US touts patrol boats unwanted by its own Navy in $125 million package of ‘lethal aid’ to Ukraine

Washington is so eager to help Ukraine counter what it calls “Russian aggression,” it is sending Kiev patrol boats that the US Navy wants to phase out, and holding another $150 million back pending “defense reforms.”

The Pentagon announced on Monday that the US will send $125 million worth of “lethal aid” to Kiev as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), including “training, equipment, and advisory efforts to help Ukraine’s forces preserve the country’s territorial integrity, secure its borders, and improve interoperability with NATO.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby specifically highlighted the addition of two more Mark VI patrol boats to “enhance Ukraine’s capacity to patrol and defend its territorial waters,” bringing the total delivered in 2021 to eight. 

The US is also sending “additional counter-artillery radars and tactical equipment” and “equipment to support military medical treatment and combat evacuation procedures,” while continuing to provide Ukraine with “support for a satellite imagery and analysis capability,” the Pentagon said.

“This package does not include Javelin missiles,” Kirby told reporters on Monday, referring to anti-tank weapons first delivered to Ukraine in June 2020.

However, Washington is holding off on the remaining $150 million approved by Congress until the Pentagon and the State Department certify that “sufficient progress” has been made on reforms such as modernization of Ukraine’s military “in line with NATO principles and standards” and the adoption of higher standards of civilian control and procurement transparency. 

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The contract for the two additional boats was already awarded to the manufacturer in January. It’s worth just under $20 million and is scheduled to run through December 2022. Aid to Ukraine appears to be the only purpose for the Mark VI boats now, as the US Navy apparently doesn’t intend to buy any more of them.

The US Navy had originally planned for a total of 48 patrol boats, but ended up with only 12, with the last purchase made in 2017. It now reportedly wishes to get rid of them altogether by the end of 2021. Wargaming scenarios against adversaries such as China and Russia showed the Mark VI boats were “not really needed” given their small size and firepower, Naval News reported in January, citing Marine Corps Major General Tracy King, head of the Navy’s expeditionary warfare division.

King added that the boats were “very expensive to maintain.”

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While the final decision will be made by Congress and the Biden administration, the Navy isn’t rushing to buy any more Mark VIs, and the US seems happy to send them to Ukraine instead. The boats are presumably intended to replace the three vessels impounded by the Russian coast guard in November 2018, during the Kerch Strait incident.

The three Ukrainian boats tried to force their way through the strait between the Russian mainland and Crimea, instead of following the procedures and notifying of its route in advance. The peninsula had overwhelmingly voted to rejoin the Russian Federation in March 2014, following a US-backed violent coup in Kiev.

The US refuses to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and has echoed Kiev’s accusations of “Russian aggression” to send weapons, instructors and equipment to Ukraine ever since.

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