The Biden administration is providing Ukraine with a new longer-range bomb as part of the $2.2 billion aid package announced Friday, but the new weapon likely won’t arrive until much later this year.
The weapon, the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb, is made up of a precision-guided 250-pound bomb strapped to a rocket motor and fired from a ground launcher. It’s normally launched from the air and the ground-launched version does not yet exist in U.S. military inventory. It could take up to nine months for U.S. defense contractors to do the necessary retrofits.
The rest of the aid package includes weapons drawn from U.S. stocks as well as funding to contract for new equipment through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a vehicle set up by Congress to fund aid for Ukraine. The package includes spare parts and munitions for air defense systems, a critical need in blunting the Russian drone and missile attacks on civilian targets across Ukraine.
Russian forces have moved some of their most sensitive command-and-control centers out of range of Ukraine’s current rockets, frustrating Kyiv’s military commanders, who have asked for longer-range munitions to stay on the offensive.
Specifically, they’ve asked for the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missiles Systems that have a range of about 190 miles. But the Biden administration has said the weapon is out of the question, citing concerns Ukraine would use them to attack targets inside Russia.
The new rockets announced on Friday, which can travel over 80 miles, will help Ukrainian forces “conduct operations in defense of their country, and to take back their sovereign territory in Russian occupied areas,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.
They will not be drawn from existing American stockpiles however, meaning it will take months for Boeing and the U.S. government to agree on the terms of the contract and get them to the battlefield. That timeline means they will likely not be available for the warm-weather offensives Ukraine is planning this year.
Another issue is that the bomb can’t be launched by any of Ukraine’s current equipment. Ukrainian engineers have been working on retrofits for ground launchers for several months.
Much to the disappointment of some in Kyiv, the last few tranches of aid have not included the weapon.
But there’s real appetite on Capitol Hill to provide Ukrainians with longer-range munitions, along with tanks and other weapons. A senior congressional aide argued the administration had been holding up the process of approving the bomb despite overcoming “the mental hurdle of the range and escalation dynamics” of a longer-range munition because of the need to retrofit it.
“It’s a timeline that’s measured in months,” the aide said of adapting the weapon to a ground launcher. The aide asked not to be named in order to speak candidly.
House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) had accused the Biden administration of dragging its feet on providing the system to Ukraine.
“GLSDB should have been approved last fall,” Rogers said in a recent statement. “Every day it’s not approved is a day it’s delayed getting it into the hands of a Ukrainian ready to kill a Russian.”
Lee Hudson and Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.