While no one knows how the war in Ukraine will end, one thing is certain: Support from the international community has been key in bolstering Ukraine’s dogged resistance, shaping the course of the Russian-Ukraine war. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the European Union and its countries have provided the most total aid (combined military, financial and humanitarian), while the United States has by far provided the most in military aid.
As of July 7, the United States has committed more than $42 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than $41.3 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion Feb. 24, 2022. Of that, the North Alabama-based U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC) has facilitated the delivery of $12.3 billion in weapons, training and materiel since the beginning of the invasion, and approximately $13.23 billion since Russia seized Crimea in 2014.
MOVING AID TO THE BATTLEFIELDS
USASAC leads the Army Materiel Command’s (AMC) security assistance enterprise by developing and managing security assistance programs and foreign military sales cases to build partner capacity, support combatant command engagement strategies and strengthen U.S. global partnerships. USASAC’s portfolio currently includes over 6,500 foreign military sales cases worth more than $217 billion for 137 countries.
With hundreds of employees spread across the globe, the command is ensuring the urgent delivery of multibillion-dollar aid packages to Ukrainian battlefields, around the clock and at unprecedented speeds.
“The security assistance the United States provides to Ukraine is enabling critical success on the battlefield against Russian forces and demonstrates our resolve to support our allies and partners,” said USASAC Commanding General Brig. Gen. Brad Nicholson. “USASAC in coordination with the security assistance enterprise is working extremely hard to fulfill Ukraine’s priority security assistance requests, delivering weapons from U.S. stocks when available, and facilitating the delivery of weapons by allies and partners when their systems better suit Ukraine’s needs.”
Despite the U.S. government’s repeated attempts to streamline the foreign military sales process, it was not uncommon for foreign military sales cases to take months or years to deliver. But with a whole of government approach and the urgency of Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War II, Nicholson said USASAC has proven agile and responsive in crisis, speeding materiel to the battlefield within days and weeks in some cases.
He said this can be attributed to both expertise and collaboration.
USASAC is known as the center of gravity for AMC’s security assistance enterprise, but it is heavily dependent on the coordination and support of the AMC life cycle management commands: Army Contracting Command, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, as well as other DOD agencies and U.S. industry. With extensive coordination, the materiel that makes its way to Ukrainian war zones includes hundreds of thousands of items like anti-armor systems, unmanned aerial systems, artillery, rocket systems, armored personnel carriers and other wheeled and track vehicles, body armor, munitions, medical supplies and protective equipment. These weapons and equipment are being provided via multiple streams including presidential drawdown authority; foreign military sales and foreign military financing; excess defense articles; DOD’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative; third party transfers and international military education and training. Of its more than 6,500-case portfolio, USASAC has 199 implemented cases worth more than $9.65 billion with Ukraine.
“Ukraine remains a key regional strategic partner that has made significant strides in modernizing its military and increasing its interoperability with NATO,” said Nicholson. “We will continue to work to ensure it receives the equipment it needs to defend itself and to promote regional stability and democratic values.”
CHANGING MILITARY MENTALITY
In addition to facilitating the delivery of multibillion-dollar military aid packages to Ukraine, one Army command has provided a lesser-known asset with extraordinary impact. The Security Assistance Training Management Organization (SATMO) supplied Ukraine with a Doctrine Education Advisory Group (DEAG), headquartered in Kiev from 2016 up until three weeks before Russia’s invasion in February 2022. SATMO provides advanced and specialized training, professional military education, and tactical level expertise to allies and partners worldwide.
The DEAG was activated to support their armed forces’ struggling transition from deeply entrenched post-Soviet mindsets and processes to a force capable of NATO integration. It was comprised of highly skilled U.S. Army officers, numbering between four and six Soldiers at a time, who advised at the operational level to revamp doctrine and professional military education.
“There was minimal teaching in the traditional sense of standing in front of a classroom,” explained Lt. Col. Rob Nesbit, former detachment commander for the DEAG. “The reality is that there is far more advising of senior Ukrainian leaders which, in an abstract way, is teaching. Having said that, what we modeled to the Ukrainians is effective long- and mid-range planning, and professionalism.”
If that sounds simple, Nesbit said it’s not. And he should know. Leading the DEAG until weeks before the invasion and continuing to consult at the start of the war, Nesbit has spent the majority of his life as an active-duty Army officer—37 years and counting—with multiple combat deployments under his belt. He is currently the deputy of current operations (G33) for the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Liberty, North Carolina (formerly Fort Bragg).
“Creating a climate for organizational change, altering the way a group has been thinking for generations, is a much bigger feat than teaching someone to follow orders or execute a task,” he said.
It’s a complete cultural shift, notoriously difficult even in the best of circumstances, and even more so considering the rigid, top-down style of leadership that was a remnant of Ukraine’s Soviet roots. This is in sharp contrast to the American military’s “mission command” doctrine, which delegates decision making to subordinates wherever possible, minimizing detailed control, and empowering lower-level initiative.
Despite the challenges, Nesbit began to witness a hopeful shift as senior Ukrainian officers, recognizing the value of standardizing planning, began using the long-range forecasting and preparation that is a hallmark of successful organizations.
The DEAG mission supported the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard Ukraine, the National Defense University, and to a lesser extent the Air Assault/Airborne Forces and Ukrainian Marine Corps and was a crucial test of what the future holds for a strong, independent Ukraine and regional stability throughout Europe.
“Within the realm of great power competition, the DEAG was really a component of U.S. and NATO efforts to counter Russian influence, not just in Ukraine but throughout Europe,” said Nesbit. “The importance of the mission rested in its ability to set conditions that enable the Ukrainian military to serve alongside Euro-Atlantic partners in the future.”
Col. Dan Miller, the former chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, described the DEAG’s work as leading edge, most notably its “development of new, NATO-interoperable doctrine and reforms to the professional military education system. This represents vital first steps to creating the sustainable and irreversible change needed for Ukraine to progress on its desired path to NATO membership.”
No one knows how the story ends, but the beginning was clear. The world watched in awe as a much smaller, lesser equipped Ukrainian military used extraordinary resolve and overwhelming allied support to defy the odds against Russia.
“We won’t know the full impact of the DEAG and other international support,” said SATMO’s Ukraine Foreign Assistance Specialist Pat Macri, “but we’re confident that it aided our partner and will continue, long after this war has ended, to provide tremendous benefit.”