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US to send four more rocket launchers to Ukraine

US military forces fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rocket during the annual Philippines-US live fire amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX) at Crow Valley in Capas, Tarlac province, north of Manila, Philippines October 10, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

The United States says it will provide additional rocket launchers to Ukraine as the war with Russia has now dragged on for five months.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday that the US will send Ukraine four more high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) in the latest military package to Kiev.

The new military assistance will include “more rounds of [multiple launch rocket system] and artillery ammunition," Austin said at the fourth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

The latest package will mark the 16th drawdown of equipment from the Defense Department’s inventory since last August, he noted.

"(We) will keep finding innovative ways to sustain our long-term support for" Ukraine, Austin said, adding, "We will tailor our assistance to ensure that Ukraine has the technology, the ammunition and the sheer firepower to defend itself." 

Washington most recently shipped rocket launchers to Ukraine as part of a $450 million military assistance package announced last month.

The US has spent $8 billion on military aid to Kiev since the start of the Russia's military campaign on Feb. 24.

Ever since, the United States and its western allies unleashed a flood of advanced weapons into Ukraine and imposed waves of unprecedented sanctions on Moscow.

Russia has repeatedly warned against the weapon supplies to Ukraine, saying it would only prolong the war.

Earlier this week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered generals to prioritize destroying Ukraine's long-range missile and artillery weapons, according to the ministry.

The ministry said the weapons were being used to shell residential areas of the eastern region of Donbas and to deliberately set fire to wheat fields and grain storage silos.

Meanwhile, US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown said on Wednesday that Kiev could be getting fourth-generation fighter jets as well.

“There’s US, there’s Gripen out of Sweden, there’s the Eurofighter or the Rafales," he said.

"So there’s a number of different platforms that could go to Ukraine. ... It’ll be something non-Russian, I could probably tell you that. What I can’t do is tell you what it’s going to be,” Brown said.

He also said that Washington and its allies are starting to look at options to train Ukrainian pilots. 

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