Ukrainian troops getting weapons training in UK

By Jonathan Beale
Defence correspondent, BBC News

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Watch: Footage of Ukrainian troops training in UK

Britain has been training hundreds of Ukrainian troops, with new weapons being provided by the UK for their fight with Russia.

The training has been taking place over the past few weeks in south-west England's Wiltshire county.

The Ukrainians have been learning how to use the British Army's Multiple Rocket Launcher System (MLRS) which has a range of more than 80km (50 miles).

Britain is believed to be providing Ukraine with three of these advanced long-range systems.

The UK has also purchased around 50 howitzers for Ukraine, another long-range weapon. The L119 light gun howitzer can fire up to 12km (eight miles) away.

British and New Zealand soldiers who have been overseeing the training say they have been impressed by the Ukrainian troops' eagerness to learn.

"Their motivation to be quick to learn is incredible... they don't take many breaks," Warrant Officer Rebecca Bullock, a master gunner with the Royal Artillery, said.

They know their window of learning is reasonably short, she says, so they are motivated to get as much knowledge as possible - "they just work, work and work and ask a lot of questions".

"How can they be quicker, how can they move faster, how can they come into action? It is all about the speed."

Along with New Zealand's Captain Jonathan Dick she has been training the bulk of the troops in the use of the L119 gun.

"We definitely see a high degree of motivation and dedication to the defence of Ukraine with these guys," Capt Dick said.

Ukraine has been vastly outgunned and outnumbered by Russia's artillery and has been pleading for more heavy weapons from the West.

Image source, Pool
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For the first time the MoD allowed some of the training to be filmed, as long as no Ukrainian troops were identified

That supply has now started to arrive, though still not in the quantities that Ukraine wanted - and the training is taking time.

The transition to Western weapons has become even more important as Ukraine runs low on its stocks of Soviet-era artillery rounds. Nato countries use a different calibre of ammunition.

Capt Dick described the L119 gun, which fires a 105mm shell, as a "very capable weapon".

"It's mobile, it can be slung in the back of helicopters, pushed around, dragged by trucks big or small," he said.

He believes it will "fill a gap" in Ukraine's armoury. Warrant Officer Bullock added "hopefully they will put it to good use".

The Ukrainians being trained are already experienced artillery soldiers.

The head of the US military, General Mark Milley, has called them "top-notch gunners".

They have certainly been getting plenty of experience. Ukraine's military say that they have been firing between 5,000-6,000 artillery rounds a day in the battle for the Donbas.

The Russians have fired nearly 10 times that number.

Image source, Pool
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The British Army's Multiple Rocket Launcher System (MLRS) which has a range of more than 50 miles

For the Ukrainian troops who came to the UK this has been more of a conversion course rather than a baptism of fire.

They have had five days of training followed by a one-day live fire exercise on Salisbury Plain.

It has taken longer to train on the Multiple Rocket Launcher System.

The MLRS is the British Army's most advanced long range artillery weapon - similar to the US HIMARS rocket launchers already being used in Ukraine.

It normally takes five weeks to train an MLRS commander, but for the Ukrainian troops it has been done in just three weeks.

They are not just having to learn how to use the new system, but also how to keep them maintained.

Captain James Oliphant, of the Royal Artillery, said he believes it is a weapon that will make a big difference.

"It's going to give them more mobility which is going to aid in their survivability," he said.

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Capt James Oliphant said there is a "common language" with Ukraine's experienced artillery soldiers

Added to that he said it uses rockets "that can punch out to 84km (52 miles)" - beyond the range of most Russian artillery.

Despite the obvious language barrier Capt Oliphant says they have had a "common language" with the Ukrainians who are already experienced in using their own rocket launchers.

Over time, the Ukrainians have become more accustomed to the UK equipment, Capt Oliphant says.

We are able to take a step back now, he says, with a Ukrainian commander "exercising his troops under his own doctrine and tactics".

From the Ukrainians there is gratitude for their new weapons and training.

Some were fighting for their lives and country before they arrived in the UK and will be doing exactly the same as soon as they return.

One said: "It's hard. My soldiers are still fighting there. I keep thinking of them."

Another Ukrainian soldier speaks of the exhaustion from battle.

"We are just tired, but in the same way we are so motivated to continue our struggle".

He added: "When others realise we have MLRS they will have strong motivation… we are powerful and strong".

In reality no one weapon will win this war. And certainly not in such limited numbers. Ukraine has been asking for 300 multiple rocket launchers.

The US, UK and Germany are so far supplying less than a dozen, though more may follow.

But the West says it is committed to Ukraine's long-term fight. And a few hundred Ukrainian troops training in Britain may soon be followed by thousands more.

Boris Johnson has offered to train 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers a month.