Forty-five T-72B tanks; 157 Stryker armoured personnel carriers; 37 mine-resistant Cougar vehicles; and 227mm HIMAR multiple rocket launchers. The depth and variety of Nato aid for Ukraine can sometimes feel bewildering, especially when you realise that the examples given here only came from US stockpiles. Altogether, Western allies have devoted many billions of dollars to the beleaguered Zelensky government, with countries as varied as Thailand and Albania opening their warehouses, or their wallets, to help. Yet between Lithuanian helicopters and Austrian flak jackets – and the cries from Kyiv for ever more aid – an obvious question looms: how?

How, amid the near-constant shipments since February 2022, have Ukraine’s allies liaised to organise deliveries? How have they worked to understand what their partners need, and how have they then ensured guns or tanks actually reach the killing grounds on the Dnieper? Speak to the experts and it soon becomes obvious that none of these hows are particularly easy to answer. On the contrary, they require dedication and planning, and partnerships, not just with other defence militaries – but also with colleagues in civilian infrastructure and the public sector. “Our coordination with host nations is critical,” says Brigadier General James Kent, the director of logistics at US European Command (EUCOM) in Stuttgart. “Their industry is very much involved.”

Nor are the hows of Ukrainian logistics only relevant for as long as the fighting continues in Eastern Europe. On the contrary, and especially with rising geopolitical tensions elsewhere, insiders are already exploring the broader lessons of supplying Ukraine. That’s true from interoperability issues to integrating private defence companies into the manufacturing process – even as developing a logistics strategy for the future involves balancing broad strategic concerns with domestic economic necessity. Once you factor in the possibility that political upheaval in Washington could yet disrupt the Western alliance’s relatively united front towards arming Ukraine, and the current conflict clearly has a range of valuable lessons.

Gun shows

It’s hard to overstate how important Western backing has been to the Ukrainian war effort. That’s apparent enough from a purely statistical perspective. Quite aside from the mountain of aid offered by the United States – some $44.2bn worth of US kit has reached Ukrainian troops since the start of the war – that’s plain right across the Western alliance. The United Kingdom, for instance, has committed over £7bn ($8.8bn) in military aid since fighting began over two years ago. Far smaller countries have been remarkably generous too: even tiny Estonia has donated some $500m worth of equipment. Listen to the experts, meanwhile, and this support has been absolutely crucial in allowing the defenders to hold out against Putin’s army for so long. Especially without Western long-range missiles, but also regular artillery shells, Professor Jon Caverley, an expert in logistics at the Naval War College’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies, suggests it would be “very hard to imagine Ukraine holding a static line of defence across such a long frontier”.

The US has sent 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Image Credit:

At this point, that knotty how question arises once more: how do these missiles, shells and tanks actually get to Ukraine? In the first place, Kyiv and its allies must decide what’ll get sent. When it comes to the US, experts hint at a privileged line between Washington and Kyiv, though the details are murky. What individual Nato allies have handy clearly matters too. “It depends what’s available in stock,” says Alessandro Marrone, head of the defence programme at the Istituto Affari Internazionali think tank in Rome, adding that when it comes to his native Italy, the prime minister liaises with the defence ministry to determine what the country can “renounce” before stores are replenished.

Once shopping lists have been decided, so to speak, deliveries can make their way to the Ukrainian border. Perhaps predictably, the US is at the centre of this work, notwithstanding Ukraine’s position on the fringes of Europe. Under the auspices of the Control Center- Ukraine/International Donor Coordination Centre (ECCU/IDCC) – itself a part of EUCOM – Kent and his colleagues “coordinate the strategic movement” of provisions into the heart of Nato Europe. From there, the brigadier general continues, his team gets shipments safely to the Ukrainian border, before they’re received by the Kyiv government.

The number of sovereign nations providing military aid to Ukraine.

