Potential weapons reach Ukraine faster than know how to use them

KHERSON REGION, Ukraine – Since the Russian invasion, NATO nations have upgraded Ukraine’s arsenal with increasingly sophisticated tools, with more promise, like advanced multiple-launch missile systems. to which the United States and Great Britain pledged.

But training soldiers to use the equipment became a major and growing obstacle – one that Junior Sgt encounters every day. Dmytro Pysanka and his crew, operate an old anti-tank gun camouflaged in nets and green bushes in southern Ukraine.

Looking through the scene attached to the gun, Sergeant Pysanka was greeted with a kaleidoscope of numbers and lines that, if read correctly, would give him the calculations he needed to fire at force. Russian quantity. However, the error is common in the chaos of battle.

Over a month ago, the commanders of his front-line artillery unit secured a much more advanced tool: a high-tech laser rangefinder supplied by the West to help identify targets.

But there’s a hitch: No one knows how to use it.

“It was like being given an iPhone 13 and just being able to make phone calls,” said Sergeant Pysanka, clearly exasperated.

Range finder, called JIM LR, like a pair of high-tech binoculars and could be part of a chain of US-supplied equipment, said Sergeant Pysanka.

It seems a perfect choice to make better use of the anti-tank gun, built in 1985. It can see the target at night and transmit distance, compass direction and GPS coordinates. of them. Some soldiers have learned enough to operate the tool, but have since rotated elsewhere in recent days, leaving the unit with an expensive paperweight.

“I tried to learn how to use it by reading the manual in English and using Google Translate to understand it,” said Sergeant Pysanka.

Ukraine’s most advanced new weapons are concentrated in the eastern Donbas region, where the fiercest fighting has taken place as President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces – approaching from the east, north and south – try to destroy part of the territory held by Ukraine. At the eastern tip of that pocket, the two sides waged a seesaw battle for the ravaged, nearly abandoned city of Sievierodonetsk.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian troops regained some ground in the city, according to Western analysts and Ukrainian officials. But on Monday, the Ukrainians were forced to turn back again as Russian troops stepped up their already ferocious artillery attack, according to Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s steward in the region.

A day after an adventurous visit to the army in Lysychansk, near Sievierodonetsk, President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday gave journalists a candid assessment of the challenge: “There is so much more. They are stronger. But we have every chance to fight in this direction.”

Ukrainian leaders regularly call for high-end Western weapons and equipment, pinning their hopes of victory on requests for new anti-tank guided missiles, artillery and satellite-guided missiles.

But given the need for war tools, the Ukrainian military needed to know how to use them. Without proper training, the same dilemma faced by Sergeant Pysanka’s unit and their lone rangefinder would be commonplace on a much larger scale. Analysts say that could echo the failed US approach to providing the Afghan military with equipment that could not be sustained without massive logistical support.

“Ukrainians are eager to use Western equipment, but it requires training to maintain,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va.

The United States and other NATO countries provided extensive training to Ukrainian troops in the pre-war years, though not on some of the advanced weapons they were sending. Between 2015 and early this year, US military officials said, American instructors trained more than 27,000 Ukrainian troops at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center near Lviv. There were more than 150 American military advisers in Ukraine when Russia invaded in February, but they withdrew.

Since the beginning of the war, the United States has committed aid of about 54 billion dollars to Ukraine and provide a wide range of weapons and equipment, most recently some HIMARS mobile rocket launcher, a move that was quickly condemned by the Kremlin.

But to avoid a more direct confrontation with Russia, the Biden administration has so far refused to send military advisers back to Ukraine to help train Ukrainian forces to use the new weapons systems, and instead instead, they rely on training programs outside of the country.

This put a lot of pressure on Ukrainian soldiers like Sgt. Andriy Mykyta, a member of the country’s border forces, before the war, received short-term training from NATO advisers in Britain’s advanced anti-tank weapon, known as the NLAW.

Now, he races around the front lines trying to instruct his teammates on how to use them. In many cases, he said, Ukrainian soldiers learned to use certain weapons, including the NLAW, using online videos and hands-on practice.

“But there are weapons that you can’t learn intuitively: surface-to-air missiles, artillery and some devices,” Sergeant Mykyta said in a phone interview. “So we need formal courses,” he added.

Ukraine’s need is clearly visible in the area where Sergeant Pysanka’s unit is located, just northeast of the Russian-occupied city of Kherson. The area was the site of a brief Ukrainian offensive this past week, which slowed shortly after the retreating Russians destroyed a key bridge; Ukraine’s lack of longer-range artillery means it cannot attempt to cross the difficult river in pursuit, Ukrainian military officials said.

For Sergeant Pysanka’s gun crew, the only instructor available to the laser rangefinder was a soldier who remained in the last unit and took the time to translate most of the 104-page manual. But it’s still trial and error as they figure out what combinations of buttons are for, while looking for special solutions to the lack of tripods and video monitors (both advertised in Instruction book).

“If you are working at long distances while holding it in your hand, it can sometimes transmit inaccurate data,” said Sergeant Pysanka. “It is safer,” he added, “works when the device is placed on a tripod facing the enemy and the operator is working with the screen covered.”

The JIM LR, made by French company Safran, looks like a hybrid between a virtual reality headset and traditional binoculars, and can be used in conjunction with a tablet-based mapping application that military personnel use. used by Ukrainian teams to assist in artillery attacks.

At about six pounds, it’s much smaller than four and a half tons, M777 155 mm howitzer supplied by the United States recently reached the front line in eastern Ukraine. But both devices have complications that are reminders of the complications that come with supplying foreign militaries.

Ukrainian officers said the M777 was very mobile and capable of firing at long distances, but training had become a bottleneck in deploying the artillery, Ukrainian officers said. At week-long courses in Germany, the United States trained soldiers to use the weapon and others to maintain it.

However, one surveillance nearly delayed all artillery maintenance on hard-to-reach front lines, Ukrainian officers said. The entire M777 movement is housed with the British measurement system used in the United States, meaning that using a Ukrainian metric wrench on it would be difficult and risk damaging the device.

Only after sending the guns did the US arrange a rush shipment of toolboxes including dignified wrenches, said Major Vadim Baranik, deputy commander of a maintenance unit.

However, tools can be misplaced, lost, or destroyed, potentially rendering the gun inoperable unless someone gets a US-supplied wrench.

And the JIM LR, capable of displaying extremely accurate targeting data, provides information, known as grid coordinates, in the widely used NATO format that Sergeant Pysanka must convert to coordinates. Soviet-era degrees are used on maps of Ukraine. Such small speed bumps and the chance of error increase, especially when under pressure from a barrage of Russian artillery.

For now, Sergeant Pysanka is focusing on learning rangefinders. For a small part of the war, Western-supplied weapons and equipment were limited to a small number of anti-tank missiles and first aid kits.

Major Roman Kovalyov, deputy commander of Sergeant Pysanka’s gun position monitoring unit, said: “We cannot boast of the same resources as in the east. “What Ukraine gets, we can only see on TV. But we believe that sooner or later things will happen here.”

Report contributed by Andrew E. Kramer from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, and Eric Schmitt from Washington State.

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