The U.S. has for the first time struck a deal with South Korea to purchase thousands of rounds of 155mm ammunition, offsetting diminished domestic stocks after the U.S. has supplied Ukraine with nearly one billion rounds of the powerful munitions, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Routing the deal through the U.S. will allow South Korea to maintain the appearance of avoiding complicity in Ukraine’s attacks on Russian forces while providing the nearly 100,000 rounds to Ukraine, according to the WSJ, which cited U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
A senior official confirmed that the shells are destined for Ukraine if the deal is finalized, as U.S. stockpiles have cratered over recent months, Reuters reported.
The level of 155mm combat rounds, fired by the howitzer weapons system, in U.S. stockpiles had become “uncomfortably low,” a Pentagon official told the WSJ in August. The ammunition deficit has cratered even further as of November, the outlet reported.
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The U.S. announced an additional shipment of 21,000 155mm rounds on Nov. 10, bringing the total to 924,000, according to a DOD fact sheet. Ukraine burns through between 4,000 and 7,000 artillery rounds per day, including the 155mm rounds, NBC News reported Thursday.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with South Korean defense minister Lee Jong-sup at the Pentagon on Nov. 3, where they agreed to pursue a deal, the WSJ reported. An unnamed South Korean company has since engaged in discussions with the U.S. to fill the ammunition order, the country’s defense ministry and a Pentagon spokesperson told the WSJ.
The South Korean defense ministry added that South Korea intended to adhere to its policy against supplying lethal aid to Ukraine. “The negotiations are happening under the premise that the U.S. will be the final user,” the South Korean defense ministry told the WSJ in a statement.
Earlier in November, the U.S. drained artillery from its stockpiles in South Korea to supplement U.S. stocks, the WSJ reported.
“United States Forces Korea has been requested to support this effort by providing some of its equipment,” Col. Isaac Taylor, a spokesman for the U.S. command in South Korea, said in a statement to the WSJ.
“This has zero impact on our operations and our ability to execute on our ironclad commitment to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea,” he added, using South Korea’s formal name.
The deal comes as North Korea has accelerated the rate of missile tests and fired hundreds of artillery shells into the border zone intended to provide a demilitarized buffer between the opposing countries.
“Any potential sales or transfers of equipment are always closely evaluated against current and future U.S. and ROK military readiness requirements on the peninsula, and will not detract from our defensive posture or readiness to respond against regional threats,” Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Marty Meiners told the WSJ, using an abbreviation for South Korea’s formal name.
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