According to the Air Force, the training of Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot air defense system in Germany is progressing rapidly. The Ukrainians are highly motivated and often already experienced in action, so that things "go quicker than expected," said the commander of the German training association on Wednesday. The course for about 70 men who were brought to Germany from the fighting has been running for about two weeks at a Bundeswehr location that is not to be named for security reasons.
Patriot ("Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target") is one of the most modern air defense systems in the world. This can be used to combat enemy aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. At a distance of around 100 kilometers and up to an altitude of 30 kilometers, the defense missiles can hit targets in an imaginary bell around the position - depending on the guided missile used. Together with the USA, Germany had agreed to provide Ukraine with a modern air defense system to defend against Russian attacks, which are increasingly aimed at the country's civilian infrastructure.
The Ukrainians are trained in Germany in three tasks. You will learn how to work in the fire control center, the practical operation of the launch devices - as the mobile firing systems are called - as well as the maintenance and repair of the weapon system.
Ukrainians bring experience with them
"Our brigade is a combat brigade and we have experience in combat," said a Ukrainian officer on Wednesday at the Bundeswehr compound. "Our association has already shot down more than 200 targets," he said. The main weapon has been the S-300 air defense system developed in Soviet times, the capabilities and limitations of which are well known to the Russian enemy. Patriot can also be used to counter tactical ballistic missiles, which is not possible with the S-300.
The Ukrainian soldier was last deployed in the region of his hometown of Dnipro, where in mid-January a Russian missile had devastated an inhabited high-rise building just 800 meters from his house, as he describes. For the Ukrainian air defense, these are black hours, "a complex, dark feeling" when the attacker overcomes the defense, says the 40-year-old. It is then clear that people will die or infrastructure will be destroyed. But there doesn't have to be human error involved. In many cases, the air defense has reached its technical limits.
Ukrainians study six days a week in Germany. The weapon systems are in practice on the site. Trucks with attached cranes lift swaying buckets of water for practice, generators are running, hydraulic pumps are whirring. In a few weeks, the men will learn that women are not among them, which is otherwise designed for months for Bundeswehr soldiers. "The motivation is high because everyone knows what's at stake," says a German officer.
"Game changer" in defense
"Patriot is the strongest system for defending against tactical, ballistic missiles. The system is optimized for this," says the training manager. Another officer speaks of a "game changer" - a weapon that changes the rules on the battlefield in favor of the Ukrainians - because it shoots further and faster than previous systems. The Bundeswehr itself has 12 Patriot systems, 3 of which are in use in Poland and 2 in Slovakia. Several are currently being upgraded by industry. It is a scarce commodity. During the Cold War, the Bundeswehr itself still had 36 of the systems.
The launch stations are mounted on large, four-axle MAN trucks. They consist of up to four canisters. These are long boxes in which the missiles are stuck. The system also includes the fire control center, the radar and a large generator - referred to by the soldiers as a "triumvirate". The system classifies flying objects in the sky into friend and foe categories. In the event of a threat, soldiers in the control center fire the guided missiles to render the attackers' objects harmless. According to earlier information, up to 50 possible targets can be monitored at the same time, and up to five can be actively fought.
The Patriot missiles work in conjunction with other systems. Put simply, one can say that a system like the one provided by Germany is sufficient to protect a medium-sized city. As soon as the mobile system is at its destination, it can be ready for use within minutes. On the "march" to the place of action, however, she is also particularly vulnerable.