US to send tanks: What’s next on Ukraine’s wish list?

On Balance with Leland Vittert

(NewsNation) — The U.S. will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday. The move reverses previous administration claims that the tanks are unsuitable for use in war with Russia and boosts Ukrainian firepower.

According to Biden, 31 Abrams tanks are the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion. He also called the Abrams “the most capable tanks in the world.”

Germany also pledged 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. The German government said earlier the Leopards would not be sent to Ukraine unless the U.S. offered its Abrams tanks.

Promising continued support to Ukraine, what will the Biden administration mark off Ukraine’s weapons wish list next?

NewsNation host Leland Vittert says F-16 fighter jets, cruise missiles, nuclear bombs, aircraft carriers, hovercrafts and bunker busters are all things Ukraine could ask for, with some having already been requested, during the war against Russia.

But, F-16 fighter jets are reportedly the next big ask. Pentagon sources tell NewsNation’s Kellie Meyer this would be much more complicated than sending tanks due to the complexities of using fighter jets.

“We’re in constant discussions with the Ukrainians about their capabilities. And as I’ve said, we evolve those as the conditions change. You can’t blame the Ukrainians for wanting more and more systems. It’s not the first time that they’ve talked about fighter jets. But I don’t have any announcements to make on that front,” said John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council.

Retired Gen. Phil Breedlove served as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO from 2013-16. He says Ukraine has always made their needs known but bringing tanks into the equation now broadens the conversation.

Breedlove pointed out that at every stage in the war so far, the U.S. has faced the issue of whether giving Ukraine certain items would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to widen the war.

“Every step seemed to be that big hurdle, and we weren’t deterred. We were worried about what Mr. Putin would do if we took these actions,” Breedlove said. “This, I think, is really a new step in the policy world in that some people see tanks as offensive weapons, F-16s as offensive weapons. So, the decision by big Western nations like Germany and the United States to take that step across that, that limit … that’s a big step.”

Is the U.S. weapons industry prepared if a conflict arises? From a defense standpoint, Breedlove says the U.S. capitalizes our major industries based on the budget they are given and there is no incentive to create excess capacity. He added, though, that this issue existed before the U.S. provided aid to Ukraine.

“We are a nation that has narrowed itself down to the very minimum of what we need to produce for the next budget outlay, and that does not create excess capacity,” Breedlove explained. “So, we had this problem before Ukraine. And to some degree, it is exacerbating some of the issues, but we had the problem already.”

Breedlove expressed the importance of looking at the bigger picture.

“Let’s think about what’s going on here. Russia has used its military forces to cross an internationally recognized border and invade and occupy a neighbor in that. In those steps, they have brutalized the people of Ukraine. So, I guess the question we should ask is, what is appropriate to allow Ukraine to reestablish sovereignty over its internationally recognized lands? I am a proponent for giving Ukraine those capabilities that would allow them to reestablish Ukrainian control of Ukrainian land.”

It’s unclear how or when the Abrams tanks from the U.S. will be delivered to Ukraine. U.S. officials did not have information to share about the possibility of providing fighter jets.

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