It's time for NATO to take the lead in Ukraine

The efficient and rapid training of Ukraine’s military is key to reducing the time lag between the weapons systems committed and the time it takes to put them in action, especially as the equipment becomes more sophisticated. NATO should take the lead coordinating existing efforts and identify future needs. The United Kingdom, for example, has committed to training 10,000 Ukrainian troops over the next few months. Following Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, the United States boosted its training and exercises with Ukrainian armed forces in Yavoriv, Ukraine. After Russia’s invasion in February, U.S. forces relocated and then resumed training in Grafenwoehr, Germany, home of the largest U.S. military installation for training in Europe, as part of a joint multinational group. Over time, consolidating these disparate training sites and initiatives will be crucial for ensuring that Ukraine’s fighters are well prepared to operate everything from tanks to multiple launch rocket systems and fighter jets.

Poland would be the most logical place for a NATO training hub. This year, the United States committed to establishing a permanent presence for the U.S. Army in Poland. It will serve as a new command post for U.S. land forces defending the alliance’s eastern flank. Such a base could be expanded to include a NATO-coordinated training hub for Ukrainian soldiers, ensuring the quick movement of troops along Ukraine’s western border. Training centers could also be established in Romania, where the United States keeps a rotational brigade. Most important, the training should prioritize teaching Ukrainians how to use state-of-the-art equipment (including drones, fighter jets, and unmanned naval capabilities) that the Ukrainian military has not yet mastered so that it can more quickly be put to use on the battlefield.

As the war evolves, Western allies may be more willing to provide weapons that were off the table just a few months ago. And the Ukrainians should be ready. The United States, for example, is reportedly considering supplying fighter jets to Ukraine, a move it has not yet been willing to take, and Ukrainian pilots should already be receiving training. Waiting for the official decision risks an unnecessary delay. A NATO-coordinated hub would ensure that Ukrainian pilots receive the necessary training to fly U.S. fighter jets such as F/A-18 Hornets and F-16 Fighting Falcons. Investing in training on such systems as well as others before they are delivered would significantly reduce the time it takes to get these planes flying in Ukrainian airspace. Such training would need to take place without widespread public knowledge to avoid getting ahead of political decisions.