Three Ukrainian officials and one U.S. defense official reportedly told the Washington Post that Ukraine is almost entirely reliant on U.S. targeting support to carry out strikes with precision weapons like the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System.
One senior Ukrainian official reportedly told the Washington Post that their forces will almost never use precision weapons like the HIMARS without first confirming target coordinates with the U.S.
The U.S. official who reportedly spoke to the Post said the Ukrainian forces are primarily concerned about conserving ammunition and making sure each use of a valuable precision weapon corresponds with a successful strike. The U.S. official told the Post that Ukraine does not seek approval before conducting any strikes and the U.S. provides coordinates and precise targeting information in a strictly advisory capacity.
The four officials reportedly spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, out of concern about revealing sensitive information.
Publications have repeatedly reported, based on comments from anonymous western intelligence officials, that the U.S. has been supplying Ukrainian forces with critical targeting information.
In May, reports circulated that U.S. intelligence officials had provided Ukrainian forces with key intelligence that they used to target and mortally damage the Russian guided missile cruiser Moskva, which had been the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Other reports have claimed U.S. intelligence-sharing had helped Ukrainian forces specifically target Russian generals and other high-ranking officers. U.S. officials have openly denied claims its providing such specific targeting data.
“We do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military,” then-Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said on May 5, 2022.
“Ukraine combines information that we and other partners provide with the intelligence that they themselves are gathering on the battlefield, and then they make their own decisions and they take their own actions,” Kirby added at the time.
Claims of U.S. targeting support for Ukraine are a sensitive issue, because the Russian government has repeatedly accused the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies of using the fighting in Ukraine as a proxy conflict to weaken Russia. Russian officials have already decried western arms shipments flowing into Ukraine.
Responding to the latest targeting support allegations raised by the Post, an unnamed U.S. defense official told the publication that it’s “not true,” that “Ukrainians run targets by us for approval.”
The current Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, also urged a distinction in how the U.S. is providing intelligence support to Ukraine.
“We have long acknowledged that we share intelligence with Ukraine to assist them in defending their country against Russian aggression, and we have optimized over time how we share information to be able to support their requests and their targeting processes at improved speed and scale,” Ryder told the Washington Post. “The Ukrainians are responsible for finding targets, prioritizing them and then ultimately deciding which ones to engage. The U.S. does not approve targets, nor are we involved in the selection or engagement of targets.”
One of the Ukrainian officials told the Post that what typically happens is that Ukrainian military personnel will identify a possible precision strike target and provide some information about the general location of the target to U.S. partners. From there, the Ukrainians will wait for their U.S. partners to provide more accurate targeting information. The Ukrainian official said that if the U.S. partners don’t provide the information, the Ukrainian forces don’t proceed with the strike. That same official reiterated that Ukrainian forces could carry out the strikes on their own, but don’t want to risk wasting ammo.
Another of the unnamed Ukrainian officials told the Post that their targeting information requests are typically routed through a specific U.S. installation on NATO soil, and those requests are typically processed “very fast.” According to the Post, that Ukrainian official provided the name of the U.S. base, but the Post declined to identify it at the request of the unnamed U.S. official, who raised security concerns about the information.