Troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade have begun their third rotation in Ukraine, and the U.S. soldiers are planning a new training regimen to better hone the skills of the country's active-duty force.
The U.S. and Ukrainian Ministry of Defence have created a two-month-long block of instruction as their guide to certify more trainers, said Lt. Col. Michael Kloepper, commander of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"They're learning a lot in terms of how to counter drones and tanks and artillery," Kloepper told Army Times.
The exercise, Fearless Guardian, has the same goal as previous rotations, to contribute to stability operations in eastern Ukraine.
But the training this fall will go a step further to simulate training under "increasingly complex conditions" for Ukraine's security forces, Kloepper said, in an audio-recorded statement to Army Times.
"We anticipate the army forces showing up ... for a pretty rigorous program of instruction," he said Sept. 21, six days into the latest rotation in Yavoriv.
Training for active-duty Ukrainian troops will begin in November.
The program will cover marksmanship in live-fire exercises, and using night-vision equipment and communications gear, Kloepper said.
About 250 members from the 173rd are working with the same number of Ukrainian army forces, and now participants include Canada and Lithuania, Kloepper said. As the force network continues to build, the 173rd — which has been the leading force behind the training in Ukraine — will modify its component, he said.
More than 400 soldiers with the Ukrainian national guard have trained with the 173rd in the last four months.
"It seems like there's huge opportunity in their NCO corps," Kloepper said. "There's a huge opportunity in terms of force professionalization, for leader development, and maybe a little bit for tactical, but there's no shortage of medical training and medical equipment or non-lethal [equipment]."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited the Ukrainian Army Academy near Lviv on Monday to meet Ukrainian troops, and planned a visit near the Fearless Guardian training site to speak with firefighters, the region's ministry of emergency situations and Kloepper, said Capt. Kat Kaliski, spokeswoman for the 173rd told Army Times.
In April, members of the 173rd were invited by the government of Ukraine to train national guard troops for an internal security mission and to do basic skills training.
Allied partners including Germany and Poland have assisted in rotations.
"The feedback has been positive, especially with the medical training we provide and the counter IED training," Kloepper said. "These are areas where we have learned a lot of hard lessons over the last 12 years, so just being able to share those lessons from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been a value added."
Kloepper hopes the exercises will refresh the soldiers "from the individual through the unit level."
"Like good old-fashioned soldier business, we start out with physical training in the morning, we go to breakfast together, we march to training together ... so we are partnered person to person for 12 to 13 hours a day," he said. "We have all the resources available here that any U.S. base would have."
Kloepper said the mil-to-mil engagements have also given members of the 173rd a looking glass into contemporary warfare.
"We've got a ton of experience in low-intensity warfare, counterinsurgency warfare, whereas a bulk of the Ukraine experience is facing a 21st-century near-peer adversary," he said.