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‘Absolutely a quick study’: Ukrainians master Patriot system faster than expected

Now they are almost ready to use it on the battlefield to protect Ukrainian cities and infrastructure from Russian attacks.

“Ukrainian soldiers are impressive, and absolutely a quick study,” said Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan, commanding general of the Army’s Fires Center of Excellence. “Because of their extensive air defense knowledge and experience in a combat zone, it was easier – although never easy – for them to understand the Patriot system.”

“They are the best of the best at what they do in air defense for Ukraine.”

The course was designed as a basic 10-week program, but Ukrainians moved quickly through the missions, according to a senior Fort Sill official, who like others quoted for this story, was granted anonymity in under the ground rules established for the visit involving a small group of journalists. The group reviewed skill requirements and was able to spend more time learning how to operate the system as a unit against simulated threats, the official said.

The trainees, aged 19 to 67, are combat veterans experienced in using their own air defense systems against Russian threats, the official said. They progressed quickly through the course and after a certain point were able to design their own scenarios based on the tactics they know the Russians use in combat.

“They understand how to fight, they understand how to fight air defense systems,” the senior Fort Sill official said. “That’s one of the reasons we were able to train certain aspects faster than we would have with normal students from scratch.”

Ready for battle

The Patriot is a very complex system to use and it usually takes US soldiers up to a year to learn it. But after just a few weeks, the Ukrainians were already able to independently configure and operate the system against a simulated threat in less than 45 minutes, which is the standard for the US military. According to an American trainer, they perform this “culminating event” two or three times a day to train as much as possible before returning to Europe.

Once the Ukrainians complete their training at Fort Sill in the coming days, they will travel to an undisclosed location in Europe to join another group of trainees who are on a parallel course with the Dutch and German military, the doorman said. -Army Spokesman, Col. Martin O. ‘Donnel. There they will perform final checks on the two donated Patriot systems, one from the United States and the other combining components from Germany and the Netherlands, before returning to Ukraine with the new equipment in the weeks to come. come.

As reporters watched, the soldiers drove a convoy of nine vehicles, including five launch stations, an air surveillance radar and a set of communications and command and control vehicles.

After connecting the communication cables, the soldiers spend about 20 minutes preparing the equipment. Some stand atop the launchers, making sure each missile canister is secure. Once the launchers are set up, they move up the range to the command vehicles, where they practice detecting, tracking and intercepting a simulated threat from the north.

A group of Ukrainian soldiers smile and give reporters a thumbs up as they walk through the field. Speaking Ukrainian, they say they are ready to leave.

The language barrier initially made instruction difficult, the American trainer said, noting that Ukrainians had varying levels of English proficiency. The team started with just two performers, but quickly grew to 18 performers once they realized they needed them.

Fort Sill officials said they were impressed with the hard work and dedication of the Ukrainians. They live in the barracks at Fort Sill, eat in the canteen with the American soldiers and are not allowed to leave the base.

After they arrived, they made a special request: to add more soup options to the menu.

“They like soup. They’re very, you know, soup-centric. So we added soup to the meals they received,” the senior Fort Sill official said.

The instructors applied a “conditions-based approach” to the training, which meant they could speed up or slow down the program depending on the skill of the soldiers, the senior Fort Sill official said. They coordinated closely with officials from the U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command and the Security Assistance Group-Ukraine, the fledgling group created last fall in Germany to coordinate security assistance to Ukraine, in order to include realistic threats and conditions that Ukrainians expect to face.

O’Donnell stressed that the Patriot is a “purely defensive weapon system” that will help Ukraine protect cities and critical infrastructure from Russian drones, aircraft, and cruise and ballistic missiles.

“The Patriot air defense system poses, I repeat no, no threat to Russia,” he said.

At the same time as Ukrainian air defenders are completing their Patriot training, hundreds of their colleagues are in Germany taking other advanced courses. About 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers – enough to operate a “mechanized” battalion of Bradley fighting vehicles, three Stryker battalions, a field artillery battalion and a brigade headquarters – conduct combined arms training in the areas of Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels. This includes instruction on basic soldier duties such as marksmanship as well as how to function as a unit.

Another 1,400 – two mechanized/Bradley battalions and one field artillery battalion – have already undergone this training and are back in Ukraine right now on the front lines, O’Donnell said.

In the end, the drive and dedication of the Ukrainians “made this training very enjoyable and very easy”, the trainer said, noting that they are now “self-sufficient”. Once back in Ukraine, they plan to teach their colleagues how to use the Patriot, passing on the lessons they learned at Fort Sill.

“This is where it all comes together, from learning about maintenance when they arrive, to fixing equipment, to where they’re self-sufficient and doing exactly what they’re supposed to do in as a unit, it’s very impressive,” said the trainer. .

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