Last October, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikocv said in an interview with Politico that “we have a combat testing field in Ukraine during this war.” He clarified that his comments referred to evaluating the various 155mm artillery weapons systems used by the Ukrainian military in their ongoing efforts to turn back the Russian invasion. Still, his sentiment reflects an increasingly prominent aspect of the war: its role as a testbed for Western weaponry and tactics, a trial run for new technologies and strategies in the relative absence of 21st-century near-peer military conflict.
Ukraine, for their part, eagerly embraces its role as beta testers for its western allies’ weaponry: Reznikocv’s comments implicitly encourage NATO countries and military contractors to take advantage of the chance to deploy their shiny new weapons systems in modern conflict, an unsurprising openness from a country facing a far more significant, notoriously stubborn Russian military under the autocratic tutelage of President Putin. In the slow, brutal conflict that the war of attrition in Ukraine is shaping into, powerful Western weaponry has the potential to tip the scales toward the Ukrainian defense. It also gives Western militaries a chance to sandbox new technologies vicariously.