US, allies give Ukrainians a boost in building modern army
By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 6, 2017
YAVORIV, Ukraine — The U.S. Army and its NATO allies are working hard to upgrade one of the Ukrainian army’s aging training bases to give its troops a more realistic sense of a modern battlefield.
The allies are also working with the Ukrainian armed forces, currently engaged in an ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions, on a review of their outdated Soviet-era doctrine in an effort to bring it in line with NATO standards by 2020.
The new facilities at the Yavoriv base include classrooms, a dining facility and barracks, as well as a simulation center and a modern urban combat site.
“Based on our experiences, a combat training center (like Yavoriv) is the best way to train an army,” said Col. David Jordan, the American commander of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. “They don’t do force-on-force training, like we do, and that’s so important. If you’re going to make a mistake in battle, you want to be able to make that mistake in training and fix it.”
The United States, Britain, Canada, Lithuania and Poland established the JMTG-U in 2015 as part of a wider effort to boost the Ukrainian forces, which began soon after the country emerged as a sovereign nation when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The goal was to create a self-sustaining system and hand the area over to the Ukrainian military by 2020.
Much of the training so far has consisted of tactical drills such as first-aid training, marksmanship, individual weapons training, explosive threat recognition and disposal and logistics improvements.
The Yavoriv center can currently accommodate a battalion-size unit. But in order to facilitate larger, brigade-level, force-on-force training in the future, the JMTG-U has cleared some 100,000 square meters of the combat center of land mines and unexploded ordnance from several earlier conflicts. They are currently clearing more than 7,000 square meters of training area each day, with a goal of clearing 18 million square meters by 2018.
Other problems the Ukrainians face range from a top-heavy ratio of senior ranks-to-troops — relying heavily on officers for many of the tasks most NATO armies would delegate to noncommissioned officers — to a cumbersome system for calling in artillery fire. Consequently, one of the priorities during their 55-day training rotations is helping build up the Ukrainian NCO corps and training soldiers from the individual level all the way to the company level.
American fire support officer 1st Lt. Arthur Jobe said the current way the Ukrainians call for artillery fire, by having the artillery officer observe and plot targets as well as doing the math needed for long-range fire, is much more time-consuming than NATO standards.
“It’s been challenging trying to get them to modernize their artillery capabilities, but they’ll get there,” Jobe said. “I can’t even tell you how much more effective they will be once they master this.”
When the JMTG-U began the training rotations in 2015, NATO allies would guide the Ukrainians through each of the training events. But Ukrainian soldiers have progressed far since then.
“They’ve improved immensely since day one,” said instructor 1st Lt. Brendon Galvin. “Our instructors are mainly hands-off at this point, and we let the Ukrainians train themselves. Ultimately, this is going to be their installation.”
When the combat center is completed, Ukrainian forces will train their own soldiers, along with NATO allies and partner nations, in much the same way the American Hohenfels Combat Maneuver Training Center in Germany functions.