National Guard’s aging battle taxis find new use in Ukraine fight

WASHINGTON ― As the Pentagon races to send equipment from its own inventories to Ukraine, it has turned to state National Guard units ― and at least five states are sending their aging M113 armored personnel carriers to Europe.

As of Friday, the governors of Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia have announced that, at the request of the Department of Defense, they’re turning M113s from their fleets over to Ukraine. The aid stems from President Joe Biden’s announcement April 13 of an $800 million package that included 200 M113s, among more than a dozen other capabilities.

“The governors are the commanders in chief of their respective national guards, and they’re proud to do this,” National Guard Association of the United States spokesman John Goheen said Friday.

The U.S. Army considers the M113, its Vietnam War battle taxi, obsolete and it stopped buying them in 2006. But as the fighting in Donbas faces a rainy, muddy spring, the M1113 ― which has tracks and weighs far less than an Abrams tank ― could offer Ukrainian forces transportation and protection from small-arms fire and the effects of artillery.

“You need mobility on the battlefield and protected mobility is even better,” Goheen said.

After the Indiana National Guard got the request, it had its technicians at Camp Atterbury inspect, repair and road test their venerable M113s. From there, the vehicles were staged for transport and could be seen leaving atop flatbed trucks.

“We’ve been ordered to ship these out at the president’s directive, to provide military equipment to Ukraine,” the director of the Indiana National Guard’s joint staff, Brig. Gen. Justin Mann, said in a video.

“So, we got short notice, the team did a complete technical inspection, and we’re able to get all these things ready ahead of time, in less than five days. So a monumental, herculean effort by our maintainers, doing great work, and getting this equipment ready,” he said.

The latest announcement on M113s came from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, on Thursday.

“The reports of war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces amid their ongoing attacks on Ukraine are heartbreaking and demand serious action,” Cooper said in a news release. “North Carolina stands with the people of Ukraine and is ready to support their fight for democracy and freedom.”

A North Carolina National Guard spokesman said the M113 is a great all-around, utilitarian vehicle that deployed to Iraq with the state’s guard units and is still used by them.

“They’re not just parked somewhere, they’re all operational,” said Lt. Col. Matt Handley, of the vehicles. “The M113′s gone through upgrades over the the years and they’re still functional.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced his state was not only donating M113s, but its law enforcement agencies were sending 75 ballistic and riot helmets and 840 pieces of body armor, including vests and plates, through the Fund to Aid Ukraine, a non-profit organization.

Separately, the Pentagon acknowledged today that a Florida National Guard unit that left Ukraine in February is continuing to train Ukrainian troops, in Germany and another undisclosed country, on radars and tactical vehicles.

“The National Guard is able to support equipment and training efforts expeditiously. The first shipment of equipment flowed two days after the president authorized support on April 13,” National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall said in an email.

Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.

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