Dealing with fellow militaries is a predictably important part of Kent’s job. Everything starts, he says, with the needs of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Yet such a complex undertaking equally requires far wider associations too. On one level, that’s true around transportation. Take a hypothetical shipment of shells arriving in Hamburg from warehouses in the United States. From the German port to the Ukrainian border, it’s over 1,000km, with the Polish frontier to contend with too. With that in mind, it makes sense that Kent should stress that “communications are happening all the time” with partners in customs offices – and across the continent’s sprawling nationalised railway systems. That’s echoed by relationships with manufacturers too: with two-thirds of the Pentagon’s ammunition dollars going directly to private plants, staying aloof from commercial factories is impossible.

The amount of military aid the US has approved for Ukraine as of February 2024.


All told, the system of aid to Ukraine now boasts regular rhythms. Just as this article was being written, Sweden announced a new aid package worth $682m, encompassing everything from torpedoes and mines to boats and artillery shells. Even so, it’d be wrong to suggest that Ukrainian logistical support is seamless. One particular challenge involves interoperability. In a way, that’s unsurprising: with 45 sovereign nations all offering help, together with a sprinkling of EU institutions, ensuring systems work together is bound to be tricky. And though Kent argues “we’re not seeing an issue” with interoperability, that’s not always borne out in practice. Sometimes, in fact, issues can reach near farcical proportions, with Caverley describing how unstandardised 155mm shells (made by 15 producers across Europe) can oblige frontline troops to weigh ammunition, before entering the results into a spreadsheet to calculate ballistics.

Without US logistical support, the war effort to resist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be severely diminished. Image Credit:

It goes without saying that such exercises aren’t ideal for a country in the midst of a foreign invasion – though to be fair, there are signs that interoperability is increasing all the time. Ironically enough, Marrone says that the very act of supplying Ukraine is hastening this process on. With much Soviet-era equipment being sent to Kyiv – even the UK shipped 50,000 rounds of pre-1991 artillery – Marrone says that their replacements will naturally be “Western manufactured” assets. “This,” he adds, “will increase interoperability in Central and Eastern Europe.”

The number of companies across Europe manufacturing 155mm shells.

Of course, an even better way of promoting interoperability would be to impose manufacturing standards across Nato borders. Especially with the ever-looming threat of war in Asia-Pacific, there are obvious benefits to this approach. But as Caverley warns, military logic doesn’t always outweigh economic self-interest. “Standardisation is probably going to privilege the United States,” he says, adding that European companies in particular “don’t want standards, because a more competitive market is bad for profit margins.” This is arguably reflected in practice too. While the US has invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to encourage its own support for Ukraine, European allies like Italy, which recently announced a $5bn package to build up to 1,000 ground vehicles, have gone their own way.

Nay-to members?

This hints at broader tensions. For just as the United States dominates Nato on a manufacturing level, single-handedly delivering about half of all the military aid to Ukraine, the global superpower could yet stymie future aid convoys. As so often, central to the drama is one Donald Trump, who has suggested that future support to the Zelensky government should come in the form of a loan. At the same time, the past and potentially future president has encouraged Republican lawmakers to block a $95bn assistance package to Ukraine in Congress (though a pared-down version was ultimately passed). Once you add Trump’s threats against Nato as an institution – in February 2024, he said he’d encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” against any member of the alliance not pulling its weight – and you can see how the vicissitudes of American politics could soon wreck the bloc’s logistical unity.

At any rate, it makes sense that some countries are thinking about military supply without Uncle Sam. A case in point is the so-called European Defence Industry Strategy, whereby nations across the EU organise joint procurement and limit supply chain chokepoints. But even here, Caverley highlights potential trade-offs. It’s all well and good promoting joined-up defence manufacturing in theory. But with energy prices stubbornly high, and budgets limited, he wonders if it makes sense to “spend an infinite amount of money” for some future confrontation – only for the practicalities of that conflict to be different from what the logisticians had planned for. Then again, given how valuable lethal support to the Kyiv government has proved to be, maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.