FORT SILL, Okla. — The U.S. is accelerating the training and delivery of Abrams tanks and Patriot missile defense systems for Ukraine, as preparations ramp up for expected heavy fighting this year.
The Pentagon is aiming to refurbish existing M1A1 Abrams tank hulls in order to get them to Ukraine this fall, as opposed to building new tanks that would be delivered much later, according to a Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity in order to speak ahead of an announcement.
“The Pentagon is working as fast as they can,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday on MSNBC when asked about the tanks. “We’re working on that. There’s some changes that you can make to the process, to sort of speed that up.”
Meanwhile, 65 Ukrainians are wrapping up training on the Patriot missile system at Fort Sill, Okla., in the coming days, base military officials said as they hosted a small group reporters to view the instruction. The Ukrainian air defenders and two donated Patriot systems will be on the battlefield in a matter of weeks, after training began in mid-January.
U.S. officials have long said that it would take months to get the Ukrainians trained and ready to operate Abrams tanks and Patriot systems, both of which come with expensive and complicated logistics and maintenance chains.
At the training range in Oklahoma, however, Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan, commanding general of the Army’s Fires Center of Excellence, called the Ukrainian soldiers “impressive, and absolutely a quick study” in complex equipment.
“Due to their extensive air defense knowledge and experience in a combat zone, it was easier — though it’s never easy — for them to grasp the Patriot” technology, he added. “Their higher education and their certification certainly aided their training, they are the best of the best in what they do in air defense for Ukraine.”
Once the Ukrainian soldiers complete training at Fort Sill, they will travel to a location in Europe, where they will join a separate group of Ukrainian soldiers who are learning to use Patriot systems donated by the Germans and the Dutch. The groups will then return to the battlefield with the new Patriot equipment in the coming weeks, officials said.
The components of the U.S.-donated Patriot system will come from different locations across the country, officials said. The Ukrainians will assemble the parts into one complete system in their country.
The Abrams and Patriot systems will add to a grab bag of weapons shipped to Ukraine over the past year of combat that has made the Ukrainian military one of the most technologically diverse in the world. This spring, the U.K. will begin sending Challenger tanks, and Germany and other allies have started to flow Leopard tanks into the country.
On air defense, the U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Germany and other countries have sent advanced air defenses to protect critical infrastructure. All of these different systems require specialized instruction and maintenance procedures that Ukrainian troops have been trained on quickly.
Those air defense systems in particular are critical to protecting not only civilian infrastructure that regularly comes under indiscriminate Russian attack, but also growing Ukrainian stockpiles of equipment and munitions.
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