When a howitzer or Javelin breaks down on the front lines in Ukraine, soldiers there have a direct line back to American mechanics and experts to help get those sophisticated weapons back in the fight. The Army credits that direct contact between soldiers in a fight and weapons experts, which it calls “telemaintenance,” with drastically reducing the amount of time Ukrainians have had to spend fixing broken weapons.
The Army may soon expand the telemaintenance concept to U.S. units, pushing repairs and maintenance that might once have meant a costly and time-consuming trip to a repair depot back to the frontline, the Army’s acquisition chief said Monday.
“It’s remarkable and we’ve never tried anything like that for ourselves,” Doug Bush, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology said at a Washington D.C. think tank event. “Now that it’s succeeded with Ukraine, we need to fundamentally rethink how we support our own maintainers in the field.”
The first Remote Maintenance Distribution Cell-Ukraine began providing American-made weapon and equipment assistance to Ukrainian forces in May 2022 – less than three months after Russia invaded Ukraine. In July 2022, the Army officially established the RDC-U in Jasionka, Poland, to provide remote maintenance and repair assistance to Ukrainian soldiers on the ground.
Since the U.S. military is not authorized to operate in Ukraine, the RDC-U conducts remote sessions with translators and secure voice, video, and chat channels to guide their Ukrainian counterparts through the entire maintenance process for a weapon system.
American troops have aided frontline Ukrainians with remote maintenance on heavy U.S. supplied-weapon systems, including the M777 155mm howitzers, M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, said William King, a spokesperson for Army Materiel Command.
With technology, the Army could have “more efficient ways” to “do more advanced repairs further forward,” Bush said. “These are all things that can save time and money versus bringing a tank for example all the way back to the depot.”
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The Army is looking at telemaintenance in large-scale training exercises in the Indo-Pacific, King said.
The head of AMC told Defense News that telemaintenance may also be part of training at national centers at Fort Irwin, California, and Fort Polk, Louisiana.
The American-Ukraine support cell began after the 87th Division Sustainment Support Battalion deployed to the region to support Ukrainian forces in March 2022. Within a month of arriving, the battalion conducted “informal hands-on training” for nine Ukrainian artillery technicians with 18 retrograde M777 howitzers.
Service tickets from Ukrainian soldiers “continued to flood in” and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sun Kim, armament systems maintenance warrant officer from the 87th Battalion realized the need for more efficient maintenance support. One service request was pending for over two weeks due to finite resources.
Kim decided to host a video chat with two members from Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, two weapon experts and an interpreter via cellphone.
“We were their only resource,” Kim told the Army in a release.
Maintenance resources then opened for 24-hour communication and soon American troops were able to help soldiers with battle equipment malfunctions they were experiencing on the front lines.
In April, the Army Sustainment Command’s Chief of Plans and Exercises, Col. Joe Parker echoed a similar sentiment about bringing virtual maintenance to other parts of the Army.
“This cell not only supports our coalition partners, but we’re also seeing considerable interest in this method from other units in other training centers as they adapt to the current threat environment,” Parker said. “Remote maintenance provides that flexibility.”
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