By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 19, 2023) -- During today's meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base Germany, continued air defense support to Ukraine was a top priority, said the secretary of defense.
"At today's meeting, I urged allies and partners to dig deep and donate whatever air defense munitions they can, as Ukraine heads into another winter of war," said Lloyd J. Austin III at the meeting's conclusion.
The fifteenth meeting of the group was also the first time that new Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov was in attendance, Austin said. "I want to thank him for being here."
Air defense, Austin said, remains critical to the success Ukraine has already experienced on the battlefield.
"Air defense will continue to be Ukraine's greatest need to protect the skies, its civilians, and its cities -- as well as innocent people far away from the battlefield," he said.
So far, Austin said, the U.S. and partner nations have provided to Ukraine air defense systems, such as the Patriot; Hawk; IRIS-T; National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System, or NASAMS; and Gepards.
"These air defense capabilities are protecting Ukraine's forces, its civilians, and its critical infrastructure," he said.
Austin also highlighted other materiel support the U.S. and partners in the UDCG have provided to help Ukraine in its fight to reclaim its sovereignty over territory occupied by Russian forces since their illegal invasion in February 2022.
U.S.-made M-1 tanks, he said, will soon arrive in Ukraine, and will likely operate alongside Germany-provided Leopard tanks already in country. Also, Austin said, collective training for Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 fighter jet is beginning. The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway have announced their intent to donate F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine.
Poland, Austin said, has provided Ukraine with additional mine-clearing equipment and more than 100 armored personnel carriers, in addition to tens of thousands of munitions; Sweden last month announced a military aid package consisting of ammunition and spare parts worth more than $300 million. And yesterday, Austin said, Germany announced a $420 million package with ammunition and mine-clearing equipment and other critical capabilities.
Denmark also recently announced an $833 million package including ammunition and armored capabilities, Austin said.
"This coalition of like-minded countries continues to move heaven and earth to get Ukraine what it needs right now and over the long haul," Austin said. "We've also ramped up our industrial base to support the demand, and we won't let up."
Austin said during the meeting that he challenged fellow UDCG ministers to look deeper into their stockpiles of 155 mm ammunition and key air defense systems and interceptors to ensure everything possible is being done to assist Ukraine.
"Our long-term support for Ukraine will continue to evolve through dedicated capability coalitions like the ones that we started for armor and F-16 training and information technology," he said. "These important coalitions will help Ukraine continue to build up a combat-credible force for the future."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley also attended the meeting. It will be Milley's last contact group meeting before his retirement.
"My tenure may be ending, but the mission for this group continues until the end-state of a free and sovereign Ukraine is attained," Milley said. "This group's success hinges not on any single individual, but on the unified commitment and the values of all of our collective nations. The end goal remains crystal clear: Support Ukraine until Putin's unwarranted, illegal and ruinous war of choice comes to an end. Our commitment to Ukraine as a free, independent and sovereign nation with its territory intact remains as ironclad as ever."