High-tech Western weapons pose a challenge to untrained Ukrainian soldiers

Looking through the sight attached to an anti-tank gun camouflaged in netting and green underbrush, Junior Sgt. Dmytro Pysanka is greeted with a kaleidoscope of numbers and lines which, if read correctly, should give him the calculations needed to fire on the approaching Russian forces.

Still, mistakes are common in the chaos of battle. To deny them, the commanders of the Pysanka artillery unit on the front line in southern Ukraine obtained a high-tech rangefinder, provided by the West more than a month ago, which uses laser technology to measure distances.

But there is a problem: nobody knows how to use it.

“It’s like getting an iPhone 13 and only being able to make phone calls,” Pysanka said, clearly exasperated.

More than 100 days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Western weapons have arrived on Ukrainian front lines, with further promise. Only on Monday did Britain announce it would send a sophisticated multiple rocket launcher system, following a similar pledge from the United States days earlier.

But training soldiers to use the equipment has become a significant hurdle. With her aging anti-tank gun, built in 1985, Pysanka and the hardened soldiers who man her need all the help they can get.

The high-tech rangefinder, called JIM LR — and likely part of the US-supplied slice of equipment, Pysanka said — seemed like a perfect choice. It can see targets at night and transmit their distance, compass heading and GPS coordinates. Some soldiers learned enough to make it work, but then turned elsewhere, leaving the unit with an expensive paperweight.

“I tried to learn how to use it by reading the English manual and using Google Translate to figure it out,” Pysanka said.

The dilemma underscores the range of issues that accompany Ukraine’s frequent calls for high-end Western weapons and equipment, with requests for new anti-tank guided missiles, howitzers and satellite-guided rockets seemingly tied to their hopes. of victory.

These needs are palpable in the region where the Pysanka battery is being dug, just northeast of the Russian-occupied port city of Kherson in southern Ukraine. The area was the scene of a brief Ukrainian offensive last week that slowed as soon as the Russians destroyed a key bridge; the Ukrainians’ lack of longer-range artillery prevented them from attempting a difficult river crossing in pursuit, Ukrainian military officials said.

But beyond the urgent need for tools of war, Ukrainian troops must know how to use them. Without proper training, the same dilemma facing Pysanka’s unit and their lone rangefinder will be ubiquitous on a much larger scale. Analysts say providing weapons without sufficient training risks repeating the failed US approach in Afghanistan, where it provided the Afghan army with equipment that could not be maintained without massive logistical support.

“Ukrainians are eager to employ Western equipment, but maintaining it requires training,” said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Virginia. “Some things are not easy to rush.”

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