It is time to start thinking about how to rearm Ukraine after the current conflict ends. Even if Ukraine is successful in completely ousting Russia from its territory, an era of peace will not necessarily ensue. It is more likely that a hostile border with Russia will emerge, like that between North and South Korea, or between Israel and several of its neighbors. But regardless of the outcome of the war, Ukraine will need to rebuild and reorganize its military. And regardless of whether Ukraine becomes a member of NATO or not, it is in the alliance’s interest to help Kyiv with the rearmament process.
Ukraine is currently operating both indigenous and Soviet-made military equipment, plus material from abroad. Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s defense industry and tech sector have been actively designing innovative anti-tank weapons, unmanned vehicles, targeting systems, and communications devices. The country has received a wide assortment of platforms, weapons, and munitions from abroad and will continue to do so as long as the war continues. Ukraine is the recipient of the largest U.S. military assistance package to a European state since the Lend-Lease Act of World War Two.
The U.S. alone has provided dozens of different platforms, weapons systems, missiles, and other support equipment. As of May 9, 2023, the list of U.S. systems sent to Ukraine includes: 250 155mm and 105mm howitzers; 38 HIMARS rocket artillery systems and hundreds of rockets; 31 M1 Abrams tanks; 2,000 Humvees; 100 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles; 90 Strykers; 300 M113s; 500 MRAPs; 300 tactical vehicles for towing; several hundred utility trucks and fuel haulers; 14 armored bridging systems; 12 Avenger short-range air defense systems; eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS); one Patriot battery; hundreds of unmanned aerial systems in nearly a dozen different configurations; 1,500 Stingers; tens of thousands of anti-tank rockets and missiles; and more than one million rounds of artillery and mortar ammunition.
Numerous countries, including NATO allies, have provided additional platforms, weapons systems, munitions, and other supplies. European nations have delivered fighter aircraft, tanks, air defenses, artillery, armor systems, fighting vehicles, tactical vehicles, radars, and anti-armor systems.
Over time, the U.S. has widened the scope of the assistance it provides. What started as non-lethal aid under President Obama after the seizure of Crimea increased under President Trump to include lethal forms of aid, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles. After the invasion of Ukraine on February 22, 2022, the Biden administration gave the arms assistance faucet an even sharper twist open. To date, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with some $36 billion in military aid.
Over time, systems that were initially denied to Ukraine have become available. U.S. Abrams, British Challenger, and German Leopard tanks, British and French Storm Shadow/SCALPs, and most recently F-16s, are now being provided. The U.S. defense industry has stretched itself to supply Ukraine with systems such as Stinger and Harpoon missiles. It also has accelerated development of new systems such as the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB).
However, this same Western largess creates a problem for Ukraine after hostilities cease. The lack of standardization in platforms, weapons, equipment, communications systems, and munitions poses an enormous burden on the level of management, sustainment, training, and logistics. It also harms operational flexibility and tactical coordination.
Regardless of when or how the war ends, two things will be true. First, Ukraine will need a large and capable military as a deterrent to future Russian aggression. Second, it will have to wean itself off Soviet-era equipment, practices, and procedures. Its pre-war inventory of equipment from this period has been decimated, and what remains is on its last legs. Ukraine will want to align its military structures and equipment as close and as soon as possible to those of its NATO neighbors. Standardization of platforms and equipment among Eastern European countries will enable them to provide mutual support and sustainment.
Poland is one example of how to evolve away from Soviet/Russian equipment and create a modern military that can serve as a shield against Moscow. In 2019, Warsaw established a visionary 15-year modernization plan for its military. It not only increased the size of the Polish Armed Forces but restructured them along Western lines, setting out a program for replacing old equipment with modernized versions. Today, Poland is building what may well be the largest and most capable military in Europe. Its acquisitions from just the U.S. include dozens of F-16 and F-35 fighters, 96 AH-64 Apache helicopters, 350 M1 Abrams main battle tanks, HIMARS rocket artillery, and up to eight Patriot air defense batteries. Warsaw is also building up its domestic defense industry by, for example, standing up a regional depot for Abrams tanks.
In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many NATO countries, but particularly Ukraine’s Eastern European neighbors, are pressing forward with military modernization efforts. In many instances, they are following Poland’s lead and seeking to buy American systems. Romania just placed an order for 54 Abrams tanks and Lithuania may do the same. Several Eastern European countries have also ordered the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), an armored truck.
What will Ukraine need from the United States? Apparently, it has been decided that the Ukrainian Air Force will be upgraded with F-16s. The Ukrainian Army will also need at least 500 additional M1 Abrams tanks; hundreds of Apache attack and Black Hawk utility helicopters; additional 155mm and 105mm artillery systems; dozens of HIMARS and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS); more Patriots; JLTVs; additional Harpoon coastal defense batteries; and an array of long-range air-delivered weapons like the Joint Direct Attack Munition-Extended Range (JDAM-ER) and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM). Ukraine will also need to completely revamp its radar network, tactical and strategic communications systems, and logistics capabilities.
Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Gouré has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team.