American forces represented by elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade—”Sky Soldiers“—recently redeployed following a 2013 deployment to Afghanistan in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In 2014, the brigade deployed forces in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland as part of NATO assurance and multinational force cooperation. Additionally, the brigade functions as the Army Contingency Response Force (ACRF) for European, African, and Central Commands, with a response time of 18 hours to anywhere in those theaters.
From these experiences, the brigade has developed a unique knowledge base that has allowed them to bring firsthand multinational familiarity and proficiency to Ukrainian forces.
The current six-month mission, which began in April, has focused on the training of 700+ Ukrainian soldiers. At the the International Peacekeeping and Security Center (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine, American, Canadian, and Lithuanian forces work together to organize Ukrainian forces and train them on a multitude of basic combat skills and infantry tasks and drills including: convoy operations, combat lifesaving (CLS), counter-improvised explosive device (CIED), dismounted patrolling, explosive hazard and land mine awareness, military operations in urban terrain (MOUT), squad and platoon movement and operations. These skills will serve as cornerstones for the Ukrainian Army to build upon and use to address ongoing threats from pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers are swiftly improving under the guidance and training of the multinational effort led by the Americans. The service members of Ukraine are adaptable, eager to learn, and highly motivated. The country’s leadership is interested in adopting American standards, such as the implementation and redevelopment of its own non-commissioned officer corps, which has historically been nothing more than senior soldiers without much, if any, leadership responsibilities.
The development of Ukrainian command-and-control structures and communications channels such as operations orders (OPORD), tactical operations centers (TOC), and an active and involved battle staff are also under review as part of the continued training of Ukrainian forces.
As uncertain and fluid ceasefire agreements are bartered for and broken in eastern Ukraine, the need for the United States and Europe to provide the Ukrainian military with training and defensive assistance is paramount. Currently, the defensive capability of the Ukrainian military comes down to just holding the line in the east.
Training for Ukrainian forces—augmented by the ongoing delivery of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV), night vision devices, drones, and communications systems as promised under Senate Simple Resolution 72—presents an opportunity for Ukrainian forces to leverage increased combat capabilities and turn the tide of the war.
This delivery of aid and training will not immediately change the strategic military balance on the ground in the short-term, but it will be part of the ongoing development of long-term Ukrainian security. That security is necessary in order for Ukraine to focus on its many other issues, such as its deepening economic crisis, political transformation, deep-seated corruption, and its at times questionable law enforcement and legal systems.