Ukraine is asking the Biden administration for anti-ship missiles to secure ports that have been blocked by Russia’s navy, as well as more capable drones and multiple rocket launcher systems that can strike Russian forces at a longer distance, according to Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy conveyed the request to Crow and other lawmakers who visited Kyiv over the weekend, who then relayed the wish list to President Joe Biden directly, Crow told NBC News.
Ukraine said it needed U.S.-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles or similar weapons to free up the use of the Black Sea port of Odesa and other ports for the export of millions of tons of grain and food. The ports are under a de facto naval blockade by Russian forces off the coast, Crow said.
“They need ground-based anti-ship missiles, the Harpoon or something like it, because one of the biggest challenges they face right now is getting their food exported,” Crow said. “They’re sitting on 12 million tons of foodstuff, wheat grains, sunflower oil, and this food needs to get out both for the Ukrainian economy but also to prevent famine and starvation in Africa and the Middle East, in particular. If it doesn’t get out in the next couple months, it will go bad. We’ll see hunger spike throughout the world.”
Ukraine has mined the waters off its ports to prevent a Russian amphibious invasion, but anti-ship missiles could allow government forces to open a corridor to move ships out of the ports, he said.
Crow later made similar comments to a group of reporters.
Ukraine is also appealing to the U.S. for longer-range drones that can be flown repeatedly in addition to the smaller, one-off “kamikaze” drones that Washington has provided so far, Crow said.
“They need long-range drones that could have much longer ranges and that are re-armable, so not just the kamikaze drones, but things like we have in our U.S. inventory that can go out, strike very long distances and come back to be re-armed with precision munitions,” he said.
In addition, Crow said, Zelenskyy told the congressional delegation his government is asking for multiple-launch rocket systems, particularly the U.S.-made system known as HIMARS. With ranges of more than 100 kilometers, the rocket systems would be “decisive,” as they would enable the Ukrainian military to strike at Russian forces at a longer distance than artillery, a capability urgently needed for fighting in the flat, open terrain in the country’s east and south.
“They need things that can reach out 100-plus kilometers. Artillery can’t go that far. Artillery can go half that distance at best or a third of that. The rocket launches can reach much further and be devastating to enemy units,” Crow said.
Crow said U.S. artillery officers told him Ukrainian forces could be trained quickly in the rocket systems outside the country, with about two weeks of instruction.
The Biden administration has previously said the Harpoon anti-ship missiles are not a good fit for the Ukrainian navy and that Ukrainian ships would not be able to accommodate the Harpoons. But Crow said they could be based on land, and he added that Ukraine has proved capable of handling advanced weapons and fighting with ingenuity.
“I mean these are people fighting for their survival, and every day counts. So why would they ask for something that they’re not going to be able to use?” Crow said.
”I think it’s also fair to say the world has consistently underestimated the Ukrainians and their ability to be innovative, creative, and to make things happen. So I take them at their word when they say they need something that they need it, and we should get it there,” he said.
The U.K. has already announced it will provide Ukraine with anti-ship missiles.
Crow, who serves on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said the delegation spent four hours with Zelenskyy and that he had a detailed conversation with Zelenskyy about the military situation and the weapons Kyiv needs.
“I personally talked to him for a very long time about what equipment they need, where the equipment is going, the state of their military units, where the offenses are going to be, how they’re going to handle it.” Crow said.