The U.S. announced on January 5 that it would provide Ukraine with fifty Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFV). Less than two weeks later, Ukrainians have begun training on BFVs in Germany, reflecting a rapidly developing program. Analysts have suggested a lengthy timeline likely exists for Ukraine’s eventual deployment of BFVs in combat against Russia.
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Foreign Affairs noted the extensive training timeline required for integrating BFVs into Ukraine’s military. The Washington Post assessed that, at a minimum, training Ukrainian units to use BFVs would take at least several months, while The Atlantic estimated a timeline of six months to a year.
In my initial assessment, I stated that, depending on several factors, it could be a year or longer before Ukraine can start using BFVs to fight Russia. These factors include the BFVs the U.S. actually provides to Ukraine and the U.S. security cooperation teams responsible for implementing the program, among others. The information that has emerged over the last several days provides some insights into Ukraine’s BFV program, about which many details remain unclear.
The rapid initiation of Ukrainian BFV training in Germany stands out as a largely unexpected development, even if some commentators had predicted a very condensed timeline. At least one video of Ukrainian BFV training appeared on social media, providing some very limited video documentation of the program. It appears the U.S. has planned an extremely aggressive training pipeline; on January 12, Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder briefed that Ukrainian BFV “training will take weeks, not months.” On January 16, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley visited the U.S. base in Grafenwoehr, Germany where Ukrainian BFV training started on January 15, highlighting the importance of this program. A day earlier, Milley stated that training will “take a bit of time … Five, six, seven, eight weeks, who knows. We’ll see what happens here.” The timeline – just ten days – from program announcement on January 5 to initiation of training on January 15 is incredibly fast. Even backing up program initiation to early November 2022, when the plan to provide Ukraine BFVs apparently originated, means that, from program initiation to the beginning of training, at most two months transpired.
This is years faster than any of the U.S.’ other recent programs to provide BFVs to foreign partners.
Vehicles for Training and Battle
The actual vehicles the U.S. is providing for Ukrainian BFV training in Germany have clearly contributed to this expedited timeline. In the U.S.’s two most recent programs, providing BFVs to foreign partners (Lebanon and Croatia), the U.S. opted to refurbish (in the case of Lebanon) or provide old BFVs for refurbishment by the recipient (for Croatia).
In the Ukrainian case, it very much appears that the U.S. has chosen to provide operational BFVs already located in Europe, most likely in Germany, for initial training. Online commentary has suggested that the BFVs Ukraine is training on were provided from U.S. Army prepositioned stocks in Germany. This achieves at least two objectives. First, it has enabled rapid initiation of the training program, reducing a years-long process for refurbishment to a days-long process. Second, it ensures that the vehicles provided for Ukrainian BFV training are actually operational. The Department of Defense (DoD) has not, however, yet confirmed if the BFVs being used for training will also be delivered to Ukraine, or what variant of BFV Ukraine will receive. A Pentagon spokesperson had no additional information to offer when asked on further specifics on January 15.
It is also still unclear, or at least unconfirmed, which variant of the BFV the U.S. will provide to Ukraine. Multiple media reports, including an updated one on January 15 in Forbes, have stated the U.S. will provide Ukraine with the M2A2 Operation Desert Storm (ODS) variant. Many of these reports are circular, referring back to themselves or other articles for which the source of information is not provided.
It does seem possible, if not likely, though, that the U.S. would provide M2A2 ODS BFVs to Ukraine; the U.S. provided the same variant to Lebanon and plans to provide them to Croatia. The U.S., however, does not appear to have confirmed this publicly, when asked, DoD declined to provide any additional information; U.S. European Command has remained unresponsive to my information requests.
Questions about Variants Remain
While the M2 variant Ukraine will receive matters, because the operational capability of each variant differs, even the M2A2 ODS variant, updated in 1995 after the Gulf War, would provide Ukraine an incredible combat capability. There have been additional upgrades to the BFV since 1995: the M2A3, which features upgraded armor and other improvements, debuted in 2002, and the M2A4, which the U.S. Army started to receive in 2020, features a more powerful engine. While there also exist cavalry (M3), air defense (M6), field artillery observation (M7), and other BFV variants, Ukraine is expected to receive one of the M2 infantry fighting vehicle variants.
The mechanism through which the U.S. is providing BFV training has also likely expedited the training timeline. Unlike the case of Lebanon, in which the U.S. used a lengthy defense contracting process to provide BFV training, for the Ukrainian BFV training program the U.S. is using existing facilities and personnel.
The very short timeline—even using the two months since program discussions first appeared in the media—simply does not support the sort of contracting effort normally required for such large-scale security cooperation programs. This approach also suggests that actual U.S. military Bradley experts are highly involved in training Ukraine to use BFVs, which was not the case in Lebanon.
Ukrainian BFV training in Germany is part of the expanded combined arms training package announced at the start of 2023. BFV training apparently has started with classroom and academic instruction and will be followed by field training at increasing levels of organization, likely culminating in battalion-level maneuver training. This appears to follow a standard, if expedited, training progression, which would usually start with individual-level tasks, including simulated and live-fire gunnery for BFV crew qualification, and progress to section, platoon, company, and battalion-level maneuver training. General Milley on January 16 informed the press traveling with him that the Ukrainians in the BFV training program had departed Ukraine just a few days earlier, and that ideally BFV training would be complete “sometime before the spring rains show up” in Ukraine.
While spring, technically, starts on March 20, 2023, the spring rainy season in Ukraine runs from the beginning of March to the end of June, with the period from the beginning of May to the end of June being the rainiest. By Milley’s ideal timeline, one might expect Ukrainian BFV training to finish by perhaps the end of April, translating to around the beginning of May before Ukraine deploys BFVs in combat.
DoD, however, has not provided any such estimate, perhaps for operational security reasons. Per Brigadier General Ryder, the Pentagon Press Secretary, “You’ll see the Bradleys arrive in the battlefield when they arrive.”
About the Author: Jeff Jager, a retired U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer (FAO), served multiple FAO tours on the USEUCOM-USCENTCOM seam, including as an attaché in Cyprus, a U.S Army Training and Doctrine Command Liaison Officer Turkey, and a Foreign Military Sales Officer and ODC Chief in Lebanon. He also served as a military advisor at the Department of State. He holds a B.S. from the U.S. Military Academy; an A.A. in Turkish from the Defense Language Institute; and three M.A.s (Turkish Army War College, security studies; Georgetown University, German and European studies; Webster University, international relations). He is currently a Ph.D. student in Salve Regina University’s international relations program. He can be contacted via LinkedIn.
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