STUTTGART, Germany — It takes a village to help Ukraine fight the Russians.
Think of a recent shipment of 105 millimeter howitzers. Britain donated the weapons and New Zealand trained Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them and supplied spare parts. The United States supplied the ammunition and vehicles to tow them and flew the cargo to a base near the border with Ukraine.
The choreography of the sequence was the task of dozens of military logistics specialists holed up in a large, secure attic room at the headquarters of the American European Command in Germany. The little-known group plays a vital role in keeping the Ukrainian military armed and equipped as battlefield needs become more complex.
Think of the cell as a cross between a marriage registry for bombs, bullets and rocket artillery, and a military version of FedEx. Uniformed officers from more than two dozen countries try to match Ukraine’s requests with donations from more than 40 countries, then arrange to transport the shipments by air, land or sea from the donor countries to the border with Ukraine to deliver them. pick up. All within approximately 72 hours.
“The flow has been non-stop,” Vice Admiral R. Duke Heinz, European Command’s chief logistics officer, told a small group of reporters who visited the logistics center last week.
As the brutal five-month-old war appears to be getting closer to a new phase – with Ukraine laying the groundwork for a major offensive in the south of the country – Ukrainian political leaders and commanders are urging the United States and its other allies to accelerate and broaden the flow of weapons and ammunition.
“Ukraine needs the firepower and ammunition to withstand the barrage and hit back at the Russian weapons launching these attacks from Ukraine’s own territory,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement last week. Washington. “And so we understand the urgency, and we’re doing everything we can to maintain and intensify the momentum of donations.”
More American-supplied weapons, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, are at the top of Ukraine’s wish list. But that also applies to armed drones and fighter jets. Air Force Chief of Staff General CQ Brown suggested last week that the United States or one of its European allies could send fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming weeks or months.
The United States recently said it would send four more M142 HIMARS to Ukraine, in addition to dozens of mobile missile launchers already in the field. Ukrainian soldiers have used them to destroy dozens of Russian command posts, air defense sites and ammunition depots, Ukrainian and US officials say.
“This has significantly slowed the Russian advance and drastically reduced the intensity of their artillery shelling,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an online interview for the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington. “So it works.”
Admiral Heinz said the cell was trying to meet Ukrainian demands for more weapons more quickly, acknowledging that “if the tables were turned, the comments would be the same.”
The arms distribution nerve cell, formally called the International Donor Coordination Center, is where it happens. For such a high-profile mission, the room has a distinctly bare feel to it. Officers sit at long folding tables, tap their laptops or talk to colleagues in different languages through headphones.
Our coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine
Like much of Europe that suffered from last week’s heat wave, the attic room has no air conditioning. Only a few open ceiling windows provided a light breeze.
The center began 24-hour operations in March, combining British and American efforts to coordinate the flow of weapons and equipment. The process is simple. Ukraine submits requests through a secure, classified database. Military officers review the online list to determine what their country can donate without jeopardizing their own national security. Nations also contribute to training and transportation. A Ukrainian three-star general working in the center answers questions and clarifies his country’s priorities.
The center may send a tech team — a military version of the Geek Squad — to monitor the state of a donor’s potential contribution and help sort out the paperwork for the delivery. Once a match is approved, planners find the best way to deliver the shipment.
About 75 percent of the weapons are sent to Poland, where Ukrainian troops collect and return their cargo across the border. Admiral Heinz declined to identify two other neighboring countries where shipments are being delivered, citing concerns about the security of those countries. The planners are using several border crossings into Ukraine for weapons and humanitarian aid, he said.
In nearly five months, the center has moved more than 78,000 tons of weapons, ammunition and equipment worth more than $10 billion, US and Western military officials said.
Many Baltic and Eastern European countries have donated Soviet-standard weapons and ammunition that the Ukrainian military has long used. But given the fierce fighting, those supplies are nearly exhausted, if not already exhausted. One factory in Europe makes some Soviet standard munitions, including howitzer grenades, and operates 24/7, Admiral Heinz said. The shortage has forced Ukraine to switch to weapons and ammunition of Western standards, which are available in abundance.
Once the weapons are in Ukraine, US and other Western military officials say they cannot track them. They rely on Ukrainian explanations about how and where the weapons are being used – although US intelligence and military officials, including Special Operations forces – are in daily contact with their Ukrainian counterparts, US officials said.
US and Ukrainian officials have downplayed reports of some weapons being black-marketed in Ukraine, but Admiral Heinz acknowledged that “we don’t track these with serial numbers once they cross the border.”
Russia has attacked Ukrainian train depots and warehouses, but has failed to demonstrate that its rapidly dwindling arsenal of precision-guided munitions can effectively hit moving targets, such as arms convoys.
The first shipments of weapons, including Stinger anti-aircraft and Javelin anti-tank missiles, were flown to Poland and quickly shuttled across the border. But as larger, heavier and more complex weapons are donated, military planners also send shipments by sea, rail and truck.
The center also ensures that Ukrainian soldiers are trained in the use and maintenance of the weapons, such as the HIMARS, which requires at least two weeks of instruction, military officials said.
The United States has trained about 1,500 members of the Ukrainian military, mostly in Germany. Recently, a group arrived in Britain to attend a new program that officials say will eventually train as many as 10,000 Ukrainian recruits in weapons, patrol tactics, first aid and other skills.
When Ukrainians encounter a problem, “tele-repair” sites set up by the center can help keep equipment up and running and check the maintenance status of weapons.
The shift to this comprehensive program of equipping, training and maintaining the weapons flow, and synchronizing shipments with training, presented the coordination center with increasing challenges.
“It’s definitely a more complex task,” Brig says. Christopher King, the most senior British officer in the center. “What I would say is they are very easy to train and very committed.”
The coordination center typically works on shipments for two months, Admiral Heinz said. In addition to the weapons and ammunition the Pentagon announced last week — the 16th round the Biden administration has approved since August 2021 — Admiral Heinz said two more shipments — No. 17 and No. 18 — are in the pipeline.
The admiral did not provide details about the future shipments, which require President Biden’s approval.
For now, senior officials say the allies are firmly behind Ukraine’s struggle.
“The goal is for Ukraine to gain the right to defend their country’s sovereignty and reclaim that land,” said Admiral Heinz, a war veteran in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I can’t define what winning looks like for Ukrainians,” he said, adding that President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian people decide for themselves. “The United States and our allies and partners are in it until he tells us he doesn’t need help anymore.”
Kitty Bennett research contributed.