U.S. soldiers will begin training roughly 100 of their Ukrainian counterparts at a military base in Oklahoma as soon as next week on how to use the advanced Patriot missile systems the Biden administration has pledged to Kyiv, marking a notable deepening of relations between the two countries that has already enraged Russia.
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed Tuesday the training would take place at the U.S. Army’s Fort Sill, already an epicenter of artillery schools for units across the U.S. military and home to sophisticated simulators specifically for the Patriots.
American forces have trained Ukrainians on U.S. and allied bases in Europe since Russia invaded on Feb. 24 and continued military exchanges with officers at facilities in the U.S., advancing existing partnerships that began when the Kremlin first began occupying Ukrainian territory by force in 2014. But the latest announcement represents the first time Ukrainian troops will travel to the continental U.S. for training at this intensity and scope.
“The Patriot will add to the air defense capabilities of Ukraine,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. “Russia has really intensified its aerial bombardment of Ukraine across the country.”
Ryder said the missile system will allow Ukrainian forces to take down enemy aircraft and incoming rockets up to ballistic-type missiles.
“It’s really up to them how they employ it,” he said.
Russia has previously blasted the U.S. decision in December to send Patriots to the Ukrainians as “an escalation of the conflict” that would “increase the risk of direct involvement of the American army in the hostilities.
The training will take place in classrooms, in simulators and on the systems themselves and will focus on operating and maintaining the Patriot batteries, which generally require as many as 90 troops. Though the process traditionally takes roughly a year, Ryder said the Defense Department was examining how it could accelerate the process so the Ukrainian forces could return home to the conflict zone as quickly as possible – a particularly timely consideration amid reports the Kremlin is planning a late-winter offensive in Ukraine.
Tuesday’s news came less than a week after the Biden administration committed to Ukraine several Cold War-era Bradley fighting vehicles, equipped with armor and weaponry that makes them effective “tank-killers” on the battlefield. Analysts believe all of the new systems the U.S. and its allies have begun providing Ukraine are designed to give forces loyal to Ukraine an edge over the greater numbers of Russian soldiers they face.
Yet Russia, too, is openly and covertly seeking new ways to break the burgeoning deadlock as fighting in the east and south becomes further entrenched.
Russian Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu – who has fielded much of the blame for the embarrassing strategic and logistical failures of the Russian army – elicited widespread concern in Ukraine and elsewhere earlier on Tuesday with assertions Russia would continue developing its nuclear arsenal as “the main guarantor of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state.”
His comments come as Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov on his television show called for resuming tests of Russian nuclear weapons including to prepare for potential preemptive strikes.