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Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in combined arms tactics in Germany

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

Ukraine is receiving more than light tanks from its allies. Ukrainians will soon train to use Patriot missile systems at an Army base in Oklahoma. Brigadier General Pat Ryder outlined the training at a Pentagon press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT RYDER: It will consist of training in the classrooms. It will consist of training on the Patriot systems and then, of course, in a simulation lab as well before they actually deploy the capability on the battlefield.

BROWN: Now, the Pentagon also announced plans back in December to train large units of Ukrainian soldiers in combined arm tactics in Germany. Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, joins me now to talk about how this could affect the war in Ukraine.

Good morning, Dr. Cohen.

RAPHAEL COHEN: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

BROWN: Absolutely. What is the principle of combat arms tactics, and how does this training help the Ukrainians in combat?

COHEN: So combined arms is the integration of multiple different kinds of weapons on - to achieve an assault and military effect - so in this case, infantry tanks, artillery, aircraft, if possible. And there's only a handful of places that can train realistically on that. The United States has some of them in Germany, but also in the United States. And so the ability for us to train the Ukrainians to conduct these very complex maneuvers is really key for them building combat capability as they push forward with their offensive.

BROWN: And the U.S. and its Western allies have actually been training Ukrainian fighters since the war began more than 10 months ago. How much of an escalation is this new training?

COHEN: So I don't think this is really a difference in kind. It's a difference in scale, though. I mean, even before the conflict began, we had a training mission actually in Ukraine up until February of 2022. What this does, though, is allow us to train at a greater scale. And I think that is in some ways an escalation, but perhaps not as much as people might think of this.

BROWN: Train on a greater scale - now, there was some initial apprehension, of course, among the U.S. and its allies about using weapons that might provoke Russia. In your view, why has that position changed?

COHEN: So I think there are two big factors at play. First, we're now almost a year into this conflict. And as the conflict has progressed, I think American policymakers have felt a little bit more comfortable about what Russian red lines are and therefore a little bit more comfortable about what kind of equipment we can provide to Ukrainians. The second major factor, however, is, frankly, Russian brutality in Ukraine. That shapes our risk calculus, but it also shapes the risk calculus of NATO allies. And I think your previous reporting highlighted this fact. And so when we take any sort of attempt to aid the Ukrainians, we want to do that in lockstep with our NATO partners. And so as Russia's actions have begun to emphasize - and sort of increasing harm toward civilians, that makes the alliance as a whole want to take more proactive measures to help the Ukrainians in their own defense.

BROWN: And, Dr. Cohen, my last question here - the Russians haven't really used their air force much so far. What's keeping them out of the skies over Ukraine?

COHEN: So there are several factors at play here. One is Russian pilots. There's a shortage of them. Russian equipment is also - has been suffering from serious maintenance issues. And then to further combat this, the Russians are also suffering from munitions shortfalls as well. Now, in addition to all of that on the Russian side, there's also the fact that we've been providing a lot of air defenses to the Ukrainians. And the Russians don't want to lose any more equipment.

BROWN: And, sir, we're going to leave it right there. Raphael Cohen, thank you for your time this morning.

COHEN: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.