Biden officials weigh giving Ukraine weapons without replacing U.S. stocks right away or waiting for Congress funds

Biden administration officials met Tuesday at the Pentagon to discuss ways to fill some of Ukraine’s urgent needs for artillery and ammunition quickly, including possibly drawing down U.S. stockpiles without replenishing them immediately or without waiting for more money from Congress, say two senior administration officials and a congressional official.

In the meeting, officials discussed various ways the Pentagon could resupply critical artillery and ammunition that Ukraine is expected to run out of soon, even while the White House’s request for new funding from Congress remains stalled, the officials said. No decisions have been made, according to the officials. 

The discussions reflect growing alarm in the administration that Ukraine is poised to run out of key weaponry in the next few weeks, including 155 mm artillery rounds and air defense munitions.

Not all administration officials support the idea of sending a tranche of aid to Ukraine as a stopgap move, however. Some administration and congressional officials are concerned that such a move could imperil White House negotiations with Congress, particularly House Republican leaders, to get roughly $60 billion in new Ukraine aid through the chamber. Other officials are wary of the idea because it could put the U.S. military’s stockpiles below levels that are considered necessary for sufficient readiness.

But after months of fiercely protecting stockpiles in the name of military readiness, Pentagon officials are now warming to the idea of accepting some risk to U.S. readiness in order to keep Ukraine in the fight.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, “We are focused on urging the House of Representatives to pass the national security supplemental package as soon as possible. Ukraine needs the full resources in that package and Speaker Johnson should put it to a vote, where it would overwhelmingly pass, since there is no other way to fully meet Ukraine’s needs.”

In a statement, a Pentagon spokesperson said, “The DoD continues to urge Congress to pass a supplemental to support Ukraine in its time of need and to replenish our stocks.”

The House is not expected to move on Ukraine aid until at least late March. But even if that happens, the process is not expected to be swift, given GOP opposition in the House to a Senate bill that passed earlier this month.

The Pentagon still has about $4 billion in congressionally approved Presidential Drawdown Authority funding, meaning it can provide $4 billion worth of weapons and equipment from U.S. stockpiles to Ukraine. But the Pentagon does not have enough approved funding available to replace the weapons and equipment after the U.S. sends it. Without funding, Biden administration officials must decide whether the risk of depleting of U.S. stockpiles without guarantees of when they’ll be replenished is a risk worth taking. 

The idea of providing artillery and ammunition from U.S. stockpiles, even without a supplemental, has been on the table for a few weeks, according to a congressional official, but it is a last resort move when Congress has no more options. The official said that there is momentum now and that if the president approves this now, it could undermine progress that is being made in Congress and damage their argument that the supplemental is critical now.

Two congressional officials say the goal is to pass Ukraine funding in the third week of March in order to sustain that country in its war against Russia and they anticipate a vote by the end of March. If the House can’t get the funding passed by then, the administration can take the ammunition from U.S. stockpiles, “but to do it now would absolutely kill us,” one congressional official said.