Image credit: YouTube - Photo: 2022

The “Non-Stop” Flow of Arms to Ukraine Amidst Reports of Black Marketeering

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The flow of weapons to battle-scarred Ukraine has been “non-stop”, says Rear Admiral Duke Heinz, the European Union’s chief logistician, as the fighting continues uninterruptedly ever since the Russian invasion last February.

And US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III was quoted as saying: “Ukraine needs the firepower and the ammunition to withstand its barrage and to strike back at the Russians launching these attacks from inside Ukraine’s own territory”.

The US and Western allies have matched their political rhetoric with military muscle, and, so far, supplied over $10 billion in arms and security assistance to Ukraine. The US alone has provided over $8.0 billion in weapons and military assistance. 

And according to a report on Cable News Netwrk (CNN) on August 2, the US announced an additional $550 million security assistance package to “meet Ukraine’s critical security and defense needs.”

The assistance, which is being drawn from US stockpiles, includes 75,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and an undisclosed amount of additional ammunition for advanced rocket systems to help defend Ukraine, according to a statement from the Pentagon.  

Asked if Ukraine will emerge as one of the top five major recipients of US arms by the end of this year, Pieter D. Wezeman, a Senior Researcher with the Arms Transfers Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IDN US arms supplies to Ukraine have “massively increased” since February 2022.

“We have not yet tried to make an estimate as to where Ukraine will rank for 2022 or for 2018-2022 in US arms exports,” he said in an interview with IDN.

The figures, over the years, can fluctuate a lot “and therefore we prefer to present the data over 5-year periods,” he said.

Based on SIPRI’s methodology for measuring the volume of arms transfers in the period 2017-2021, Saudi Arabia accounted for 23% of US arms exports, Australia for 9.4%, South Korea for 6.8%, Japan for 6.7% and Qatar for 5.4%.

He said SIPRI has identified 103 countries that import major arms from the US during that period. The Ukraine ranked as the 50th largest importer of US major arms but this is expected to significantly change.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: There have been reports that some of the weapons from US and Western allies have been diverted into the blackmarket outside Ukraine. Any truth to these reports?

A: Based on the experiences from the wars in former Yugoslavia and in Libya the countries that supply the weapons and the government of Ukraine have made public statements that show they are acutely aware that there is a serious risk, that in the chaos of war, weapons supplied to Ukraine may fall into the hands of, for example, criminal groups in Europe or armed groups in the Middle East now or in the future.

Though this risk exists, the US and most European countries clearly have concluded that it does not weigh up against the perceived benefits of supplying arms to Ukraine in response to the Russian war of aggression.

Still, the US, the EU and Ukraine have repeatedly stated that they are together looking at ways to prevent arms diversion from Ukraine and have set up structures to monitor the problem, investigate possible cases and ensure that weapons send to Ukraine are properly registered so that they can be traced back. 

Reportedly there has been a Europol briefing that indicated that some of its member states have reported cases of weapons smuggling from Ukraine. However, detailed public data is still not available and drawing any conclusions about the scale of this problem requires careful scrutiny of reports about such leakages, as fabricating or spreading rumours about this is an obvious possible propaganda tool in efforts to undermine the willingness to supply further arms to Ukraine. 

Q: Where does Ukraine now stand as a recipient of arms?

A: Ukraine has received relatively few major weapon platforms from the US and those which have been received are not the most costly. For example, Ukraine has received 126 Howitzers and 16 HIMARS rocket launchers. But more so, these weapons are all second-hand, the value of such systems is relatively low compared to cost of new tanks, long range air defence systems and even more the costs of advanced combat aircraft and combat ships.

It is the exactly the latter systems that make up most of the value of the weapons that the US exports to the largest 5 recipients of US arms in 2017-2021. For example, Saudi Arabia received in that period an estimated 97 F-15SA combat aircraft, over 9500 anti- tank missiles, 20 AH-64E combat helicopters, 167 M-1A2S tanks, 450 Patriot PAC-3 air and missile defence missiles and many more items.

The US itself does not publish the same regular comprehensive overviews of weapons supplied to other countries than Ukraine, which would make it easier to make meaningful comparisons.

It is not clear how the Pentagon calculates the value of the military aid for Ukraine, especially as the weapons all come from US stocks. The normal practice for the US is to calculate the value of such used items as a percentage of the original purchasing cost of the items, taking into account age, shelf life, condition etc.

But no details are available on the calculations in the case of Ukraine, and it is therefore not entirely clear how to compare the USD8.4 b. with the value of weapons that are supplied to other countries at the same time.

Still, considering that we are only half way through 2022, and considering the very large numbers of guided munitions (6500 javelin anti-armour missiles, 1400 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and probably 1000s of GMLRS guided rockets for the HIMARS systems) that have already been delivered, and the increasing willingness of the US to consider the supply of further major arms, there is no doubt that the Ukraine will figure high in the list of recipients of US major arms in 2022.

But only if the US will supply, for example, more air defence systems or if it would add weapons such as tanks in large numbers or combat aircraft to the military aid to Ukraine, we might see Ukraine figure among the 5 largest recipients of US arms for 2022 or for a five-year period.

And of course, the relative position of Ukraine as an arms importer also depends on how many weapons major recipients will order from the US. For example, last week the US announced it was negotiating sales of air defence missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE worth billions of dollars.

Q: If these weapons are originating from US national stockpiles, don’t they have to be eventually replaced? 

A: Until now most of the weapons come from existing US military stocks. Some of them are already planned to be replaced: for example, a contract has been signed for replacement of least part of the Javelin missiles that were given to Ukraine.

Presumably contracts to replace many of the other missiles and ammunition will follow. Some, most likely a fraction, of the equipment was old and was probably already slated for replacement by new weapons.

However, it is important the keep in mind that while USD8.2 b is a large sum and more than the annual military spending of most countries in the world it accounts for only 1% of total military spending by the US in 2021. It will of course increase further in the coming months, may be to double that amount or even more.

Still, the US arms industry can expect an increase in revenue due to the replacement of weapons send to Ukraine, but more important will be the increase in revenue due to higher US procurement of additional arms in response to the war in Ukraine and export contracts for weapons that European states have already decided on in response to the war in the past few months or are planning for. And that in addition to continuing arms exports to major customers in other parts of the world, such as the Middle east and East Asia.

Pieter Wezeman’s regional focus is mainly the Middle East, the US and Northern Europe. Multilateral arms embargoes and international transparency in armaments are amongst the key thematic issues he works on. He started at SIPRI in 1994, worked in 2003–2006 as a Senior Analyst at the Dutch Ministry of Defence on issues related to the proliferation of conventional and nuclear weapons, and returned to SIPRI in 2006. In 2017 he was the Technical Expert for the Group of Governmental Experts that reviewed the UN Report on Military Expenditure. [IDN-InDepthNews — 05 August 2022]

Image credit: YouTube

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