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Staff Sgt. A.J. Juarez, a C-17 and C-5 crew chief, shows Capts. Volodymyr Bren, right, and Volodymyr Shkrobtak, Ukraine air force air traffic controllers, an operations manual for the C-17 inside the cockpit during a tour of the aircraft on Aug. 5, 2021, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Staff Sgt. A.J. Juarez, a C-17 and C-5 crew chief, shows Capts. Volodymyr Bren, right, and Volodymyr Shkrobtak, Ukraine air force air traffic controllers, an operations manual for the C-17 inside the cockpit during a tour of the aircraft on Aug. 5, 2021, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Ukrainian officers training with U.S. airmen this week reviewed secure communication methods that could help Ukraine in its seven-year conflict with Russia.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa proposed the visit by 10 members of the Ukrainian air forces, the first to Ramstein Air Base in more than two years, to enhance cooperation between the two militaries, Air Force officials said. 

“Especially because of war … we are trying to develop a secure communications system with encryption, like a secret network,” said Col. Yevhen Puchkov, a Ukrainian air force command staff member who leads a department focused on cybersecurity and other communications systems. 

Air advisers from the 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron at Ramstein hosted the group and organized sessions on combat communications and air traffic control. 

Staff Sgt. Breck Martin, an air adviser and C-17 loadmaster with the 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron, shows Col. Dmytro Lapitskyi, a Ukraine air force air traffic controller and former bomber pilot, the hydraulic system in the back of a C-17 aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Staff Sgt. Breck Martin, an air adviser and C-17 loadmaster with the 435th Contingency Response Support Squadron, shows Col. Dmytro Lapitskyi, a Ukraine air force air traffic controller and former bomber pilot, the hydraulic system in the back of a C-17 aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

“COVID being COVID, we’ve had things on the table that have been canceled, and it’s important for us to get back involved with Ukraine,” said Kevin O’Brien, USAFE international affairs officer for Romania and Ukraine. “It’s an extremely important area and an extremely difficult situation right now there. It’s on our periphery, and we need to be involved.” 

Ukraine and Russia have been fighting since 2014, when Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula. Ukrainian defense officials have said the conflict between their troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine has killed at least 14,000 people. 

Earlier this year, Kyiv accused Moscow of launching cyberattacks on its internet networks as part of a “hybrid war” against Ukraine, a charge that Russia denies, Reuters reported. 

As it looks to strengthen its communications systems against Russian interference, Ukraine also wants to develop mobile communications capabilities in the field, O’Brien said. 

Airmen with the 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron show members of the Ukraine air force a machine that can repair fiber optic cables at Kapaun Air Station in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Aug. 5, 2021.
Airmen with the 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron show members of the Ukraine air force a machine that can repair fiber optic cables at Kapaun Air Station in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Aug. 5, 2021. (Jennifer H. Svan/Stars and Stripes)

“Everything they have is tied to a base,” he said. “Before they purchase equipment and invest, we wanted to show them how we do it.” 

At Kapaun Air Station in Kaiserslautern, the Ukrainians saw a self-contained network, brimming with wires, where the 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron trains to perform emergency repairs, upgrades and maintenance.

The Ukrainians also were taken to the unit’s 65-foot tower, on which airmen practice climbing and rappelling. The skills are needed to maintain high-frequency towers at Lajes Field in the Azores that support communications over the Atlantic Ocean. 

“Do you guys do the same thing?” someone asked the Ukrainians as they gazed up at the tower. 

“We are too old for this job,” one of the Ukrainian officers quipped in response. 

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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