WASHINGTON — Ukrainian troops are heading to the United States soon for training on the Patriot missile system, defense officials said on Tuesday, in what would be an unusual case of Ukrainians being trained on American soil.
The training will take place in Fort Sill, Okla., said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Fort Sill is where U.S. troops undergo their own training in how to operate and maintain the Patriot system, which is the country’s most advanced ground-based air defense system.
Most of the recent training on U.S. weapons systems for Ukraine has taken place in Germany, but in the case of the Patriot system, Pentagon officials had indicated that they were considering training the Ukrainians in the United States. Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said last week that the United States was looking at options to “include potential training here in the U.S., overseas or a combination of both.”
For the Biden administration, the U.S.-based training, reported earlier by CNN, does not risk escalation with Russia. While the Patriot system is a major step in continued U.S. aid for Ukraine, it is a defensive system that is meant to protect Ukrainians from Russian missiles; it is not an offensive system.
After months of debate, the Biden administration said late last month that it was sending the Patriot system to Ukraine, responding to Kyiv’s urgent request to help defend against an onslaught of Russian missile and drone attacks. The Patriot is part of a $1.8 billion aid package for Ukraine that was announced last month during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington.
A Patriot battery can require close to 100 people to operate it, officials said. While training on the complex system can take months, one defense official said that he expected that Ukrainian service members, who had shown themselves to be quick studies on military systems, might be able to get up to speed more quickly.
Germany is also sending Ukraine a Patriot missile system from its stockpiles.
The Biden administration last week announced a $3 billion package of military assistance for Ukraine that will include Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which officials said would be especially helpful to Ukrainian units fighting Russian forces in the Donbas region in the country’s east.
The United States has operated training programs for Ukrainian troops for years. It beefed up those programs after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Last year, the Pentagon trained around two dozen Ukrainians in the United States on how to use the Phoenix Ghost drone.
Over the years, Ukrainian pilots have also trained with the California Air National Guard, both in California and in Ukraine.