WASHINGTON — At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration was cautious about providing weapons to Kyiv, lest it appear that the United States was driving the Ukrainian effort. U.S. officials would not even say the word “Stingers” publicly.
Even in late March, the administration was reluctant to confirm that the shoulder-fired Stinger missiles it was supplying were helping Ukrainian troops shoot down Russian helicopters, for fear of crossing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia’s red lines.
Things have changed. With Wednesday’s announcement that the United States would send a Patriot battery to Ukraine, the range of weapons that President Biden has signed off on now includes one of America’s most advanced air defense systems, capable of shooting down Russian ballistic missiles.
Closing in on $22 billion this year, the U.S. military packages to Ukraine have so far not included fighter jets. But the Biden administration has decided to send advanced Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits, which can be fitted onto Ukraine’s own fighter jets to allow for more precision-guided strikes.
Then there are the HIMARS.
In September, as Ukrainian troops were beating back Russia and reclaiming territory in the east, the Pentagon acknowledged that they were using U.S.-made M142 HIMARS advanced rocket launchers to do so.
The HIMARS, short for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, is essentially a truck that can fire guided rockets. In early June, the United States added HIMARS to the exponentially growing list of weapons it was sending Ukraine, which by then also included howitzers and 155 millimeter shells.
The weapons have been so effective that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine gave President Biden, during a fireside chat at the White House on Wednesday, a medal that he said was from the Ukrainian captain of a unit operating a HIMARS battery in the frontline city of Bakhmut.
“He asked me to pass his award to President Biden,” Mr. Zelensky said. “You will understand. He is captain of HIMARS battery.” At that, Mr. Biden punched his fist into the air.
Ukrainian troops have figured out how to make the most of the American-supplied weapons, using them in unexpected ways, officials say. A senior Pentagon official said that Ukrainian forces had put American-supplied HARM anti-radiation missiles onto Soviet-era MIG-29 fighter jets — something that no air force had ever done.
The HARM missiles, which Pentagon officials acknowledged sending to Ukraine only after photos of them in the field showed up online, are designed to seek and destroy Russian air defense radar. They are not usually compatible with the MIG-29 or Ukraine’s other fighter jets.
At the beginning of the war, the United States and NATO pushed thousands of antitank weapons, including Javelin missiles, over the borders of Poland and Romania into Ukraine. They were unloaded them from giant military cargo planes to make the trip by land to Kyiv and other major cities. Since then, that flow has increased and now includes Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, armored utility trucks, precision aerial munitions and grenade launchers and small arms.
U.S. military aid to Ukraine is not limited to weapons. The United States has also trained Ukrainian troops, mostly in Germany, on how to use some of the systems being provided. And since the start of the war, the American intelligence community has provided Ukraine with real-time battlefield intelligence.