March 12, 2024 | Policy Brief

U.S. Should Tap Remaining Aid Authority for Ukraine

March 12, 2024 | Policy Brief

U.S. Should Tap Remaining Aid Authority for Ukraine

Until Congress allocates funding to replace any donated materiel, the Defense Department does not want to tap its $4.2 billion of presidential drawdown authority to send much-needed military aid to Ukraine, Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord said on Thursday. While the Pentagon is right to prioritize U.S. military readiness, there are aging munitions and armored vehicles Washington could send now that would not be missed by American warfighters but would still provide critical support to Kyiv’s beleaguered forces.

Presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, allows for donations of materiel drawn directly from existing U.S. stocks, expediting delivery. Since February 2022, the Biden administration has relied on PDA to send Kyiv regular shipments of military aid. But the administration has not issued a PDA package since late December amid a months-long congressional delay in passing supplemental assistance funding. Although the administration retains $4.2 billion worth of PDA, it has elected not to use that authority, as the Pentagon ran out of funding to replace the donated materiel.

Meanwhile, Kyiv’s forces are suffering from a dire shortage of key munitions, particularly artillery shells. This “shell hunger” has contributed to recent Russian gains. Yet it remains unclear when Congress will pass an aid bill.

In late February, media reports said the administration was weighing whether to tap the leftover PDA after all. But McCord’s comments on Thursday suggest the administration is sticking by its decision, at least for now. The Defense Department does not “have a legal authority to put more money into restocking our inventories” until Congress passes the supplemental funding, he stressed.

Although Washington obviously should put the American military first, the United States could send some important military equipment and munitions now without compromising U.S. readiness. The U.S. military has a lot of aging excess equipment and less desirable munitions that the Pentagon either does not need or could afford to wait to replace. While these items would not be missed by American warfighters, they would be a godsend to Ukrainian troops.

For example, Ukraine would benefit greatly from more cluster munitions for its Western-made artillery systems. Washington first provided these cluster rounds, known as Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs), to Ukraine last summer as Western stocks of traditional artillery shells ran low. The Ukrainian military has since put its DPICM rounds to good use against dug-in Russian forces and attacking Russian columns. The United States likely retains a substantial number of DPICMs that it could afford to spare. Defense Department policy discourages American commanders from employing DPICMs — especially rounds with a dud rate over 1 percent, which are supposed to be phased out of service, making them perfect candidates for shipment to Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces could also use more M113 armored personnel carriers. The U.S. military has thousands of these outdated vehicles sitting in storage and is actively replacing those still in service with a new class of vehicle. But while the Pentagon might not want its M113s anymore, these vehicles serve a valuable role for Ukraine in moving forces around the battlefield. They are especially important for evacuating wounded Ukrainian soldiers. But Kyiv does not have enough. As a result, Ukrainian forces too often must rely on civilian vehicles, which offer little protection against Russian fire. Having more M113s would help Ukraine prevent avoidable casualties — especially critical given that Kyiv is running low on troops.

The Biden administration is right to urge Congress to quit stalling on Ukraine aid funding. The delay is killing Ukrainian troops and jeopardizing important U.S. interests. But the administration should not let congressional inaction stop it from taking pragmatic, life-saving steps to hold Ukraine over until lawmakers get their act together.

John Hardie is deputy director of the Russia Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery is a senior fellow. For more analysis from the authors and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow John and Mark on X @JohnH105 and @MarkCMontgomery. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Military and Political Power Russia Ukraine