Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Biden rolls out more weapons for Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.
Associated Press/Rodrigo Abd

President Biden on Thursday announced another $800 million weapons package for Ukraine as Kyiv gears up to battle Russian forces in the eastern part of the country. 

We’ll break down the new package. Plus, fallout over the U.S. Capitol evacuation sparked by a military plane flying to nearby Nats Park for a pre-game event.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. Subscribe here.

Biden unveils $800 million weapons package

President Biden on Thursday announced the U.S. will send another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine to assist its ability to fight invading Russian forces. 

The package comes a week after the administration sent an $800 million weapons package to Ukraine, and as Ukraine will need to fend off Russian forces fighting to control the Donbas region. 

With Thursday’s announcement, the U.S. has committed $4 billion in security assistance since the start of the Biden administration, including $3.4 billion since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.  

The weapons: Thursday’s package will include 72 155mm howitzers, 144,000 artillery rounds and 72 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers, according to a statement from the Pentagon.  

Ukraine will also be receiving 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems developed by the Air Force for specifically Ukraine.  

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that these systems, made by AEVEX Aerospace, have similar capabilities to the Switchblade—a rapidly-deployable system that can be used against personnel and light vehicles.  

The limitations on drawdown authority: To rush weapons to Ukraine, Biden has relied on presidential drawdown authority to direct the Pentagon to send weapons from its own stockpiles.  

Biden acknowledged on Tuesday that he was nearing the limits of the drawdown authority provided to him under the $1.5 trillion omnibus bill he signed last month, which included $13.6 billion in supplemental aid to help Ukraine. 

Therefore, he will ask Congress next week to approve supplemental funding to “keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption.”  

When asked how much supplemental funding he would request, Biden said “that’s being decided now,” adding, “I’m asking the Defense Department to put together what they think we need.”  

A new phase of the fight: U.S. officials have in recent weeks warned Russia may be refocusing its efforts in Ukraine on hitting the Donbas region in a bid to overwhelm Ukrainian forces there after initial assaults on Kyiv and other major cities stalled.  

Officials have warned the next phase of the fight could drag on for months or longer. 

Other things to watch for: In addition to the military aid, the Biden administration will ask for $500 million to help Ukraine keep government services. The president also announced a ban on Russian-affiliate ships docking in U.S. ports.  

Further, Biden also announced that the U.S. will pledge to take in 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the crisis.  

As part of this, the Uniting for Ukraine program will allow Ukrainians to apply to stay in the U.S. for up to two years through a process known as humanitarian parole, which allows government officials to temporarily waive immigration requirements.  


Army, FAA face fallout after plane draws Capitol evac

The Army and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defended themselves on Thursday amid the fallout of an apparent miscommunication after a military plane flying near the U.S. Capitol prompted an evacuation.  

U.S. Capitol Police ordered the evacuation of the U.S. Capitol and surrounding builds on Wednesday due to a “probable threat” from an aircraft. The advisory was rescinded after police said there was no threat.   

The aircraft in question was being flown by the U.S. Army Golden Knights for a flight and parachute demonstration that was planned for the Washington Nationals’ military appreciation night.  

Capitol Police defend evacuation: Capitol Police said Thursday that they were not aware of the planned activities, which would take place about a mile from the Capitol. 

The agency said that it has to make “split-second decisions that could make the difference between life and death,” noting that the plane was spotted within seconds of giving the evacuation order.  

Capitol Police said that “seconds matter” when it comes to life-or-death situations and said “it is extremely unusual not to be made aware of a flight in advance.” 

“As soon as it was determined that we were not given advanced notice of an approved flight, our officers followed USCP policies and procedures and immediately led everyone safely out of the Congressional buildings,” it said. 

Pelosi rips ‘inexcusable’ miscommunication: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) late Wednesday issued a statement slamming the FAA for failing to notify Capitol Police of the demonstration.  

“The Federal Aviation Administration’s apparent failure to notify Capitol Police of the pre-planned flyover Nationals Stadium is outrageous and inexcusable,” Pelosi said. “The unnecessary panic caused by this apparent negligence was particularly harmful for Members, staff and institutional workers still grappling with the trauma of the attack on their workplace on January 6th.” 

She said Congress is going to review “the results of a thorough after-action review that determines what precisely went wrong today” and who at the FAA will be held accountable for the “outrageous and frightening mistake.” 

Army, FAA respond: In response to Pelosi’s statement, the FAA told The Hill on Thursday that it “takes its role in protecting the national airspace seriously,” adding that the agency “will conduct a thorough and expeditious review of the events yesterday and share updates.” 

In a separate statement on Thursday, U.S. Army Recruiting Command confirmed that the plane was for the demonstration. It added that an initial review determined that the U.S. Golden Knights had filed all appropriate FAA documentation and received approval prior to the demonstration.  

The Army, USCP and FAA were reviewing the “coordination that occurred prior to the flight and jump,” the statement said.  


LEAN BACK, LOOK FORWARD

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TRUMP JR. TO MEET WITH JAN. 6 PANEL

Donald Trump Jr. is expected to meet in the coming days with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.  

Sources familiar with the matter told ABC News that former President Trump’s eldest son will appear voluntarily after he was invited to speak to investigators. 

Trump Jr.’s expected interview comes after the panel’s meetings with both Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who were senior White House advisers in the Trump administration at the time of the attack.  

The committee had reached out to Ivanka Trump in a January letter, offering her an invitation to speak to the panel while not officially subpoenaing her. That letter was the panel’s first official outreach to a member of the Trump family. 

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Atlantic Council will host a discussion entitled “PIPEDREAM at the disco: Implications for international security and operational technology” at 9:30 a.m.
  • The Middle East Policy Council will host the “Capitol Hill Conference—The Impact of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on the Middle East” at 10 a.m. 
  • The George Washington University will host a discussion on “South Korea’s Presidential Election & Expectation of the U.S.-ROK Alliance” at 12:30 p.m. 
  • The George Washington University will host a discussion on “Implications of the Conflict in Ukraine on the Middle East Security” at 2 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • McCarthy ramps up Ukraine blame game with Biden  
  • Russia’s latest round of sanctions targets Harris, Klain, Zuckerberg 
  • Proud Boys member under investigation made threatening call to FBI agent

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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