Defense & National Security — More Ukrainians trained on US weapons
The U.S. military is ramping up its weapons training for Ukrainian forces, with hundreds now being trained on artillery systems, drones and radars.
We’ll detail where they are being instructed and what weapons and systems they’re learning. We’ll also look at how the U.S. defense industry is being strained by weapons shipments to Ukraine.
US ramps up training of Ukrainian forces
Weapons training for Ukrainian forces, which involves taking the troops out of their country to train at multiple locations in Europe, has picked up significantly after the Pentagon in early April revealed it trained about a dozen such troops on how to use Switchblade drones.
Now, more than 220 Ukrainians have been trained on U.S. artillery, particularly the M777 Howitzer, a 10,000-pound system that can be towed by vehicles and hit targets up to 18 miles away with 155 mm rounds. Washington has promised 90 such systems to Kyiv.
‘More of that coming’: Another 20 Ukrainian soldiers on Sunday finished a week-long training course on the newly developed Phoenix Ghost unmanned aerial system, 121 of which are being sent to Ukraine.
“And there’s more of that coming,” a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, noting that another 50-plus Ukrainians would arrive at one of the sites to begin their training later this week.
“We are running them through a streamlined course here on the new equipment that they’ll be receiving. The goal in all of this is to get them back as soon as possible, so that then they can train others within their army on the equipment,” Gen. Joseph Hilbert, head of the 7th Army Training Command in Europe, told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier efforts: U.S. forces training Ukrainian troops is nothing new, though the Pentagon has had to make some adjustments on how to go about such activities since Russia attacked Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Over the last seven years, the U.S. has trained some 23,000 Ukrainian soldiers inside the country, a $126 million effort, with training provided mostly by American National Guard troops, according to Hilbert.
That training began in 2015 — after Russian-backed separatists began fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine — and ran up until early this year, when the threat of the incoming Russian invasion forced the Pentagon to pull U.S. forces from Ukraine.
Adjustments: Now U.S. forces are back instructing the Ukrainians from locations outside the country, with the Pentagon first revealing late last month that it had begun training Ukrainians on artillery systems and radars at U.S. military installations in Germany.
Among the locations is Grafenwöhr, home of U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, where about 50 to 60 Ukrainian troops have been instructed on howitzers. That first group is now back in their country and another tranche of 50 to 60 soldiers are being trained.
The training is not without its “natural challenges,” Hilbert noted, including the difficulties with overcoming language barriers when describing more technical pieces of weapons and equipment.
The U.S. also must adapt lessons based off of what’s happening on the ground in battles in Ukraine.
US defense industry strained by weapons deliveries
As the U.S. gives away billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine, it is putting stress on defense contractors as the Pentagon looks to backfill the military’s supply of weapons.
President Biden’s trip to a Lockheed Martin facility in Troy, Ala., on Tuesday highlighted a bipartisan sentiment that making sure the U.S. can maintain its own supplies is as important as ensuring Ukraine can defend itself against Russia’s war.
But replenishing Washington’s stockpile of weapons will be an uphill battle, as experts warn the defense industry is not primed for a wartime surge in production.
The numbers: The U.S. has sent $4.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration. Of this, the administration has used presidential drawdown authority to provide $3.4 billion in weapons from the Pentagon’s stockpile since September 2021.
A ‘critical’ issue: Replenishing the U.S.’s stockpile was one of the main issues that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked about when he testified on Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense about his agency’s fiscal 2023 budget request.
Responding to a question from Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), the Pentagon chief said it was “very critical” to ensure that Washington won’t dip below minimum stockage levels for critical munitions. He added that the Pentagon has been encouraging manufacturers to open supply lines to increase production.
“Industry has been very supportive. And so, we’ll continue to work with them. We’ll continue to identify things that we need from you if that need arises,” he said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape, and industry is responding.”
Industry ramps up: Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet said in an event hosted by the Atlantic Council last Friday that his company is working to expand productions of weapons that it manufactures.
In addition to the 5,500 Javelin anti-tank missiles that the U.S. has sent to Ukraine, the company also manufactures the Patriot missile defense system, and parts of the Stinger missile mainly created by Raytheon.
Taiclet said countries are not only depleting their stockpiles by sending weapons to Ukraine, but also watching how well the weapons are working and gauging future interest in acquiring them.
SAILOR’S PARENTS CALL NAVY’S RESPONSE ‘RIDICULOUS’
The parents of a U.S. sailor assigned to the USS George Washington who died by suicide called the Navy’s response to the crisis “ridiculous.”
