How Do U.S. Weapons Actually Get Across the Ukraine Border?

Wes O'Donnell
5 min readMay 24
A Senior Airman with the 436th Aerial Port Squadron cargo processor, palletizes ammunition, weapons, and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Jan. 21, 2022. The United States reaffirms its steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in support of a secure and prosperous Ukraine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mauricio Campino) Public domain

Since the war began, the United States has directed more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute. Granted, some of those funds are for humanitarian purposes, not just weaponry.

Still, that’s more money than the U.S. spent on military aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2020 ($73 bn) and more than the U.S. spent on the reconstruction of Iraq ($60 bn).

For military aid, that money represents a veritable checklist of Iraq War-era U.S. military equipment.

But when the U.S. set out to export arms to Ukraine, it encountered something of a logistical snag. It couldn’t just fly a C-5 Galaxy cargo jet into Kyiv and deploy a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle onto the tarmac.

Similarly, driving military vehicles across the Ukraine border from a NATO ally would make the U.S. servicemembers behind the wheel a legitimate target for Russia.

If U.S. servicemembers are killed by Russian forces, while performing their official government duties, it’s game over. NATO will officially be in a shooting war with the world’s largest nuclear power.

So how does the United States get weapons and equipment directly into the hands of Ukrainian fighters?

The journey begins in a cavernous yet nondescript warehouse at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Inside, U.S. Air Force airmen tie down pallets with nylon straps to keep the cargo secure for the nearly 10-hour flight to Poland.

A United States Air Force C-5 Galaxy of the 60th Air Mobility Wing, Travis AFB, Calif., prepares to off-load cargo at night at Dover AFB, Del. (U.S. Air Force photo by Greg L. Davis) Public domain

What’s inside the palletized cargo largely depends on DoD storage availability, directives from the State Department, or TRANSCOM orders, the Transportation Command of the U.S. military.

TRANSCOM identifies where items are located and then determines the best option to get them to Ukraine.

In some cases, TRANSCOM relies on civilian companies to make the deliveries. In fact, two-thirds of those flights are done by DoD commercial partners.

Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security Wonk for War is Boring, GEN, OneZero, Soldier of Fortune | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Founder of Warrior Lodge