Vindman leads new campaign to send military contractors to Ukraine

As a private citizen over the past year, Vindman watched Russia’s slowness along Ukraine’s borders and, he said, worried about how Kyiv would support and maintain a long conflict. Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny, also an army officer, were born in Ukraine and immigrated to the United States as children.

Since last year’s invasion, the Biden administration has approved hundreds of Bradley fighting vehicles, Strykers, Humvees, mobile howitzer systems and now Abrams tanks for shipment to Ukraine. But these machines have to be transported from Ukraine to Poland or other NATO countries for major repairs, costing Ukrainian forces weeks while waiting for their armored vehicles to return.

“We have all kinds of resources that go to depots and forward bases in Poland, mostly, and inside Ukraine they’re mostly self-contained,” Vindman said in an interview. It’s something he hopes to change in the coming weeks if the money, support and workers can be mustered.

Currently, for minor repairs and basic maintenance, Ukrainian troops can call in to US troops on standby in Poland who can guide Ukrainians through repairs via secure phone and video links, a process that, according to the Pentagon, works well.

But it’s not a panacea for all problems, with battle damage and wear and tear when howitzers and vehicles are pushed to their breaking points in fierce combat. The Kyiv government has welcomed virtually all Western aid, and with the new influx of more advanced equipment just ahead of what is expected to be another spring and summer of brutal fighting, experienced hands close to the front could help maintain this equipment in combat. .

Vindman’s group has secured enough private funding to launch a pilot project in March and has the backing of at least one company, which declined to be named but confirmed to POLITICO its interest in shipping parts and equipment to Ukraine for faster repairs.

The plan is to find 100 to 200 experienced contractors who would travel to Ukraine and integrate into small units near the front lines. Under the project, called Trident Support, these contractors would in turn teach Ukrainian troops how to repair their equipment on the fly.

The Biden administration has long tried to dissuade Americans from traveling to Ukraine, but private efforts like this are still possible with the blessing of the Ukrainian government. There is also a pool of thousands of non-US mechanics qualified to work on US and NATO equipment that could be recruited.

The presence of American citizens on the ground providing military logistical support would likely be a further irritant for the Kremlin, and any injury, death or capture of Americans by Russian forces would be a black eye for the White House as it strives to keep congressional support for arming Ukraine. Yet the amount of foreign equipment pouring into the country – with more expectations – means taking risks in order to keep these machines humming.

“There is absolutely a way to do that and secure US contractors or Western defense contractors in the country,” Vindman said. “You can do that using what we call ‘third country nationals’ where it’s not American.”

There are already a handful of contractors working on systems donated by their countries inside Ukraine, but these Polish and Czech mechanics are relatively few in number and only make short stays.

“The biggest challenges are that the US government is currently deeply reluctant to put defense contractors in the field,” Vindman said. “That means people are paid to fix things in Poland, but that doesn’t satisfy the fighting capacity of the Ukrainians. So that would be kind of a change of policy.

There is no question of trying to replicate the massive US effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there were sometimes more contractors fixing vehicles, cooking food and running communications systems than of troops fighting.

“If you do this smartly and distribute five or six installs [in Ukraine]you could do it for about 150 to 200 mechanics,” spread out to various locations on the front, Vindman said.

Part of the reason for the smaller-scale operation is the fact that any large depot with visible manufacturing capability would be an obvious target for Russian drones and artillery. Russian strikes hit Ukraine’s manufacturing sector hard in the first weeks of the war, especially factories focused on the defense industry.

Another is the simple issue of throughput. Equipment is piling up in Poland at repair facilities, and it is much more difficult to get this equipment across the border in significant quantities on a regular basis, given the limitations of trucking and rail capacity.

An employee of a non-profit organization in Ukraine who has done similar work in other conflict areas said that in Ukraine “it’s a really complex system and the logistics tracking structure is very dispersed right now because they are fighting”.

“I don’t see the big logistics companies that have experience in other areas moving goods in and out, or really helping with that in Ukraine,” the person said, who requested anonymity due to ongoing contracts in Ukraine.

Doing this work inside Ukraine could save time and start the process of getting Ukrainians up to speed on repairing equipment that the country will likely need to maintain for years to come.

“It’s complicated, but it’s not an insoluble problem,” said Ken Letcher, a retired logistics colonel. The United States has spent two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan supplying equipment around the world and training locals to do the job on their own.

Letcher is helping on the project, which he says is considered “a fairly limited requirement of 12 to 18 months. At some point, either after the Ukrainians caught up on maintenance, this ability would retire, or at some point after the war it would then be put back.

While some of the biggest and most complicated work will still need to be done at large depots in Poland and the Czech Republic, “in the meantime, the Ukrainian military needs to create such a hub in Ukraine itself,” Mykola said. Bieliekov, researcher. at the National Institute of Strategic Studies of Ukraine.

“Since we managed to create [Humvee] maintenance in Ukraine with the participation of private funds, the next level of maintenance is something we might dare to do in the future,” along with other vehicles and weapon systems, he said.

Vindman, for his part, said that while the reparations project is a philanthropic effort at the moment, “it could become a viable business with government support.”

“But we’re not holding our breath or waiting for permission,” he added.


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