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5 things to know about the latest weapons being sent to Ukraine

by Chris York March 20, 2024 3:40 PM 6 min read
Photo for illustrative purposes. A Ukrainian soldier prepares 155mm artillery shells in his fighting position in Donetsk Oblast on Aug. 6, 2023. (Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Over the past few days, Germany, Belgium, and Finland announced aid packages for Ukraine totaling over 1 billion euros, a critical boost to Kyiv's military from Europe as the U.S. continues to squabble over and delay a $60 billion package of its own.

While the latest assistance pledged is unlikely to make a significant difference to the front lines on its own, there are some badly needed weapons making their way to Kyiv.

Here are five highlights from the latest announcements.

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According to Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder, cited by Belga news agency, the country will send Ukraine three Tripartite-class minehunters, originally developed as a joint naval project between Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.

Using sophisticated sonar systems, these vessels are designed to detect and neutralize sea mines and have been used effectively by NATO forces since 1985.

Photo for illustrative purposes. An aerial view of the Turkish Navyâs minesweeper ship belonging to Turkish Navy Mine Squadron Command on June 26, 2022 in Erdek district of Balikesir, Turkey (Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

They typically have a crew of over 40 and are lightly armed with one 20mm cannon and four smaller machine guns.

Minehunters shouldn't be confused with minesweepers – the latter are specially equipped warships that remove or detonate multiple naval mines across large areas, while the former are smaller and more flexible vessels that target individual mines and have the added ability to operate in more shallow waters.

Ukraine has an urgent need for both, given the widespread mining of the Black Sea since the launch of Russia's full-scale invasion, both by Russia, seeking to protect the approaches to Crimea, and Ukraine, seeking to protect Black Sea shipping routes.

While the exact numbers of mines deployed are not known, earlier this year, Tomas Alexa, a senior analyst of the British maritime security firm Ambrey, told RFE/RL that the number could be up to 500.

Wisent 1

The Wisent 1 is a German-made armored vehicle based on the Leopard 1 main battle tank but adaptable for a number of different roles.

Its modular design means it can be equipped as an armored recovery vehicle, an armored engineer vehicle, or a mine-clearing tank.

According to reports, Germany will be sending four mine-clearing versions to assist Kyiv in sweeping the miles of mines planted by Russian forces when building defensive lines in the east and south of occupied Ukraine.

The Wisent isn't a subtle vehicle – it simply drives through minefields using a massive plow to detonate mines it encounters, relying on NATO STANAG 4569 Level 5 armor to protect the vehicle and crew from multiple and frequent explosions.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius pose for a photo with a mine clearance tank Wisent at FFG Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft on June 20, 2023 in Flensburg, Germany. FFG is a private company that is refurbishing Leopard 1 tanks that are being donated by NATO member countries to Ukraine. (Morris MacMatzen/Getty Images)

Artillery ammunition

It may not be the flashiest item on the list of equipment heading to Kyiv, but it's certainly one of the most important. The 155 mm NATO-standard artillery shell is crucial for Ukraine as it scrambles for rounds for its Western-provided weapons.

Continued delays to U.S. military aid, combined with a critical lack of production capability, mean Russia is outfiring Ukraine at a ratio of around 7:1, according to Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Havryliuk.

European countries have moved to scale up production in their own countries, and a new Czech-led initiative to supply Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of artillery shells is underway.

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Hiding beneath sparse winter cover in a crude, muddy ditch, a great steel monster lies in wait for an opportunity to attack. Adorned on either side with painted plus signs, the gun’s huge barrel looks up at the sky over the Bakhmut front line, across which thousands

In the meantime, Ukraine's allies are scrambling to send what they can, but the numbers aren't particularly encouraging.

Germany's new package includes 10,000 artillery shells from its military stocks, enough to keep Ukraine's howitzers busy for just five days at current rates of fire.

Belgium's contribution is far larger – artillery shells worth around 373.1 million euros ($404 million), sourced from Belgium's own stocks and through international purchases.

While the exact number hasn't been specified, the reported going rate for a standard 155mm shell is around 3,300 euros, which would be enough for over 100,000.

While this may sound a lot, the numbers being fired – if Ukraine were to match Russia's daily rate of fire would still only be enough for around two weeks.

Yet, Ukraine's NATO-issued howitzers are far more accurate than their Soviet-era counterparts, so they don't actually have to fire as many shells to wreak the same amount of devastation.

Vector reconnaissance drones

Germany is also sending ten Vector reconnaissance drones, a hi-tech UAV designed to spot enemy troops, vehicles, and positions.

They come equipped with electro-optical and infrared sensors, so they are effective at night and are especially adept at flying in adverse weather conditions.

Vector UAS. (Quantum Systems)

They even have artificial intelligence capabilities that allow them to recognize certain objects – a Russian tank, for example – and report it immediately to its operator.

"Its robust and rugged design makes it well-suited for operation in harsh environments and extreme weather conditions," Quantum Systems, Its makers, have said earlier this year.

But again, the numbers are not too impressive in context – Ukraine itself has already bought 338 of the drones since August 2022.

Finnish boats

While Germany and Belgium's packages grabbed the headlines, a lesser-reported donation is coming from Finland – combat boats via Romania.

Finland is sending an unspecified number of unspecified boats to Romania, where Ukrainian crews will undergo training on their new vessels.

While it's not been confirmed just exactly what type of boats these will be, reports speculate they could be landing boats of the Jehu and Uisko class.

The Finnish Jehu-class Watercat M18 armoured modular craft built by Marine Alutech. (Marine Alutech)

The Jehu class landing boats are modern, high-speed vessels ideal for carrying out patrol, escort, troop transportation, medical evacuation, and landing operations.

Around 20 meters long, they can carry 26 troops as well as up to five crew members. Lightly armed with a machine gun and grenade launcher, they are ideal for Ukrainian marine operations such as those currently ongoing on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson Oblast.

The Uisko-class landing craft is specifically designed to get troops ashore, and its design doesn't differ greatly from the boats that carried Allied troops onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Its low draft means it can land close to shore before its 24 troops disembark.

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