The U.S. military is planning to set up a training center in Europe to teach NATO allies how to field High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, a top U.S. general told VOA, amid increased demand for the systems in Eastern Europe following the weapon’s successes in Ukraine.
“We're still in the preliminary stages here, but it would be an area that we would maybe pull in several countries to one location,” V Corps commander Lieutenant General John Kolasheski, who is responsible for U.S. Army operations along NATO’s eastern flank, told VOA in an exclusive interview late Tuesday.
The news came as the State Department on Tuesday approved the potential sale of 18 HIMARS launchers to Poland, along with hundreds of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems and dozens of Army Tactical Missile Systems. The Polish government requested the sale, worth an estimated $10 billion.
The proposed HIMARS program would be available to NATO countries that are approved for foreign military sales of the long-range artillery systems, which include nations such as Estonia, Poland and Romania on NATO’s eastern side.
“They [NATO] see the brutality of what has taken place in Ukraine, and there is a sense of urgency, there's a sense of purpose, and all 30 nations are united to come together to this effective defense of NATO terrain,” Kolasheski said.
Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur told VOA earlier this week that “one of the biggest lessons learned” from the war in Ukraine is that “long fire is extremely important.” HIMARS have been credited with shifting the momentum of the war.
Estonia has purchased six HIMARS units that are expected to be delivered in the 2024-25 time frame. An American HIMARS platoon is providing extra defensive capabilities in the Baltics, and Pevkur said the platoon also is allowing Estonian forces to begin training on the rocket systems “today” so they will be ready to use them “from day one.”
Poland’s Abrams Academy
Kolasheski said the proposed HIMARS academy would be “a similar construct” to the Abrams Tank Training Academy, which opened near Poznan, Poland, last year to familiarize Polish forces with the U.S.-made Abrams main battle tanks. Poland was the first European ally to acquire the Abrams, purchasing 250 M1A2 Abrams tanks last year and 116 M1A1 Abrams tanks in January.
Part of the Abrams program includes a type of apprenticeship, where Polish forces are attached to Army tank units to study how to service and fire the tanks, according to Kolasheski.
Since the Abrams academy opened last summer, a class of Polish tank operators and a class of maintainers have graduated from it.
Poland has fast become a military hub for U.S. forces in Eastern Europe and has been an outspoken advocate for sending Western tanks to Ukraine.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Saturday that Poland had begun training Ukrainian military forces on the German-made Leopard 2 tanks.
Asked whether the Abrams Tank Training Academy in Poland would be used to train Ukrainians, Kolasheski told VOA there was still “no decision on that right now.”
After President Joe Biden announced last month that the U.S. would provide Ukrainian forces with Abrams tanks, the Pentagon has since said it will first need to procure the tanks because there isn’t an excess available in U.S. stocks. The move will delay the tanks’ delivery.
Leopard 2 tanks and British-made Challenger 2 tanks, however, are expected to arrive on the Ukrainian battlefield as soon as Ukrainian training is complete.
“Tanks are much awaited … and I really hope that we are not too late for that,” Estonia’s Pevkur told VOA.
Asked whether it was realistic to expect Ukrainian forces to operate Leopard 2 or Challenger tanks within a few months, Kolasheski replied, “I think it is.”
“They’re very, very motivated. They’re very eager. I mean, this to them is an existential threat,” he said.
VOA asked the Pentagon for access to U.S. forces training Ukrainians in Germany and to the Abrams Tank Training Academy in Poland, but the request was denied.