The United States is rushing to send Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the embattled Ukrainian military.
President Joe Biden has authorized a $350 million lethal aid package to Ukraine. The package reportedly includes further deliveries of Javelin anti-tank missiles-- which Ukrainian and U.S. officials claim have been highly effective in stymying the invading Russian forces-- and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
According to the ArmyTimes, the new lethal aid package marks the first time that the United States has agreed to directly deliver Stinger missiles to Ukraine.
“Once the Stinger’s employed, it has the ability to be a game changer,” said retired Army Lt. Gen Jim Dubik. “The Russians don’t have air dominance, but they do have air superiority ― and the Stingers won’t take that away, but it’ll be contested airspace, and that hurts the Russians’ ability to conduct operations and increases Ukraine’s ability to defend.”
Air superiority is generally defined by the U.S. military as the ability to conduct air operations “without prohibitive interference by the opposing force.” Air supremacy, or dominance, goes a step further, describing a condition in which the opposing air force is incapable of effective interference.
The timeframe for the Stinger shipment is unknown, with U.S. officials reportedly telling journalists that they are currently working out the logistics of the delivery. Ukraine received an undisclosed number of Stinger missiles earlier this year from Latvia and Lithuania.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 with strikes against Ukrainian air bases, command centers, radio stations, and other military infrastructure.
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said earlier this week that Russian aviation “has gained air superiority over the entire territory of Ukraine,” adding that Russian forces struck “1,114 objects of Ukrainian military infrastructure, including 31 control centers and communications nodes, 341 tanks and other armored vehicles, 57 multiple launch rocket systems, 121 field artillery units and mortars, [and] 274 special military automobile vehicles.”
The latest wave of U.S. lethal aid to Kiev has been accompanied by renewed calls from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some Western politicians for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine. The Biden administration appears to have all but ruled out this option, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters on Monday that a no-fly zone would involve direct conflict between the Russian and U.S. militaries.
“Here’s what’s important for everybody to know about a no-fly zone: What that would require is implementation by the U.S. military,” Psaki said. “It would essentially mean the U.S. military would be shooting down planes – Russian planes. That is definitely escalatory. That would potentially put us into a place where we’re in a military conflict with Russia. That is not something the president wants to do.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.
Image: U.S. Army Flickr.