Mission Ukraine: U.S. Army Leads Multinational Training Group to Counter Russian Threat
As the events of fall 2013 unfolded in Ukraine and President Victor Yanukovych fled the country, Russia was thrust into a problematic position. The country could not afford to cede influence and control over a territory that was so critical to its very survival. As a result, Russia moved in swiftly, rekindling strategy and tactics reminiscent of the Soviet Union. As the world struggled to make sense of its actions, Russia unleashed a new concept for prosecuting war—new-generation warfare, also known as hybrid warfare.
This audacious move resulted in the invasion of a sovereign country, the carnage of thousands of innocent people, and posed a challenge to the international community not seen in over 20 years. More importantly, Russia’s actions redefined the future of the contemporary security environment in which we operate.
Since 2014, the U.S. and its European partners have taken many approaches to find parity with this rising state-on-state threat. One such approach is the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine (JMTG-U). The U.S. Army’s mission as leader of this multinational training group is training, equipping and developing a training center and providing doctrinal assistance to the Ukrainian military.
In addition, multiple economic sanctions were imposed against Russia by the U.S. and its European partners. Ukraine was also provided supplies, equipment and advisement from the U.S. and its allies. And the U.S. began to redraft policy to address the Russian threat.
In 2014, the U.S. European Command worked with the Ukrainian ministry of defense to propose bilateral cooperation and defense reform. Canada and the U.K. later joined in support of the effort. This served as the basis for one of the most profound forms of support to Ukraine—the JMTG-U. Training Ukrainian soldiers began at Yavoriv Training Center—the Ukrainian combat training center—in spring 2015. The training center receives oversight from the highest levels of the U.S. government, with the National Security Council serving as the approving authority for the JMTG-U framework and scope of training.
The Yavoriv Training Center is the responsibility of the U.S. 7th Army Training Command, based in Grafenwoehr, Germany. The focus is to transform the Ukrainian Ground Forces from Soviet doctrine to Western doctrine in order to meet NATO standards. Forces for this initiative are usually fielded by the U.S. Army National Guard. In the beginning, support was provided by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, as it was based in the European Theater. Upon completion of the first rotation, the 173rd Airborne was backfilled by elements of the California National Guard and the 3rd Infantry Division.
Since then, there have been five subsequent rotations to the Yavoriv Training Center by the Oklahoma National Guard, the New York National Guard, the Tennessee National Guard, the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the Wisconsin National Guard. Rotations are approximately nine months long with time allowed for mobilization, demobilization and predeployment training of the deploying unit. Since this is not a standard mission, 7th Army Training Command and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), located in Hohenfels, Germany, developed a specialized training package that is sent to the deploying unit during predeployment training at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Readiness Center Support
The primary mission of the JMRC is to provide tough, realistic and challenging joint and combined arms training focused on improving readiness by developing soldiers, their leaders and units in support of the global war on terrorism, and for success on current and future battlefields. However, the JMRC is also charged with providing exportable training capability.
This includes the initiative in Ukraine, which is addressed in many ways, including the following:
• Team alignment and support. JMRC leadership designated one of its observer coach/trainer teams to serve as the touchpoint for JMRC activities associated with Ukraine. Although the JMRC’s role has ebbed and flowed since initial alignment, representatives still travel regularly to Ukraine to maintain relations with representatives from the JMTG-U and the Yavoriv Training Center. This presence plays a critical role in the continuity of the JMTG-U mission given that JMTG-U units rotate every nine months.
