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Ukraine war: How to repair the Ukrainian army′s modern weapons | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW

Passengers flying into Rzeszow Airport in south-eastern Poland hardly notice that the main hub for military aid to Ukraine has emerged here. Far from the civilian airport terminal, the 50 countries supporting Ukraine set up a US-led military camp. Behind the airport fence, NATO has also built an imposing line of defense to protect the alliance’s eastern border: with Patriot anti-aircraft systems, their missile shafts reaching into the sky.

The military area of ​​the small Polish regional airport has now become the Fort Knox base for the Ukraine. Even before Putin’s invasion began on February 24, the US and Britain had started flying in light anti-tank weapons for the Ukrainian army – when US intelligence services warned of the Russian attack. The Polish-Ukrainian border is only an hour’s drive from here.

A Howitzer 2000 on a Dutch Transporter driving down the German Autobahn A1

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, transport vehicles with heavy weapons have criss-crossed Europe

Military vehicles on Polish roads

On the ground, the logistics operations cannot be overlooked. Military transports are constantly sighted on the region’s roads. People who drive a lot in south-eastern Poland report that hardly a day goes by without seeing uniformed soldiers in civilian flatbed trucks taking a break at motorway service stations. But the detail of how Western aid is reaching the Ukrainian army on the front lines is one of the war’s best-kept secrets.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock only indirectly confirms that the Polish region on the NATO border has become the central transfer point for aid supplies. In mid-September, after a trip to Kyiv, she told him Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that a “maintenance center on the Polish-Ukrainian border” will be set up.

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Polish media are reluctant to report on military aid in the south-east of their country. The fact that Germany and the US-forged coalition of supporters of Ukraine are building a repair center there has not hit the headlines in Poland so far.

a map showing the reclaimed territory

This month Ukraine has made significant progress in eastern and south-eastern Ukraine

Wear out German howitzers

Bundeswehr General Christian Freuding, head of the Ukraine Special Task Force in the German Defense Ministry, was in Kyiv at the beginning of September for talks with Ukrainian military leaders. He reported that the Panzerhaubitze 2000, which Germany had delivered to Ukraine, showed signs of wear.

“They have been used in combat since May. And now, of course, they have some limitations in their operational readiness.” His Special Task Force is committed to “that we achieve continuity and very quickly return to a high level of operational readiness” with the artillery systems. So in these weeks before the approaching winter, the focus is on repairing worn western weapons. After the successful counter-offensive of the Ukrainians in the north-east of their country, Germany supplied them with four additional Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers.

An arsenal of spare parts

“Logistics must be strengthened,” said security expert Wolfgang Richter from the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), which advises the federal government in Berlin, “and that’s exactly what’s happening,” he added – also with a view to the domestic German discussion about the delivery Leopard 2 main battle tanks, which Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz is refusing, at least for the time being.

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Intense fighting means that the weapons are worn out. “Spare parts for various Western weapon systems must be kept as close as possible to the Ukrainian border,” Richter told DW. “Secondly, you need trained personnel who are able to repair Western weapon systems.”

It is a difficult undertaking because so many different weapons have been delivered to Ukraine: “I’m thinking of the different artillery systems and the necessary peripherals – French, Italian, British, American and German designs.” The military equipment of many countries requires “completely different spare parts – and in large quantities”.

Uncertain course of war

Looking ahead to the coming months, Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at the US Center for Naval Analysis, said the war in Ukraine would be defined by “attrition and recovery.”

Although Ukraine has a good chance of gradually liberating more areas after the most recent military successes, Kofman does not dare to predict how long the war will last.

The region around Rzeszow in south-eastern Poland will probably have to get used to military equipment on the roads for a long time. This now also includes the delivery of spare parts for the repair of weapons.

Monika Sieradzka and Max Zimmer contributed to this report.

This article was originally written in German.

By the way: In daily and weekly e-mail newsletters, the DW editors summarize what is happening in Germany and around the world. You can register for the weekly Berlin Briefing and more here.

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