Winning: Instructions Not Included


August 25, 2023: The war in Ukraine now somewhat resembles the Spanish Civil War as a place for “neutral” countries to test their new military equipment. Since early 2022 Ukraine has been overwhelmed by over $50 billion worth new weapons and equipment sent by NATO nations. To further complicate matters, many types of weapons came in several different models. That meant several different varieties of anti-aircraft systems, radars, combat vehicles and combat support equipment, generally with overlapping purposes and each requiring its own unique spare parts. While much appreciated by Ukrainians, there was one major problem; not much training or instructions. NATO could not send military instructors and civilian instructors from the manufacturers were often reluctant to operate in a war zone. To add to these complications, few of the written instructions were in Ukrainian. That is changing but it is still a work in progress. Right now Ukrainian equipment maintainers work with a tablet computer in hand running Google Translate variously in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Swedish.

The most efficient way to solve the training problem is to train more trainers. That is difficult in Ukraine because since early 2022 nearly 800,000 men, and some women, have been mobilized into the military. Most of these new people had no prior military experience. This was a serious problem because experienced Ukrainian soldiers knew that sending new troops into combat with little (a week or so) training meant higher losses. Up to five times higher. That was obvious in the first months of the war. It was difficult to set up basic training operations, which provided about a month of training. There were too many (hundreds of thousands) of new soldiers and few experienced trainers. A few months into the war, troops who survived their initial weeks of combat were much more likely to continue surviving. The Ukrainian army devoted as many personnel as they could to providing basic training. This was difficult early on because recruiting often consisted of giving out weapons to volunteers and organizing the new troops into company (about a hundred troops) or battalion (three or more companies) size units. These newly created units were led by a few experienced soldiers. Many of these soldiers had peacetime training but no combat experience. That meant it was months before substantial numbers of trainers with combat experience could be assigned to training duties. These trainers were often men who had been wounded in combat and many were disabled to some degree. That often limited what the instructor could do physically. That was not a problem because it was what the instructor knew that counted.

As training levels increased, loss rates declined. There was still a backlog in training on how to use more complex weapons. This was often carried out across the border in Poland where instruction was often given in simplified Russian, which was comprehensible to Ukrainian speakers. While Russian and Ukrainian were similar and used the same alphabet (with a few exceptions) and it is easier for Ukrainians to understand Russian than the other way around. Russian is more widely spoken in NATO and East European countries than Ukrainian. NATO had plenty of instructors who could do the job in Russian and made it possible to train a lot of Ukrainian troops using NATO instructors based in Poland. It was also possible to translate English, German or French user instructions into Russian initially and eventually Ukrainian. Short videos were also created, which soldiers could carry on their cellphones and refer to as needed. These videos were also posted where soldiers could view and download them.

Before long there was a large number of Ukrainians who could translate “How to Use” guides for new military equipment into Ukrainian and then create the videos. The Ukrainian military depended on civilian volunteers to do a lot of this work. There was no shortage of qualified volunteers to translate material into Ukrainian and then produce videos for the troops to learn how to use new weapons and later refer to them as needed. NATO advisors and trainers came to expect the Ukrainians to innovate in unexpected ways. That’s because the Ukrainians want the war over as soon as possible. Despite the substantial NATO military and economic aid, Ukraine continues to suffer heavy casualties. The Russians are now deliberately attacking populated areas. So far over six thousand civilians have been killed and many more wounded. This is causing more civilians to leave the country, at least temporarily. That exodus is complicated by the government ban on military-age men from leaving the country.




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