantly helping Kyiv’s forces win.