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For months I'm hearing from multinational sources of sending weapons to Ukraine. They are all vague or deceptive on what the term "sending" means.

  1. Does it mean selling weapons for high profit?
  2. Does it mean selling weapons with no profit in mind or even make the price laughably cheap (but you still could call this a sale)?
  3. Does it mean giving weapons out for free?

I'm especially interested about US and German weapons.

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  • I've answered a related question involving US military aid to Ukraine a bit before the latest expansion of the war there: politics.stackexchange.com/a/49659/15647 tl;dr there is that US military aid effectively comes as a gift card to buy stuff from the US defense industry, though I think it's a bit distinct from how things have been working lately where countries are sending their own stocks. May 12 at 3:04

6 Answers 6

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All of the above + lending/leasing them , of course different for different cases.

The first option - selling weapons for high profit - is always available. The high profit margin usually stems from evading different restrictions in regard to weapon trade that the exporting country may impose.

This is, highly likely, the case with e.g. the ammo for the soviet-era artillery (still in use in Ukraine) made in eastern european countries.

The other options (selling them at the market rate, below the market rate, giving them for free or the specific terms of the lend-lease that allows the actual case to be determined later, possibly after the war) are not really different in practice and this is why they are rarely discussed.

For a country engaged in a defensive war, the market price for most of the military equipment and consumables is okay-ish (at least, compared to being defeated in the war) as long as the goods are delivered in time.

And then again, the market price for a particular item is quite an open question when the item is not subject to "free enough" market and the military goods and services market is not free at any rate.

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    I think in the case of Ukraine US actually pays for weapons in terms of military aid allocated by the Congress. I suppose that the money goes to the US army (or US allies in Europe), so that it can purchase new weapons from the US producers, while giving the older stuff to Ukraine. May 11 at 9:41
  • @RogerVadim could be, as well. This still amounts for options 2 and 3. Of course, I am in no position to trace the particular money transfers, but a lot of weaponry going to UA is procured factory-new.
    – fraxinus
    May 11 at 9:48
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    SOME of the money flows are transparent - e.g. officially announced military aid. Others are... imagine a Polish airplane with Ukrainian pilots carrying Bulgarian-made ammo with the invoice issued to a private US company. Good luck tracing this.
    – fraxinus
    May 11 at 10:07
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    @fraxinus That is only the case for relatively small items. Large items like tanks, artillery or planes almost always come out of the stock of the army of the sender country. That is simply because the armies are the only ones who have the weapons available right now. The manufacturers could make new ones but that would take months or years. The army stock might be completely unused though.
    – quarague
    May 11 at 10:56
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    @quarague Yeah. Somewhere I ran into a figure that we have sent a third of our stock of Javelins to Ukraine. It's going to take a while to replace them, but so what? They're killing the tanks they were meant to kill, as our stocks go down so does our need for them. May 12 at 20:08
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You asked about Germany, among others. The answer is highly varied:

  • Germany is providing certain arms from government reserves (i.e. from the Bundeswehr) for free. They might not even be able to calculate a realistic price for a couple of thousand not-quite-new SAMs, a couple hundred thousand hand grenades, etc.
    There have been comments in the news that they cannot deplete their reserves further without going into the war reserves for NATO contingencies.
  • Germany is paying for arms which Ukraine can order from the German industry, subject to specific export permissions by the government. Some of those arms "from the industry" are refurbished government surplus. The difference is who owns them before delivery.
  • Ukraine might also order weapons from the German industry outside this funding, which would also be subject to export permissions by the government. There was talk about offering credit for some of these purchases.
  • Germany is providing certain arms to other NATO members if those give their Soviet-style weapons to Ukraine. Those would again be free to the recipient, conditional on the recipient giving arms to Ukraine in turn.
  • It is possible that individual EU states will be reimbursed by an EU fund, the European Peace Facility (which is paid by all EU states).
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While there are many articles (The Guardian, New York Times, NZZ) writing about sending weapons to Ukraine, none of them writes about Ukraine paying for these weapons while always mentioning they costs in the context of respect of the providing country. Hence most likely it is just unpaid military aid. Maybe they will want survived weapons back when the war is over.

It still may be that part of the weapons sent are obsolete. So while the declared price may be how much it have costed to produce them in the past, the real current value might be lower. This matches well the existing requirement "not to escalate".

