US Acknowledges Providing ISR Support to Ukraine

The Defense Department shares the worst-kept secret about the war effort.

DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

My reaction to CNN‘s report “US giving intel to Ukraine for operations in Donbas, Defense Secretary says” was, well, yeah.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said publicly for the first time Thursday that the US is providing intelligence to Ukrainian forces to conduct operations in the Donbas region.Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin was asked whether the US was providing intelligence to help Ukraine carry out attacks against Russian forces in the separatist-controlled Donbas region or Crimea.”We are providing them intelligence to conduct operations in the Donbas, that’s correct,” Austin said in response to the question from Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

Austin did not mention Crimea in his response. He also stated the US is not discouraging Ukraine from launching attacks against Russian forces in these areas.

Austin’s comments were the first time a US official has publicly acknowledged the US role in Ukraine’s operations in the contested region as the fighting shifts away from the capital of Kyiv and toward southeast Ukraine.

A senior defense official told CNN that some of the intelligence provided to Ukraine is “near real time.””We continue to provide useful information and intelligence to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in their fight,” the defense official said after Austin’s remarks. “As that fight migrates more to the Donbas region, we will adjust our information content and flow as required.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, who testified earlier this week that the risk of “significant international conflict” was increasing, said Thursday that Russia’s war with Ukraine was likely to become a “long slog” as Ukraine defends its territory.”They’ve managed to defeat the Russian onslaught on to Kyiv, but there is a significant battle yet ahead down in the southeast, down around the Donbas Donetsk region where the Russians intend to get mass forces and continue their assault,” Milley said.

In the meantime, both Austin and Milley told the senators the Pentagon was taking whatever steps it could to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia. US security assistance is flowing into Ukraine “faster than most people would have ever believed conceivable,” Austin told the committee on Thursday — at times arriving in Ukraine within days of receiving authorization, he said. “From the time authorization is provided, four or five days later we see real capability begin to show up,” Austin said during the hearing on the Defense Department budget request.

I have taken the idea that we’ve been providing real-time ISR support to Ukraine as a working assumption since near the beginning of the crisis. It’s arguably the capability that sets us apart as the most powerful country on the planet and, if we’re willing to publicly acknowledge that we’re providing weapons to shoot down Russian aircraft and blow up Russian tanks, it just seemed obvious that we’d be willing to provide the resource that makes them much more effective at targeting.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mister Bluster says:

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, who testified earlier this week that the risk of “significant international conflict” was increasing,..

    This does not bode well for anyone.

  2. Scott says:

    Just so you all know what else we are providing. From the Fact Sheet released yesterday:

    Fact Sheet: U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine

    The security assistance the Biden Administration is providing to Ukraine is enabling critical success on the battlefield against the Russian invading force.

    The Administration is working around the clock to fulfill Ukraine’s priority security assistance requests, delivering weapons from U.S. stocks when they are available, and facilitating the delivery of weapons by allies and partners when their systems better suit Ukraine’s needs.

    All of the anti-armor and anti-air systems from the two packages of security assistance the President approved in March have been delivered.

    On April 5, the Administration announced an additional $100 million in security assistance to Ukraine through Presidential Drawdown Authority. The Administration also announced $300 million in security assistance on April 1 under authorities provided by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

    These announcements bring the U.S. commitment to more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since Russia’s February 24 invasion, and $2.4 billion since the beginning of the Administration.

    United States security assistance committed to Ukraine includes:

    Over 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems;
    Over 5,000 Javelin anti-armor systems;
    Over 7,000 other anti-armor systems;
    Hundreds of Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
    Over 7,000 small arms;
    Over 50,000,000 rounds of ammunition;
    45,000 sets of body armor and helmets;
    Laser-guided rocket systems;
    Puma Unmanned Aerial Systems;
    Four counter-artillery and counter-unmanned aerial system tracking radars;
    Four counter-mortar radar systems;
    Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles;
    Night vision devices, thermal imagery systems, and optics;
    Tactical secure communications systems;
    Commercial satellite imagery services;
    Explosive ordnance disposal protective gear;
    Medical supplies to include first aid kits.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    From the beginning, I’ve believed that the US/NATO has been integral to Ukraine’s command and control operations. The UA has simply been too effective and accurate in its operational targeting.

  4. Scott says:

    This caused me a little cognitive dissonance. All we see on the television news is destruction and ruins. Yet here are European leaders taking the train to Kiev, reminding us that there are vast swaths of Ukraine that are operating somewhat normally with fully functioning infrastructure.

    EU leaders arrive in Ukraine to reassure Zelenskiy on membership

    The European Commission chief and the EU’s top diplomat arrived in Kyiv on Friday to offer Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy support and reassurance over his bid for EU membership in a capital gradually reviving after Russia pulled back forces.

    Travelling by train from Brussels to Kyiv, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters the most important message she was bringing to Zelenskiy was that there “will be the EU path” for Ukraine.