Pentagon tells Republicans ‘no evidence’ that weapons for Ukraine are being diverted

“What we’re not seeing is any evidence of significant diversion,” Kahl told lawmakers. “Our assessment is if some of these systems have been diverted it’s by Russians who have captured things on the battlefield, which always happens, but that there’s no evidence the Ukrainians are diverting it to the black market.”

He added that Ukraine is “clearly using what we are providing them … to maximum effect” and are requesting more weapons.

At the same time, Kahl pushed back on bipartisan calls to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighters, the latest flashpoint between President Joe Biden and Congress on the conflict.

The Armed Services session is the first such public hearing devoted to U.S. military support to Ukraine. Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) wants to intensify high-level public oversight of aid to show that weapons and equipment are going where they’re intended.

Top Democrats and Republicans are aiming to preserve the bipartisan bloc that’s successfully enacted more than $100 billion in emergency aid since Russia launched its full-tilt invasion in February 2022 in a freshly split Congress.

Pentagon Inspector General Robert Storch was pressed early by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) on whether his office has found instances of sensitive weapons, such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, being lost or diverted.

“We have not substantiated any such instances,” Storch said.

Democrat John Garamendi of California later pressed Storch: “You’ve not found problems of any great significance, is that correct?”

“A lot of these audits and evaluations are pending, but with regard to the areas I’ve mentioned, we have limited findings, the department has been addressing them, and we’re going to continue to look at the issue,” Storch said. “So yes, that’s correct.”

Republicans who now control the House are contending with a vocal minority that opposes further funding for Ukraine. Proponents of more aid are also navigating a potentially austere funding atmosphere as conservatives push for spending cuts in the coming budget cycle.

Rogers and other defense leaders argue the Pentagon must explain publicly how it tracks equipment as part of that effort.

Kahl told lawmakers that Ukrainian officials provide the Pentagon with information on their inventories and transfer logs. The Defense Department has provided Ukrainians with handheld scanners to send data back to the U.S. Defense officials based at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv have also made site visits.

“They have seen no signs of diversion or that the Ukrainians are not following procedure,” Kahl said.

Some lawmakers also dinged the administration for refusing to send Ukraine weapons it has requested, such as longer-range artillery or U.S.-made warplanes. Rogers slammed Biden for being “overly worried” that sending certain weapons would be viewed as escalatory and said holding back has “only prolonged the war.”

Kahl later pushed back, arguing the administration weighs what weapons to send based on Ukraine’s needs and potential impact on U.S. military readiness rather than concerns over escalation.

He faced bipartisan criticism over Biden’s refusal to immediately send F-16s to Ukraine. Biden said last week that Ukraine “doesn’t need F-16s now.”

The Pentagon policy chief said the most optimistic timeline for delivering older F-16s would be “about 18 months” while producing newer F-16s would take three to six years to deliver.

“It is a priority for the Ukrainians, but it’s not one of their top three priorities,” Kahl said in an exchange with Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.). “Their top priorities are air defense systems … artillery and fires, which we’ve talked about, and armor and mechanized systems.”

Backers of sending Ukraine the Lockheed Martin F-16s or similar jets, led by Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), released an updated letter on Tuesday to Biden with additional signatures. Sixteen lawmakers from both parties have now signed the letter, first reported by POLITICO.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, defended the administration. He argued the “best case scenario” would see some F-16s in Ukraine within eight months to a year.

“We looked at that and we determined that is not a wise use of the resources that are necessary to win the fight,” Smith said.

“No blank check means no blank check,” he said. “It means we don’t just send everything that people ask for in the blink of an eye without thinking about it.”