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The other answers are covering the most common form, aid, quite nicely, but there's certainly for-profit as well. Turkey sold its drones for a tidy sum.

Bayraktar UAVs purchased by Ukraine, not aid from Turkey: Deputy FM

Turkey's sale of Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to Ukraine is not a form of aid, they are products that Ukraine purchased from a Turkish company, Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran said Thursday.

While the war between Russia and Ukraine enters its second week, Turkey tries to keep its neutral and balanced position by keeping communication with all sides open. On the other hand, Ukraine's use of Turkish drones against Russian forces has made headlines in the international media.

"Private defense industry companies can make such agreements with countries. These countries do not have a binding nature. This is not an aid from Turkey. They are products purchased by Ukraine from a Turkish company. Moreover, Ukraine is not the only country to buy Bayraktar TB2s. Everyone is in line to get the drones," Kıran said commenting on the issue.

Not sure if new purchases are still being made, but apparently new deliveries are still happening (Forbes, May 10th):

... for Russia, the biggest concern may have been a number on one of the Bayraktar video displays: a registration showing it was a brand new drone straight off the production line.

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I think 1. is the least likely. There are clearly some instances where Ukraine is using its own money to procure some weapon systems on the open market. Even so, UA is not a wealthy country by any standards (both nominal and PPP per-capita GDP are about half of Russia's, which are about half of OECD average). Given that much of its economy is in tatters, it isn't in the position to enrich arms dealers with high markups. Direct cash aid provided by the US and others is earmarked for soldier salaries, administrative costs for the gov't, and humanitarian relief. I don't think the UA gov't is being given a large lump of cash to "buy overpriced weapons". In cases like Germany where the gov't says: "Here is a menu, pick what is useful to you", it is possible that the German gov't will pay a premium to its domestic manufacturers to supply new weapons, but that seems unlikely, since those mfrs want to maintain a good relationship with the hand that feeds them.

I believe the majority of weapons transfers are gratis, with the understanding that the original owners would like to use these weapons themselves, in exactly the kind of conflict Ukraine currently finds themselves, but are happy to let UA field them and actually pull the trigger. This is pretty much the best possible scenario for the donor nations, as they are not putting their own forces at risk, they are degrading a threatening rival military, and they get to assess the effectiveness of their weapons systems under the most realistic conditions possible.

Most NATO countries have not fought a peer nation. So although the performance of their military hardware has been tested in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other conflict zones, the belligerents have often been quite asymmetrical in their capabilities. Up until February 24, 2022, Russia's Armed Forces were considered a peer force for any other military in the world. Seeing your weapon systems in action against such an adversary is the ultimate test of its capabilities, and gives you some idea how an actual conflict against that adversary (or similarly armed adversaries) would play out. It would not be economically or strategically irrational for NATO and allied nations to pay UA to deploy their weapons systems on the front lines for these reasons.

Turkey has surely gained the most PR value for its Bayraktar line, and has already lined up eager buyers based on its performance in UA. But there's no mistake that virtually every modern anti-tank weapon on the market has also seen a huge boost due to the massive number of burned-out T-72s on the fields of Ukraine. Even the Carl Gustav took out a T-90M recently, to say nothing of the NLAW, Javelin, Panzerfaust, Stugna, etc. ad infinitum.

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I think it's clear what selling of the weapons means. And if weapons are gifted, then it's akin to a foreign aid.

Lend-Lease

A more rare arrangement is lend-lease. This hasn't been done since WWII. Formally, the lend-lease arrangement means that the weapons must be returned once the war ends or paid-for, at the discretion of the recipient. The weapons which have been destroyed can be returned in whatever condition they happen to be. Even destroyed tanks, ships, etc. have salvage value as scrap metal.

In practice, after WWII the debt for all supplied weapons, kept by the recipients, was renegotiated at a steep discount. In addition, some of it was paid at a very preferred interest rate and reduced in consideration of services received during the war (refueling and such).

The cost of purchasing of production of lend-lease weapons is born by the creditor country, but it's sometimes seen as a boon because it creates employment in highly-specialized advanced-skill advanced-weapons manufacturing sector (aka "military industrial complex", aka "defense industry").

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