There’s a reason Ukraine’s western allies gave serious preference to Soviet-era weapons systems. People fixate too much on learning to operate weapons systems, when the real challenge is in maintaining them.
Joshi is talking about the M777, the towed artillery system Ukraine has received from the United States, Canada, and Australia. It’s not a very complicated system. In fact, the initial training for an artillery mechanic is only 15 weeks—just over three months.
Canada spent several weeks training Ukrainians on operating the M777 in Poland, but I never did see anything about training maintenance crews. It certainly hasn’t been three months since these units were delivered to Ukraine.
What’s more, those 15 weeks are only the initial training. Graduates from AIT (advanced individual training) then go to their units where they continue their training under experienced NCOs (non-commissioned officers, or sergeants), many with over a decade of experience doing the job. The training is ongoing, for years. That’s how you keep complex military gear up and running The operators are only a small part of the equation, and quite irrelevant if their equipment can’t run.
MLRS/HIMARS is a far more complex system than the M777. The training program is 19 weeks long—a month-and-a-half longer than for the M777. For the M1 Abrams tank, it’s 24 weeks, half a year. For the Patriot air defense system, it’s 53 weeks, a whole year. And remember, this is just the initial training. NATO countries aren’t holding back western weapons for the heck of it.
In wartime, timetables can be compressed. But there’s a limit to how much knowledge you can squeeze into just weeks of training. And then what? There are no experienced NCOs in the Ukrainian army to continue training those mechanics. So the inevitable result is this—broken down equipment that needs to be shipped out of country so experienced mechanics can bring them back online.
Now, everyone is excited about M270 MLRS and HIMARS entering Ukraine. And it is exciting. But if Ukraine is having a hard time keeping relatively simple M777s operational, things are about to get much worse as more complex western weapons systems arrive in Ukraine. I say not to dissuade those systems from being donated, but to explain why so many are taking so long to arrive (the Germans, in particular, are getting slammed for their seemingly slow timelines), and why some systems (like Patriots or F-16) couldn’t realistically be introduced in time to make an impact this war.
On the ground, nothing new to report since Mark’s last update yesterday. On Sunday I wrote about Dovhen’ke, the little strategic town (pre-war population 850) that has halted the Russian advance south of Izyum.
The moon-like scarred terrain around Dovhen’ke will be inhospitable to life for decades. Russian ordinance has a dud rate of around 30%. That means the number of unexploded shells in that one picture alone likely runs in the hundreds. Top right, that’s a 40-foot crater where an ammonium fertilizer warehouse once stood on the outskirts of the hamlet.
On Monday, according to Ukrainian General Staff, Russia “focuse[d] the main efforts on the continuation of the attack in the directions of the settlements of ízyum and Slaviansk. Trying to move towards the settlements Dovgenke [Dovhen’ke] and Valley.” Those attacks got nowhere, and on Tuesday, at least for one day, whatever life is left in that town had a brief moment of respite.