Master at Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Mitchell Sandor was one of three sailors who died by suicide within a week in mid-April.
The Navy has been under intense scrutiny since then and has acknowledged that seven people assigned to the ship have died over the past year. Four of those deaths were by suicide.
A ‘ridiculous’ delay: “Knowing what was going on with the crew before him, this could have happened a long time ago and my son would still be alive,” John Sandor, Xavier’s father, told CNN.
“I don’t know why it took so long for the Navy to act on it. They had to wait until the seventh to actually make changes? It’s ridiculous,” he added.
The Navy’s response: Asked about the interview, Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesperson Cmdr. Robert Myers told The Hill in a statement, “Navy and Congressional leadership have met extensively with the current leadership aboard USS George Washington, and feel confident that the leadership team is working hard –within and beyond their lifelines– to care for the crew.”
“Our current focus is on ensuring that we are providing a safe and healthy environment for our Sailors aboard GW, and that the shipboard leadership team has the resources to do so,” Myers said.
Investigations and relocations: The interview came as the Navy begins relocating sailors who want to move off the aircraft carrier. Moving began on Monday and will continue until all sailors who want to relocate will have the chance.
The Navy has said it worked to expand access to mental health resources to sailors on the ship.
Adm. John Meier, commander of U.S. Naval Air Force Atlantic, told reporters on Tuesday that there will be two investigations into the deaths on the ship, according to CNN.
PENTAGON HALTS BURNING OF ‘FOREVER CHEMICALS’
The Defense Department will temporarily stop burning toxic “forever chemicals” until it formally issues a guidance for how to dispose of the substances, according to a new memo.
In the memo, dated last week, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment Paul Cramer said the military would issue a “temporary prohibition” on incineration of a class of chemicals known as PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
“Because DoD has not yet finalized the guidance required … DoD must immediately discontinue contracting activities for the incineration of any PFAS material,” including firefighting foam, he wrote.
Some background: PFAS refers to a class of chemicals, some of which have been linked to cancers and other illnesses. They have been used in a variety of household products such as waterproof apparel and nonstick pans and have also been used in military firefighting foam.
The Air Force said in 2017 that burning these chemicals as a means for disposing of them could produce “environmentally unsatisfactory” byproducts, including those that may be toxic or contribute to climate change.
PFAS are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they tend to linger both in the human body and the environment.
A new requirement: The new pause comes after the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 required the department to halt the incineration of PFAS chemicals until it implements guidance on destruction and disposal of the chemicals.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Brookings Institution will host a virtual discussion on “U.S. Grand Strategy Under President Biden and Beyond,” with panels on “The Biden Administration’s National Security Agenda,” and “Future National Security Challenges,” beginning at 9:30 a.m.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a virtual talk on “Ukraine’s Impact on Asia and Korea,” with former South Korean Ambassador to Russia Wi Sung-lac; and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, at 9:30 a.m.
- Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on “The Posture of the Department of the Army in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program,” at 9:30 a.m.
- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Securing and Ensuring Order on the Southwest Border,” at 10:15 a.m.
- Swedish Ambassador to the U.S. Karin Olofsdotter will speak on “the growing public support in her country to join NATO” and rising tensions between her country and Russia over the invasion of Ukraine as part of a Washington Post Live event at 11 a.m.
- New America will host a discussion on “Russia’s Ghost Soldiers and the Crime of Aggression,” at 12 p.m.
- The International Institute for Strategic Studies will hold a roundtable discussion on “America’s Defense Trade,” at 3 p.m.
- The Wilson Center will host a virtual discussion on “Nordic Security Perspectives in the Arctic,” at 4 p.m.
- The Council for a Livable World will hold a virtual discussion on “Nuclear Justice and the Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons,” with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), at 7 p.m.
- Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), will speak on “The President’s Nuclear Button,” as part of a Stanford University Institute for International Studies lecture at 7:30 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Pentagon confirms latest North Korea missile launch
- Biden taps new commander of US forces in Europe
- Pelosi says vote on more Ukraine aid could come as soon as next week
- 5.6 million people have fled Ukraine since invasion’s start: UN refugee agency
- Russia dismisses speculation it will formally declare war on Ukraine by May 9
- Russia ‘highly likely’ to move to consolidate control of northeastern Donbas: UK
- Mayorkas clarifies role of new DHS disinformation board
- The Hill: Opinion: The US should embrace its role as the world’s armory against aggression
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