Sixty-five Ukrainian soldiers have completed their training on Patriot air defense systems in the United States, the Pentagon said, announcing that Washington would now send Patriot launchers and Abrams tanks to Kiev ahead of schedule.
On Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan – the commander at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, where the Ukrainian troops were trained on the Patriots – claimed the soldiers grasped concepts quickly. “Our assessment is that the Ukrainian soldiers are impressive, and absolutely a quick study,” he said. “Due to their extensive air defense knowledge and experience in a combat zone, it was easier – though never easy – for them to grasp the Patriot System Operations and Maintenance concepts.”
Defense officials said the training started in January, with the soldiers undergoing a total of 600 hours of instruction on the sophisticated surface-to-air missile platform. Though Washington has authorized the shipment of one Patriot battery to Kiev, the Defense Department has yet to offer a firm date for when the weapon will arrive on the battlefield.
Given that one Patriot battery is typically made up of between five and eight missile launchers and requires around 90 soldiers to operate, it remains unclear how Kiev intends to man the system. US officials initially cited those personnel requirements, as well as the lengthy training period for the platform, as reasons not to supply the Patriot to Ukraine, but later reversed course and authorized the transfer.
The Pentagon also claimed that it was accelerating its timetable for sending the M1 Abrams battle tank to Kiev. Initially, the Defense Department intended to purchase a new model of the weapon to send to Ukraine, but scrapped the plan after finding the process could take more than one year. However, officials said the military has opted to send an older version of the Abrams instead, now hoping the tanks will arrive in the country in eight to 10 months.
During a Tuesday briefing, Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder told reporters that the move “is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” adding that the tanks would need to be “refurbished“ before the transfer. While National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said training on the Abrams would begin in a period of “weeks, not months“ back in January, officials have offered few other details since, leaving it unclear whether the instruction for Ukrainian troops has already started.