In just a few weeks, US and British officials have turned an ad-hoc operation of sending military aid to Ukraine into a “Nord Stream” through which weapons are circulating to Kyiv.

In Stuttgart, Germany, inside a reconfigured conference room no larger than a high school gymnasium, more than a hundred soldiers from 30 different countries are planning, and are pursuing every weapon and almost every Western bullet heading toward Ukraine.

Patch Barracks, Zelenski’s “store.”

In recent weeks, British troops, with the help of their American counterparts, have turned a conference room here in Patch Barracks into one of the nerve centers within the NATO alliance for resolving Ukraine’s arms demands.

The task is to send artillery, tanks, fighter jets, ammunition and non-lethal aid, such as helmets, from the heart of Europe to the battles of Donbas, with the help of Ukrainian liaison officers at Patch Barracks who are in contact with soldiers in the line. first.

Foreign Policy was one of two media outlets that had exclusive access and for the first time to the so-called International Donor Coordination Center, where 110 soldiers help track arms deliveries 24 hours a day. briefing on the activities of the group, provided that they remain anonymous, in accordance with the rules established by the Pentagon.

“Two months ago, you didn’t even exist,” a senior US military official told the group, along with a plasma screen detailing weapons moving to Ukraine from various centers in Europe.

The effort has become more organized. For example, when the United States sent speedboats to Ukraine in November 2021, “there were only a series of 5,000 phone calls,” the official said. Now, after $ 4 billion in US military aid, instead of thousands of dollars in phone calls, there’s an app for that. In the early days of the war, US officials and British troops worked separately.

But the British military – led by the 104th Theater Support Brigade – has created a software system codenamed Ukrainian similar to Craigslist, where Ukrainians can post weapon requests and countries can extract separate cases. By early April, US and British efforts had merged into a single unit.

Identifying “donors” and choosing routes

It has become more crowded since the Pentagon began hosting a monthly arms pledge conference for Ukraine in late April. Now, a group of soldiers meets here every day at 11:00. Operations officers tracking the battlefield in real time provide updates on Donbas fighting.

In the last week, Russia has taken control of the city of Mariupol – besieged for almost three months – and the town of Popasna and the villages of Donbas south of Izium, which has led to Ukrainian withdrawals.

Now, as soon as a donor is identified for a weapon that Ukraine needs, the troops at the coordination center are thinking about how to bring it into the country by land, air or rail, through one of several nodes in Europe – whichever is more effective. The weapons could be delivered by contractors or collected by the Ukrainian armed forces, a British military official said.

From Javelin missiles to heavy howitzers

But work has become more difficult as Ukraine’s needs have evolved from small arms and light weapons, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which have helped stop Russia’s assault on Kiev, on planes, tanks and artillery, such as the 108 M777 howitzers supplied by the United States.

The training of the Ukrainian military must also be coordinated. Other nations are transporting Ukrainians for training in Eastern Europe, such as the Canadians, who are training Ukrainian troops with US-supplied artillery.

An Eastern European field team connected to the European Command helped dismantle Soviet-era Su-25 “Frogfoot” aircraft and Mi-17 helicopters so that they could be sent to Ukraine. Ukrainians show determination in training sessions, officials said. “They don’t want to take tea breaks,” the British military official said. “They just want to keep learning and go back to the country.”

“There is a political will to have a quick effect”

A second British official said the cell had found in a warehouse rifles that could be given to Ukraine and were not used; all they needed were snipers and ammunition. These were procured and sent. A third British official said that units training in Eastern Europe were able to move equipment during the recent US-led Defender exercise, which took place with more than 3,400 US and 5,100 multinationals.

And Ukraine needs to think about how to keep these new weapons systems in operation and use them. Planning cell officials have drawn up a checklist for the training and maintenance of these weapons, including to ensure that ammunition is ready. And after receiving more difficult-to-maintain weapons, such as armored vehicles, Ukrainians are aware that the more urgent the demand, the more difficult it becomes.

“If you use a kit that does not fall within their scope, it will be damaged,” said the first British military official. “There is a political will to have a quick effect,” which is behind the desire to push weapons that are not always the most reliable on the ground, the official added.

Kiev pressures for more weapons

But Ukraine is pushing the West to move further. At the top of Kiev’s wish list are multiple missile launch systems that can launch up to a dozen missiles at a distance of 80 miles, which Ukrainian officials said the United States has refrained from sending. afraid of escalating the conflict further.

The United States and NATO are still wondering whether this will become an official operation, similar to the Berlin Air Bridge, which brought millions of tons of food and other supplies to the allied area of ​​the German city blocked by the USSR in the late 1940s.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks says the United States is already preparing the first batch of military aid for Ukraine from President Joe Biden’s $ 40 billion aid package, which was approved by Congress last week.

But Washington is not yet ready to define victory. “The US goal is fundamentally about supporting Ukraine, and the ultimate goal will be decided primarily between Ukraine and Russia,” Hicks said. “We want to support an approach that protects the statehood of Ukraine and understands that, beyond that, everything will be decided between these two parties.”

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