State Department Issues New Plan to Track Weapons to Ukraine

The State Department announced a new plan Oct. 27 to track weapons the United States has provided to Ukraine. The plan addresses concerns that the nearly $18 billion in military aid America has provided since Russia’s renewed invasion could fall into the wrong hands. If Russia acquires American weapons, it could “develop countermeasures, propaganda, or … conduct false-flag operations,” according to the State Department.

The U.S. government has an existing process to track American weapons that are provided through security assistance or foreign military sales. But the high-intensity war in Ukraine and the presence of U.S. aid required a more comprehensive and public approach, according to the State Department.

“This plan does not represent the start of an effort. We have taken concrete steps to address this issue since Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine began, and even before then,” a State Department spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine on Oct. 28. “The United States has long maintained a variety of tools to mitigate diversion risks of U.S.-origin defense equipment.”

According to the U.S., Ukraine has responsibly handled its donated equipment and the plan was not a result of any known cases of American weapons ending up in the wrong hands.

“The United States has not seen credible evidence of the diversion of U.S.-provided weapons,” the spokesperson added.

Ukraine often reiterates that it needs more arms to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. America announces the types of weapons it sends to Ukraine and their monetary value. So far, most of the materiel has come directly from U.S. stocks. Other governments have also provided significant military aid.

Ukraine’s security service, the SSU, has conducted raids to seize weapons, explosives, body armor, and other military equipment that it says was in the possession of arms dealers, imported illegally, or otherwise misused.

The State Department said weapons provided for Ukraine’s defense from Russian aggression meant that Moscow was ultimately to blame should any weapons fall into the wrong hands.

“By starting this war, Russia bears responsibility for any resulting diversion,” State Department chief spokesperson Ned Price said Oct. 27.

Before Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government was implicated in providing weapons to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, including a surface-to-air missile system that shot down a civilian airliner.

The State Department’s plan, which will be coordinated with the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and other government agencies, focuses on advanced U.S. weapons systems. Man-portable air defenses (MANPADS) and anti-tank-guided missiles (ATGM) are given particular importance. Small arms, such as rifles and ammunition, are harder to track. The U.S. has provided thousands of Stinger surface-to-air systems and Javelin anti-tank weapons since Moscow began its full-scale invasion in February. American aid has also come with stipulations on how it can be used. When the U.S. started providing High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), the U.S. government insisted they could not be used to strike targets across the border in Russia, even if those targets threatened Ukraine. Ukraine publicly agreed to those conditions. Russia has launched rocket and missile attacks from inside its territory to avoid Ukrainian defenses.

“The Ukrainian government has committed to appropriately safeguard and account for transferred U.S.-origin defense equipment, although we recognize that the chaotic nature of combat can make this difficult,” according to the plan, formally known as the “U.S. Plan to Counter Illicit Diversion of Certain Advanced Conventional Weapons in Eastern Europe.”

The State Department says Ukraine’s need for weapons to fight Russia has so far stopped any widespread illicit trade.

“Thus far, intense internal demand for use on the battlefield by Ukrainian military and security forces within Ukraine is assessed to be impeding black-market proliferation of small arms and guided infantry weapons such as MANPADS and ATGMs from Ukraine,” the plan states.

In response to Russian drone and missile attacks, some of which have targeted civilians, the U.S. has pledged to help Ukraine build an integrated air defense network. As the war continues, the U.S. has provided increasingly sophisticated systems. Hours after the State Department announced its arms plan, the Defense Department announced an additional aid package that included U.S. military communications antennas for the first time.

The plan says the U.S. government will rely on non-traditional methods, such as tracking social media. The Ukraine war has increased the visibility of open-source intelligence, with many professional military analysts and hobbyists taking to platforms such as Twitter to post photos and videos of Russian and Ukrainian military actions and specific weapons systems both sides are using. Because Ukraine is an active war zone, U.S. officials cannot conduct the same inspections or tracking, or what the American government calls end-use monitoring (EUM), that it would in peacetime.

An active war zone such as Ukraine “requires different approaches, as the conflict makes it impractical to request the return of equipment from the front lines to depots or other locations where U.S. government personnel can inspect them in a safer environment,” the plan states.

U.S. weapons transfers to Ukraine have gone through neighboring countries that have friendly relations with America, making tracking easier. After the fall of the Soviet Union and conflicts in the Balkans in the late 20th century, weapons proliferation in Europe became an increased concern. America’s work to limit the proliferation of weapons in the region is an asset in preventing the misuse of weapons, the State Department said. In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. weapons fell into the hands of ISIS and the Taliban after America’s withdrawal from the countries.

“We are benefitting from a favorable geography that is building on and expanding partnerships with Ukraine and many of its neighbors dating back to the 1990s working to address threats of illicit arms diversion,” the spokesperson said.

The U.S. also wants to make the areas safe for civilians when Ukraine recaptures territory by assisting with explosive ordinance disposal, weapons removal, and mine clearing.

Recently, some members of Congress have pushed back against the Biden administration’s strategy of providing tens of billions of dollars in weapons. But there is still strong support for weapons transfer to Ukraine from elected officials and the general public.

Ukraine has maintained that its most important safeguard is more existential than any international agreement.

“We need to survive,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Financial Times in July. “We have no reason to smuggle arms out of Ukraine.”