A T-72 tank during special training of the Zakarpattia Army of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Jan. 11, 2024.

A T-72 tank during special training of the Zakarpattia Army of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Jan. 11, 2024. Dmytro Smolienko / Ukrinform / Future Publishing via Getty Images

Drones, armor lead new efforts by Ukraine’s foreign backers

The Pentagon-led Ukrainian Defense Contact Group seeks to keep Kyiv “ahead of the curve.”

Kyiv’s foreign backers have launched new efforts to furnish the Ukrainian military with enough drones and armored vehicles to “keep ahead of the curve” in its fast-evolving fight against Russian invaders.

“The Ukrainians have been incredibly creative with how they use these drone capabilities. And then the Russians also adapted and learned how to use these capabilities,” Celeste Wallander, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, told reporters on Tuesday after a meeting of the Pentagon-led Ukrainian Defense Contact Group. 

Latvia is leading the new unmanned aerial systems initiative, which promises to deliver thousands of drones to Ukraine, Bloomberg first reported. The initiative was formally announced during the during the group’s meeting Tuesday, with the goal of getting “ahead of the curve” technologically, operationally and with production, “to help the Ukrainians as they find new ways to use drones and as they confront new ways that the Russians are using them against them,” Wallander said.

Additionally, Poland will lead a new armor capability-focused coalition, it announced during the meeting, Wallander said. The U.S. co-leads two of the group’s other capability coalitions: one on airpower with Denmark and the Netherlands, and another on artillery with France. 

Tuesday’s meeting was the 18th for the Group, which launched in April 2022 and now has nearly 50 nations.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who attended the meeting virtually, urged the group to “dig deep to provide Ukraine with more life-saving ground-based air defense systems, and interceptors.” 

“Together our allies and partners have established six capability coalitions to support Ukraine's Air Force, ground-based air defenses, artillery, maritime security, demining, and information technology,” Austin said. “If we lose our nerve, if we flinch, if we fail to deter other would-be aggressors, we will only invite even more bloodshed and more chaos….we must not waver in our support for Ukraine.”

Austin also addressed skepticism of improper tracking of U.S. aid to Ukraine in his remarks. 

“On December 27, [the] United States announced an additional $250 million package to help meet Ukraine's urgent security needs,” including medical equipment, artillery, and munitions, Austin said. “We've seen no credible evidence of the misuse or illicit diversion of American equipment provided to Ukraine.” 

A recent watchdog report found that nearly $1 billion of the high-tech military assistance the U.S. sent to Ukraine was incorrectly tracked. The U.S. has sent more than $44 billion of assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in 2022.

Editor's note: This article was updated to correctly name the country leading the armor coalition. The Pentagon official previously misspoke.