US to send Patriot missile systems to Ukraine faster than originally planned

Natasha Bertrand, CNN

A Patriot Launcher is staged during 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment's culminating field training exercise on Fort Sill, Okla., Oct. 25, 2019.
A Patriot Launcher is staged during 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment’s culminating field training exercise on Fort Sill, Okla., Oct. 25, 2019. (Sgt. Amanda Gerlach/US Army)

Fort Sill, Oklahoma CNN — Patriot missile defense systems are set to be deployed to Ukraine faster than originally planned and a group of 65 Ukrainian soldiers will complete their training on the systems at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the coming days, US defense officials said on Tuesday.

The troops will then move on to Europe for additional training on the two Patriot systems – one American and one built by the Germans and Dutch – that will be deployed to Ukraine in the coming weeks, the officials told reporters at Fort Sill.

US trainers at Fort Sill, where the 65 Ukrainians have been training since January 15, were able to significantly speed up the timeline of the course because of the Ukrainians’ baseline knowledge of air defense systems, the officials said.

The acceleration of Patriot deployments comes the same day it was reported that the US will accelerate the time it takes to ship Abrams tanks to Ukraine by sending older M1-A1 models of America’s main battle tank instead of the more modern version of the tank, according to two US officials.

The decision to speed up the delivery of tanks and Patriots comes as Ukraine is preparing to launch a spring offensive against Russian forces, built largely around the more powerful and more advanced systems Western countries have agreed to send, including tanks and other armored vehicles.

“Our assessment is that the Ukrainian soldiers are impressive, and absolutely a quick study,” said Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan, the Fort Sill commander. “Due to their extensive air defense knowledge and experience in a combat zone, it was easier – though never easy – for them to grasp the Patriot System Operations and Maintenance concepts.” The US military had allocated 10 weeks for the training, but the Ukrainians completed it in about 8 weeks. The training schedule was “aggressive,” a Fort Sill official said, with the Ukrainians training daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

On Tuesday morning, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, said the US was working to speed up the delivery of tanks to Ukraine.

“We’re working on that. There’s some changes that you can make to the process, to sort of speed that up,” Kirby said on MSNBC. “The Pentagon is working as fast as they can, and they’ll have more to say on adjustments they’re making.”

The US had previously announced it would send the more modern M1-A2 version of the Abrams battle tank, but that would have required either building new tanks or modernizing existing older tanks, then training Ukrainian crews on the more advanced system. The M1-A2 has a newer digital targeting system that makes it a more capable tank, but it also required more training for Ukrainian troops to operate the more complex tank and to maintain the system.

The US still intends to send 31 M1-A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the same number as previously announced and the size of a complete Ukrainian tank battalion.

This story is breaking and will be updated.