The Pentagon plans to bring Ukrainian troops to Oklahoma to train them on the Patriot missile defense systems starting as soon as next week.
We’ll share what that will entail and how long it’s expected to take, plus more on the Ukrainian town on the verge of being taken by Russia and what it would mean, as well as details on the GOP fight with itself over possible defense cuts
This is Defense & National Security, your guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you?
US to train Ukrainians on missile system
The Pentagon plans to bring Ukrainian troops to Oklahoma to train them on the Patriot missile defense systems starting as soon as next week, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.
The training, first reported by CNN, will happen at Fort Sill, Defense Department press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.
The details: The U.S. military “will prepare approximately 90 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers to operate, maintain, and sustain the defensive system over a training course expected to last several months,” Ryder said.
Once fielded, the Patriot will “contribute to Ukraine’s air defense capabilities and provide another capability to the Ukrainian people to defend themselves against Russia’s ongoing aerial assaults,” he added.
Why Oklahoma?: Fort Sill — one of the Army’s four basic training locations, located 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City — already teaches troops the operation and maintenance of the Patriot system and is also the location of the Army’s field artillery school.
Trimming the timeline: Patriot training typically takes up to a year, but Ryder said the Pentagon is looking at how it can speed up the timeline for the Ukrainian forces.
- “We recognize . . . that the longer those troops are off the line, they’re not actually engaged in combat, and so [we’re] trying to work with the Ukrainians to see what we can do to accelerate the training timeline,” he said.
- He added that training will consist of classroom instruction, training on the Patriot systems themselves and work in a simulation lab before Kyiv can use the system on the battlefield.
More to come?: Asked whether there will be further groups of Ukrainian troops brought to the United States for such training, Ryder said the current focus is on this initial class but the two countries will keep an open dialogue.
“I’m not aware of any additional forces, but again, that will be an ongoing discussion based on the needs of Ukraine,” he said.
Russia nears biggest gain in Ukraine since summer
Russian forces have nearly taken full control of Soledar, a small mining town in eastern Ukraine, placing Moscow on the verge of its most significant gain since August.
The town is located just north of Bakhmut, where Ukraine has so far held strong despite some of the worst fighting in the war.
Fierce fighting: In the past few days, Ukrainian troops in Soledar were defending against a vigorous assault from the Russian mercenary company Wagner Group, and fierce fighting was reported in the town’s administrative center on Monday.
The latest signs are that Russian and Wagner forces are now in control of Soledar after a four-day advance, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence update on Tuesday.
Largely destroyed: Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a statement on Tuesday that fighting is ongoing in Soledar, which has been largely destroyed by Russian shelling, according to the Kyiv Independent.
- Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky has acknowledged that fighting in Soledar was a “difficult and hard battle” for his troops.
- “It is extremely difficult — there are almost no whole walls left,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on Monday.
Why it’s significant: Russia is likely to use Soledar in its effort to surround Bakhmut, which is roughly six miles away, and to disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication, U.K. intelligence said.
Seizing Bakhmut would allow Russia to advance onto other key locations in the eastern province, which Putin illegally annexed last year.
GOP battles with itself over potential defense cuts
House Republicans are battling over reductions to defense spending, with some in the GOP downplaying the potential for Pentagon cuts and Democrats warning a small group of conservatives could lead to big budgetary cuts.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as part of concessions to Republicans opposed to his Speakership agreed to put a limit on new discretionary spending. The limit would cap all discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels, if agreed to as part of a House budget.
By the numbers: The 2022 defense budget was $780 billion, compared to the $850 billion budget for fiscal 2023.
As a result, such an agreement could cut $70 billion for defense spending based on those figures.
A real possibility: Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in the previous Congress, said the cuts were a real possibility given the narrow GOP majority and the power of a small band of conservatives.
“What we saw in the Speaker fight was that a relatively small number of Republicans are willing to hold the process hostage out of the desire to make dramatic cuts in the budget,” Smith told The Hill. “So regardless of what McCarthy did or did not promise, that same group of people can do the same thing on the budget, on the appropriations bills, on the defense bill.”
A warning?: Fears that the defense budget could be cut were the stated reason Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) gave for voting “no” on the House rules package on Monday evening.
Gonzales had warned of his potential vote during an interview Sunday with CBS’s Margaret Brennan in which he said the potential defense cuts were a “horrible idea.”
“When you have aggressive Russia and Ukraine, you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific, how am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, ‘I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?’” he said.
Limited backing: It’s possible there will be no cuts to defense after the Pentagon has seen its budget rise steadily in recent years.
A majority of House Republicans are not likely to back any significant cuts to the defense budget, which has typically been the recipient of broad bipartisan support.
And a spokesperson for Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who was among the McCarthy holdouts last week, called claims of cutting defense spending “garbage.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- The Surface Navy Association will hold Day 2 of its annual National Symposium, with Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.) delivering remarks on the “View from Capitol Hill” and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro giving a keynote address, at 7:30 a.m.
- The Atlantic Council will host a virtual discussion on “The Case for Ukraine Retaking Crimea,” with retired Army Gen. Wes Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander Europe, among other speakers, at 8 a.m.
- The Intelligence and National Security Alliance will discuss “ONI’s assessments of foreign naval capabilities and its application of naval intelligence to global geopolitical challenges,” with Office of Naval Intelligence Commander Rear Adm. Michael Studeman, at 9 a.m.
- The Stimson Center will hold an event on “Voices from Japan: Japan’s Security Policy Transformation,” with Itsunori Onodera, the 12th, 17th, and 18th minister of defense of Japan, at 9:30 a.m.
- The National Defense Industrial Association will discuss “The State of the Space Industrial Base,” at 10 a.m.
- Brookings Institution will host a conversation on “Reflections on U.S. defense policy from Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.),” at 4 p.m.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada will hold a joint press conference following a meeting of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, at 5 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
OP-EDS IN THE HILL
In the Middle East, America’s security stick is no match for China’s carrots