• Mobile training team. The 7th Army Training Command and the JMRC are charged with training U.S. Army units (active and National Guard) that are assuming the JMTG-U mission. This training package consists of two key elements: plans and operations, and observer coach/trainer/opposing force. Since most units have never run and/or managed a training center in a host nation, the primary purpose of this training is to provide the leadership and staff of the deploying unit with education that prepares them to assume the mission. The program of instruction includes, but is not limited to, the following: command brief; JMTG-U operational overview; Ukrainian culture; JMTG-U relationship with the Ukrainian army; Russian hybrid warfare; combat training center operations brief; JMTG-U mission brief; and Yavoriv Training Center brief. The JMTG-U training iteration in March 2019 also brought in the Asymmetric Warfare Group from Fort Meade, Maryland, to conduct a brief on Russian threats in eastern Ukraine. The second element of the mobile training team trains personnel to serve as observer coach/trainers and the opposing force at the JMTG-U. Upon completion of the training program, students are awarded Tier 1 qualification as observer coach/trainers.
• Yavoriv Training Center assessment. Last year, the JMRC identified a gap with regard to the Yavoriv Training Center: no assessment had been conducted to evaluate the progress of the training center. So a team of people from across the JMRC was assembled who had requisite knowledge of the pillars that support a combat training center. Those pillars include: the training unit, operations group, opposing force/operational environment, instrumentation; and facilities. Using the pillars as a foundation, an assessment rubric for each pillar was applied. The team spent approximately a week interviewing personnel from the JMTG-U and the Yavoriv Training Center. Information was consolidated into a report and then briefed to the commanders of the JMTG-U and the training center. The content of the report is beyond the scope of this article. However, the JMRC assessment team saw significant progress at Yavoriv. The JMRC will continue to assess the Yavoriv Training Center annually to inform U.S. and Ukrainian leadership and improve training.
• Rapid Trident exercise. Rapid Trident is an annual Ukrainian-led, multinational exercise held at the Yavoriv Training Center that enhances military-to-military relationships and improves interoperability. Although the exercise has been held for over 20 years, after the JMTG-U was stood up, the JMRC bolstered its commitment to the Ukrainian mission and the exercise. This resulted in the JMRC providing significant observer coach/trainer support to the Rapid Trident exercise as the Ukrainian observer coach/trainer academy was still in its infancy. As the training center has grown and matured, the Ukrainian observer coach/trainer academy has done the same by standardizing its training and increasing the number of personnel trained. Now, the JMRC only sends representatives to assist in planning the exercise. This also serves as another touchpoint in maintaining relations with the leadership at the Yavoriv Training Center.
The U.S. and the West are intent on continuing support to Ukraine. The question is, to what degree? The answer will hinge on three overarching factors that reside outside the U.S. military’s sphere of influence.
First, what actions will Russia take in the future? If Russia maintains its current posture, Ukraine will remain destabilized, ultimately prevented from joining the European Union and/or NATO. However, if Russia decides to escalate its activities, the U.S. and its allies will be compelled to reciprocate in kind.
This leads to the second factor—political will. Will the U.S. continue to maintain the political will required to support Ukraine? In most cases, political will is directly related to money. How much money does the U.S. need to invest in the region to gain and maintain parity with Russia? Historically, countries will invest to the level required to find parity, then reduce this investment as the threat is neutralized or mitigated to a point that satisfies national interest.
The third factor is the political will of Ukraine. Although Ukrainians are a patriotic people intent on self-determination, the reality is that large swaths of the Ukrainian east are still controlled by Russian-backed separatists, and Crimea is a Russian-occupied territory.
This list is by no means exhaustive but should stimulate thought regarding Ukraine’s future.
The U.S. and the West have a multitude of tools at their disposal to counter Russian influence in Ukraine and the surrounding region. The Ukrainian army, with help from its Western allies, is improving every day, but not to the extent that it could stand up unilaterally to a country like Russia with any sort of positive outcome. There is still much work to do.
The situation is unquestionably complex and only exacerbated by the fact that Russia will continue to undermine Western support, keeping Ukraine off balance and in its orbit. Regardless of what the future holds, Ukraine needs a defense force and America is there to help build it. Hopefully, in doing so, a new strategic parity with Russia will be reached and the people of Ukraine can look forward to a future filled with peace and prosperity.