Ukrainian troops are set to begin training on the Patriot missile system in the United States as soon as next week, two US officials familiar with the matter tell CNN.
The training program will take place at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where the US conducts its own training on operating and maintaining the advanced air defense system. Fort Sill is one of the Army’s four basic training locations and home to the service’s field artillery school, which has been training service members for more than a century.
The training for the Ukrainians on the complex system is expected to take “several months,” said Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
“I’m not going to be able to give you a specific timeframe for the completion of the training,” Cooper said Friday.
One day earlier, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the US was looking at a variety of options where to conduct the Patriot missile training “to include potential training here in the US, overseas, or a combination of both.” Politico reported in December that any US-based training would likely occur at Fort Sill.
The US announced it was sending Ukraine the Patriot missile system in late December when the country’s President Volodomyr Zelensky visited Washington, DC, and met with President Joe Biden.
CNN first reported that the advanced air defense system would be provided, after months of denying the request due to the steep logistical and training challenges deploying it. However, a senior administration official told CNN last month that the “reality of what is going on” in Ukraine ultimately pushed them to provide the system.
The US is providing one Patriot battery, which includes power generating equipment, computers, an engagement control system and up to eight launchers. The battery is operated by roughly 90 soldiers and takes months to train up on.
Though the Patriot is broadly seen as one of the most advanced and effective air defense systems, experts cautioned that it is “not a game-changer” because of its limited range and the amount of time it will take for Ukrainians to be able to utilize it.
“These systems don’t pick up and move around the battlefield,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of US Army Europe, previously told CNN. “You put them in place somewhere that defends your most strategic target, like a city, like Kyiv. If anyone thinks this is going to be a system that is spread across a 500-mile border between Ukraine and Russia, they just don’t know how the system operates.”
Nevertheless, in the wake of the news that Ukraine would soon be operating its own system, Russian officials warned of “unpredictable consequences” in yet another threat of escalation.
“Earlier, many experts, including those overseas, questioned the rationality of such a step which would lead to an escalation of the conflict and increase the risk of directly dragging the US Army into combat,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in December.
The US is not alone in providing the advanced system to the Ukrainians; Germany recently announced that it was sending Ukraine a second Patriot missile system from its own inventory.
And last week, the US announced its largest aid package to Ukraine since the war began – $2.85 billion worth of US equipment, including 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 500 TOW anti-tank missiles and tens of thousands of rounds of 25mm ammunition.
The new equipment heading to Ukraine is a “substantive” change in what the US had previously provided, two senior US officials told CNN, mirroring the evolving changes of Ukraine’s military as the war nears its one-year mark.
Ryder told reporters on Friday that the “international response” in providing equipment and training will “afford Ukraine an opportunity to change the equation on the battlefield and gain momentum, and defend not only their own territory, but hopefully take back territory.”