US provides helpline to Ukrainian military

A military base in southeastern Poland (AP) — On the Ukrainian frontline, soldiers were having trouble firing 155 mm howitzers. So he asked the team of Americans on the other end of the phone for help.

“What do I do?” he asked a member of the US military team at a base in southeastern Poland a few miles away. “What are my options?”

Communicating in encrypted chat rooms using phones and tablets, a rapidly growing group of US and allied forces and contractors are providing real-time maintenance advice to Ukrainian forces on the battlefield. . I usually speak through an interpreter.

As a quick response, members of the U.S. team told Ukrainians to remove the gun breech at the rear of the howitzer and manually prime the firing pin so that the gun could fire. He did it and it worked.

The exchange is part of a growing U.S. military helpline aimed at providing repair advice to Ukrainian forces in the heat of battle.As the United States and other allies send Increasingly Complex and High-Tech Weapons Demand for Ukraine is booming. Also, the United States and other her NATO members, concerned about being embroiled in a direct conflict with Russia, do not send troops to the country to provide hands-on support, so keep an eye on virtual chat rooms. I turned it.

U.S. soldiers and other team members and leaders stationed at the base in Poland told two reporters who visited the facility last week with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley. Due to the sensitive nature of the operation, the forces there spoke on the condition of anonymity due to guidelines set by the US military. The reporters also agreed not to reveal the name or location of the base or to take pictures of it.

According to the repair team, howitzer repairs are frequently requested by front-line Ukrainian forces. There is a growing need for assistance with weapons. Just a few months ago, what we call the remote maintenance team was just over 50 of him. This surged to 150 in the coming weeks, and he more than tripled the number of encrypted chat lines.

The team currently contains about 20 soldiers, supplemented by civilians and contractors, although the army numbers may drop a bit as more civilians come on board.And they expect it to continue to evolve New Refined Weapons Delivered Ukrainians, and a new chat room set up to handle them.

“Often the calls come from right up there in the line of fire. An American soldier who belongs to the squad. Chat may have to wait a little while until troops can reach a safer location, he said.

A key problem, according to one officer, is that the Ukrainian military is pushing its weapons to the limit. Launching them at unprecedented speeds, U.S. military personnel have been using them long after they have been handed over for repair or retirement.

The US soldier held up a tablet and showed a picture of a howitzer barrel. The internal ridges were almost completely worn away.

“They’re using these systems in ways we didn’t necessarily expect,” said the officer, pointing to the tablet. “In fact, we are learning from them by seeing how these weapons systems can be abused and where the breaking point is.”

However, the Ukrainian military is often reluctant to send weapons back out of the country for repair. They would rather do it themselves, and in almost all cases — US officials 99% of the time — Ukrainians make repairs and continue to work.

Many of the chats are regularly scheduled with Ukrainian depot workers. For example, they call him “Coffee Cup Guy” because he has a coffee cup emoji in his chat. It may also involve soldiers on the battlefield whose guns have just been torn apart, or soldiers in vehicles. stall.

Video chat may not be possible.

“Often when you’re on the front lines, you don’t make videos because[cell service]can be erratic,” said a US maintenance official. “They’ll take a picture and send it over chat, and we’ll sit there and diagnose it.”

Sometimes they would get pictures of broken howitzers and Ukrainians would say, ‘This Triple 7 has exploded. What should I do?’

And what he said was a notable new skill, allowing Ukrainians to put split weapons back together. But now we can,” the soldier said, adding, “What was blown up two days ago is now working again.”

Giving advice over chat means that when something goes wrong, an expert in the US has to diagnose the problem, figure out how to fix it, and translate the steps into Ukrainian. increase.

Looking to the future, they plan to get commercial off-the-shelf translation goggles. That way, you can skip the interpreter when talking to each other and see the translation as you speak, making conversation easier and faster.

They also hope to build diagnostic capabilities and expand the types and amounts of spare parts they keep on hand as weapon systems become more complex. The Patriot missile system will be a challenge that requires more expertise in diagnosing and repairing problems.

The breadth of weapons and gear they dealt with and the questions they answered were too complex for a digital spreadsheet, forcing the team to be low-tech. THEIR MAINTENANCE The walls of his office are lined with old-fashioned, color-coded sticky notes to help keep track of weapons and maintenance needs.

The Polish team is part of an ever-expanding logistics network spread across Europe. As more countries send their own versions of the weapon system, they are establishing teams to provide repair support in various locations.

The country and manufacturing companies have quickly put together manuals and technical data that can be translated and sent to Ukrainians. Then, spare parts can be stockpiled and brought to a location near the Ukrainian border, where they can be sent to the battlefield.

A few days before Millie’s visit to the base, a Ukrainian went to the Polish facility for parts. The visit gave the US soldier the opportunity to meet in person with someone in the chat room and exchange military patches.

“In the next video chat, he was wearing our patch in the video,” the soldier said.

A growing base of logistical support is located at Lucius D. Clay Caserne, a U.S. Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany.

There, in cubicles that fill vast rooms, the United Nations coordinates campaigns to locate and identify far-flung equipment, weapons, and spare parts in other countries that are needed in Ukraine. Then, by sea, air, and land, everything is loaded onto trucks and trains and planned for delivery to border locations moving into war zones.

At least 17 countries have representatives in what are called International Donor Coordination Centres. Also, as the number and variety of equipment increases, the center is working to better blend donations from the United States and other countries.

“As we add more advanced equipment, such as strikers, Bradleys and tanks, of course, that maintenance must increase,” said Assistant Secretary of War Douglas Bush. The military knows how to do it. “


Washington AP writer Tara Copp contributed to this report.