The Biden administration is considering a dramatic expansion in the training the US military provides to Ukrainian forces, including instructing as many as 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers a month at a US base in Germany, according to multiple US officials.
If adopted, the proposal would mark a significant increase not just in the number of Ukrainians the US trains but also in the type of training they receive. Since the start of the conflict in February, the US has trained only a few thousand Ukrainian soldiers, mostly in small groups, on specific weapons systems.
Under the new program, the US would begin training much larger groups of Ukrainian soldiers in more sophisticated battlefield tactics, including how to coordinate infantry maneuvers with artillery support – “much more intense and comprehensive” training than Ukraine has been receiving in Poland or the UK, according to one source briefed on the proposal.
The proposal, which was made at the behest of Ukraine, is still under interagency review by the administration. News of its existence comes more than nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as the onset of winter is expected to slow military operations.
A senior Biden administration official declined to comment on the specifics of the planning, telling CNN that “we won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, but we are constantly looking for ways to make sure the Ukrainians have the skills they need to succeed on the battlefield as Ukraine defends their territory from Russian aggression.”
A grinding war of attrition
How decisive so-called “combined arms training” is likely to be on the battlefield remains an open question because the conflict has primarily been fought as a grinding war of attrition between two artillery armies, said Mike Kofman, an expert on the Russian and Ukrainian militaries at the Center for Naval Analyses.
“It’s a good idea because they [Ukraine] need all the training they can get,” Kofman said. But the primary variable on the battlefield right now is the availability of ammunition on both sides, he said. “The Ukrainians aren’t going to be as effective at combined arms maneuvers if they don’t have enough artillery ammunition.”
US European Command declined to comment.
US officials tell CNN the colder weather and subsequent lull in fighting could offer a window to carry out a more robust training regimen, with Ukrainian forces split between the requirement for training outside the country and the need for manpower on the front lines. But those lines have stabilized to some extent, providing a potential opportunity for Ukraine to send out soldiers for the training to begin.
US Army base in Germany
If approved, the new training regimen would take place at a US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where the US conducts its own combined arms training. The base is also home to the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine.
A German official told CNN that Berlin has not received an official request from the US concerning additional training for Ukrainians in Grafenwoehr.
“We don’t have an official request. But in general this seems to be totally in line with our common endeavors in supporting Ukraine,” a German official said.
German and US officials have been successfully cooperating on training Ukrainians in Germany for months, and during that time the US has been building up its capacity for long-term training.
Once the White House makes the decision to proceed, training of Ukrainian forces could begin quickly, one official said.
The US is currently looking at how best to scale this operation up from the current efforts, another official said, since it will require a larger and more diverse group of trainers. That is one of the reasons the US has looked to Grafenwoehr, where the military already has the resources it needs to conduct more complex training.
The 7th Army Training Command at Grafenwoehr carries out live and virtual training for all of the Army’s forces in Europe and Africa, resources that can instead focus on Ukrainian forces.
The US is not alone in its effort to conduct large-scale training of Ukrainian forces. In July, the United Kingdom began a major program to train 10,000 Ukrainian troops within a matter of months.
“Clearly, there are similarities,” said one official. But the UK’s program focused on providing basic training to new soldiers with little to no combat experience. The US program would provide a far more advanced degree of training to Ukrainian soldiers in how to operate as a cohesive military formation.
One element of US combined arms training that will likely not be offered to the Ukrainians is how to integrate air support – one of the cornerstones of how the US military has used combined arms so successfully across multiple conflicts. The Biden administration has declined to offer war planes to Ukraine in its fight against Russia, raising further questions about the utility of this kind of training.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.