Forget the mid-August page on the calendar, and the sweltering days in many global capitals. With the prospect of the Russian war on Ukraine extending into this winter, there is mounting angst and hand-wringing inside the Washington DC Beltway and in other seats of government about the pace and success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive that began this June. 

There are many dynamics in play impacting Ukraine’s current offensive. Topics including the type, quantities and shipment schedules of tanks, armored vehicles, munitions and other materiel the international community has sent to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022. MS&T is committed to providing the S&T community an unvarnished overview of the successes and challenges of the US and other nations in training Ukrainian operators, units and staffs in myriad competencies to increase their mission readiness in the theatre of operations.

To that end, the US and other nations have opened the aperture, so to speak – training about 70,000 Ukrainian defense forces since February 2022 in skill sets across much of the defense portfolio. At the same time, it’s also important to note the quality of that training, and examine to what extent the investments of the US and other nations have elevated the overall capacity of Ukrainian military forces.         

International Training Effort: Attention-Getting Numbers

The commitment to elevate Ukrainian training readiness has been nothing less than an “all hands” effort, with little of the dallying and other indecisiveness in other parts of the broader effort to support the nation. Last week, Marine Corps LtCol Garron Garn, Department of Defense Spokesperson for Europe/NATO/Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, noted the international community “has trained more than 69,000 Ukrainian soldiers at more than 40 different training areas located around the world since Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion.” Further, the US “is one of more than 30 countries providing such training, which represents the continuation of a worldwide effort led by the US and supported by more than 50 nations to help Ukraine defend itself.” 

Broad Training Scope

Training has and is occurring across much of the Ukrainian defense mission portfolio.   

In Germany, the US is training approximately 300 Ukrainian soldiers at the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas, according to the Pentagon spokesperson. Approximately 40 are conducting staff training, approximately 60 are conducting platform training, and approximately 200 are conducting combined arms training on the M1A1.

The Pentagon-based spokesperson emphasized additionally, “approximately 12,800 Ukrainian soldiers have completed training provided by US service members at Grafenwoehr and/or Hohenfels training areas in Germany and at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and returned to Ukraine.” The 12,800 consists of approximately 7,500 (or 14 battalions – three Stryker, three mechanized/Bradley, six motorized infantry battalion, and two national guard) who have completed combined arms training, 4,680 who have completed platform training, and 620 who have completed staff training. The combined arms training included instruction on basic soldier tasks like marksmanship, along with medical training, squad, platoon and company training, and a battalion force-on-force exercise, according to the Marine Corps media officer.

Of further note, the aforementioned figures include the 65 Ukrainian air defenders who received training on the Patriot air defense system at Fort Sill. Garn elaborated, “Those air defenders and the ones trained separately by Germany and the Netherlands, along with the US, German, and Dutch Patriot systems donated by each of the three countries, are all in Ukraine.”


The US trained 65 Ukrainian air defenders on the Patriot air defense system. Other prospective air defenders were trained separately by German and Dutch Patriot units.   

Source/credit: US Army/Army Sgt. Amanda Hunt  


The Quality Issue 

Beyond the numbers of Ukrainian trained and related metrics, it’s imperative to look at the quality of the nation’s fighting force.   

Dr. Steve Biddle, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy, Council on Foreign Relations and a Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, and a member of the executive committee in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at the university, initially told MS&T that “US and NATO training has been helpful, but the courses have been limited in duration and command level, with an emphasis on basic soldier skills rather than high-level combined arms operations at scale.” Professor Biddle emphasized, “This is appropriate and necessary for raw recruits, but would be considered first steps only for a NATO army. The diversity of nations providing the training also creates problems of doctrinal and terminological compatibility in the training provided, and the diversity of donated equipment the Ukrainians are training for creates problems of its own.” 

Noting MS&T’s other observations on the Ukrainian training challenges, including different languages, the tyranny of distance for training audiences and such, Biddle further commented, “The training mission is clearly complex, for all the reasons you suggest!”

Additionally asked about efforts needed to improve US and NATO-provided training, the university professor responded that significant improvements in training would involve political tradeoffs and operational risks that the US, NATO, and Ukraine have been unwilling to accept to date. “Pulling whole brigades out of Ukraine and sending them to Hohenfels or the US National Training Center at Fort Irwin [California] for several months (or more) would improve their performance significantly (and especially for the critical task of synchronizing combined arms at scale), but only at a major opportunity cost in near-term capability for Ukraine, a major opportunity cost in US training (these facilities are in heavy use by the US Army), a major financial cost (training on this scale is expensive), and some degree of escalatory risk given the increase in scale involved.” 

Biddle offered that, alternatively, NATO nations could deploy large training teams forward to locations near the line of contact, enabling them to train engaged or reserve brigades and their staffs without removing the forces from Ukraine. “This would involve the risk of NATO casualties and potential escalatory pressures. NATO nations could provide advisors in Ukrainian command posts to assist with planning, logistics, and combined arms synchronization, but this would involve the same risks to an even greater degree.” 

Reflecting on the current battlefield situation, Dr. Biddle reminded MS&T that “deliberate breaches of deep, prepared defenses that are backed with reserves is an extremely challenging mission that even US Army brigades would find difficult. Historically, defenses of this kind have been very hard to break through, for anyone.

[Editor’s note: Professor Biddle offered two background works on the topic: and]. 

He concluded, “Ukrainian brigades are not as well trained for this mission as US units are, and better training would certainly help. But that would not make breakthrough trivial or easy, even so.” 

On the Horizon 

Elsewhere in the Ukrainian war efforts, one of that nation’s major training activities taking shape involves the anticipated transfer of F-16s.  Garn noted that while details are still be worked out, “the US will support the joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, as part of our long-term commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense.” 

The Pentagon spokesperson said, “This initiative will strengthen the Ukrainian Air Force and improve their capabilities over the long term since it will take Ukrainian pilots time to train. Together, the US and our allies and partners are sending a powerful signal: we are fully united in ensuring Ukraine remains sovereign, independent, and able to defend against and deter future attacks.” Of significance to the discussion on equipping that air force with F-16s, LtCol Garn concluded, “This coalition will decide the details of when, how many, and from where the aircraft will be provided for Ukraine’s Air Force.”

MS&T will continue to follow and comment on significant training aspects of the Ukraine-Russia war as they emerge.