The proposal still requires approval from the White House, which is considering another package of nonlethal assistance for Ukraine.
The deliberations are taking place alongside rising pressure on Washington to better help Kiev counter a rebellion that continues to regularly claim lives, despite a five-month-old cease fire.
Ukraine’s military “would benefit from having more counter-battery radar as well as more capable radar,” one senior Obama administration official said.
The administration decided early this year against sending Ukraine deadly weaponry, such as artillery or portable air-defense systems, for fear of escalating the more than year-old conflict or provoking Russia.
But administration officials say that the new radar doesn’t count as offensive or lethal aid, and so wouldn’t require a policy shift.
Providing the counter-battery radar—which uses the trajectory of an incoming projectile to determine where it was fired from—would meet a request of Ukrainian leaders for capabilities to look deeper into rebel-held territory, and to more accurately fire back.
Ukrainian officials say their soldiers are being killed or injured every day by artillery fire.
On Wednesday, the Ukrainian military said some 140 attacks, from tank, mortar and artillery fire, had been carried out by separatists during the previous two days.
Senior U.S. military officials have repeatedly said these are artillery pieces provided by Russia and manned by Russians.
Moscow has repeatedly denied sending weaponry or active troops over the border to the separatists, and has warned that the Kremlin would interpret lethal military aid sent to Ukraine by the West as a threat to Russia.
The U.S. has already provided Ukraine with 20 lightweight counter-mortar radar units, with another 10 due to be transferred by the end of this year, officials said.
Those units have a range only of about 6 miles.
Other nonlethal aid such as medical kits, night-vision goggles and Kevlar vests has also been sent.
The U.S. Army is now looking to provide what is known as AN/TPQ-36 and 37 Firefinder radar to Ukraine, according to U.S. officials, with ranges of between 15 and 31 miles.
Pentagon officials said they were already seeking available units and laying the groundwork to start shipping them, pending a White House decision.
Military leaders increasingly support arming Ukraine.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have said publicly they favor or lean toward the option.
Incoming senior officers—including Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, nominated as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Mark Milley, nominated to be Army chief of staff—expressed the same view in congressional testimony this month.
The White House, however, continues to oppose providing offensive, lethal weaponry such as Javelin antitank weapons—the top request of the Ukrainian military.
“There is not any desire to put in place equipment that would be seen as escalatory and exacerbate the situation on the ground,” said the senior official.
While the White House debates to what degree it wants to help Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member, there are clear indications that senior U.S. military leaders see a benefit in providing more muscular assistance.
“From a military perspective, I think it’s reasonable that we provide that support to the Ukrainians, and frankly without that kind of support, then they’re not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression,” Gen. Dunford said.
He, along with Gen. Ray Odierno, the current Army chief of staff, and Gen. Paul Selva, nominated to become the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all said this month that Russia tops the list of U.S. national security concerns.
Gen. Milley also said during his Senate testimony this week that he supported increasing the number of Army units, including National Guard forces, deploying to Europe on a temporary basis and potentially increasing funding for additional military exercises.
He cited Russian aggression in Ukraine, coming after its 2008 attack on Georgia, as an example of a new, more hostile approach toward Europe from Moscow.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the committee chairman, has been pressing the military and Obama administration to provide longer-range radar to Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have been requesting the units for months, and renewed the push earlier this month when Gen. Odierno visited Kiev, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials.
As the Army begins to both downsize its active-duty brigades and upgrade to newer radar, it is expected to have extra Firefinder units that could be provided to Ukrainian forces.
But it may not be able to provide them before next year, according to some officials, a timeline that Ukrainian officials call too slow.
Washington also has some concerns about the Ukrainian military’s ability to use and maintain the units.
Some officials are also worried that the radar could become a target for Russian forces.
Some of the 20 counter-mortar units sent already have been lost, either damaged in fighting or captured by Russian forces.
U.S. officials say they don’t have an exact count of how many have been lost.
In addition, the Obama administration doesn’t want to abandon the peace plan reached last February in Belarus, despite the repeated violations.
Another senior administration official noted that the White House continues to focus on a diplomatic solution and believes there is “no military resolution” to the Ukraine crisis.
Still, the official said, “Ukraine has the right to defend itself against continued aggressive acts” and noted that the U.S. has provided $200 million in security assistance.
The longer-range radar could allow a more robust defense by Ukrainian forces, which could in turn prompt a new offensive by separatists or more direct Russian involvement.
Ukrainian forces training with the U.S. Army near Lviv, Ukraine, this summer have recounted stories of being pinned down by Russian artillery for hours at a time, and have noted that such barrages are still killing and wounding their comrades.
Almost 1,000 people—combatants and civilians—have been killed since the cease-fire was agreed to, about half in the days immediately afterward.
That has brought the death toll to more than 6,600 since the conflict began in April 2014, according to United Nations figures.
Source: The Wall Street Journal