By Mike Stone
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States will provide more than $3.75 billion in military assistance to Ukraine and countries affected by the Russian invasion of its neighbor, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Friday.
Blinken said in a statement that Washington will provide Ukraine with Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, self-propelled Howitzers, armored personnel carriers, surface to air missiles, ammunition, and other items to support Ukraine.
The package makes the largest use - $2.8 billion - of the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) since Russia's invasion last February, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
That authority allows the United States to transfer defense items like Humvees, trucks and munitions from stocks quickly without congressional approval in response to an emergency.
The aid includes mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS), surface-to-air missiles, anti-vehicle land mines and ammunition, Jean-Pierre said.
RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missiles, used for air defense, will also be sent to Ukraine. The missiles will be launched from Buk launchers, a Soviet-era weapons system that Ukraine is using.
Laura Cooper, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, told reporters at the Pentagon: "It is a creative solution that did require some engineering finesse" to have the Soviet launcher work with a missile produced by U.S. companies Raytheon Technologies Corp and General Dynamics Corp.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has stressed the need for better air defenses to curb Russian missile strikes that have damaged the country's energy infrastructure during winter.
The United States and Germany have also pledged to send Patriot missile systems to repel Russian missile and drone attacks.
"This particular PDA package, and the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, are very significant in terms of being able to do what we call 'combined arms maneuver' warfare," said John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
Ukrainian forces will be trained on the tactic starting in the coming weeks.
The armored Bradley has a powerful gun and has been used regularly by the U.S. Army to carry troops around battlefields since the mid-1980s. The Army has thousands of Bradleys. The United States plans to send about 50.
"The fighting in the east, particularly in the Donbas region has been particularly vicious in recent weeks and we see every indication that the Russians continue to want to propagate their efforts in the Donbas, particularly around Bakhmut," said Kirby.
In addition to the weapons, the aid included $225 million in Foreign Military Financing to help Ukraine build and modernize its military, Jean-Pierre said.
She said the package also included an additional $682 million for "regional partners and allies on NATO's eastern flank" to encourage those that have sent weapons to Ukraine to supply more. The U.S. funds can be used to help them buy replacement equipment.
(Reporting by Mike Stone; Additional reporting by Paul Grant and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Don Durfee and Grant McCool)