The Pentagon’s high-level group to help Ukraine is rooted in the fight against Iraq and Afghanistan

WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon has modeled a new high-level team focused on rushing military aid to Ukraine on the group it used to fast-track troop supplies. AfghanistanIraq and Syria, according to a memo obtained by Defense News and people familiar with the matter.

Several weeks ago, Pentagon leaders quietly convened the group ― co-chaired by the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian and military chiefs ― to reduce its notoriously cumbersome bureaucracy. Called Senior Integration Group-Ukraine, its mandate is to transport military equipment to Ukraine from its own stocks, to replenish these stocks, to coordinate aid with NATO, to support partner countries and to resolve humanitarian issues.

SIG-Ukraine is an adaptation of the little-known Warfighter Senior Integration Group, which the Pentagon launched in the midst of the war on terror to meet the urgent needs of battlefield commanders. The Ukrainian group’s predecessor quickly deployed surveillance aerostats, working dogs and ballistic underwear used to protect troops from roadside bombs and more, according to former officials.

“Effective today, I am establishing a High Level Integration Group for Ukraine (SIG-Ukraine), to focus on providing lethal and non-lethal support to enable the Ukraine to defend itself more effectively against Russian aggression,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said. , one of the group’s co-chairs, said in her May 11 memo authorizing the group, which was already hard at work.

Alluding to “significant challenges ahead,” Hicks asked senior Pentagon leaders to cooperate with SIG-Ukraine “in this very important effort to defend democracy and help defeat Russian aggression.”

Although it has been widely reported that the Pentagon has sent weapons to Ukrainian forces, the bureaucratic mechanism has not previously been made public. Former officials said the GIS format draws its power from senior leadership involvement and has long been a way to make and implement decisions in days that might otherwise take months or years.

“The key attribute is the age of this forum and the speed and agility with which it identifies and drives action,” said Greg Kausnera former Biden administration defense official who in 2021 temporarily assumed the role of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, including the chairmanship of the Warfighter SIG.

The new group is functionally co-chaired by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante and Director of Joint Staff Operations Lt. Gen. James Mingus as vice -Chairman of Hicks and Chiefs of Staff Adm. Christopher Grady. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, Comptroller Mike McCord, U.S. European Command leadership and key Armed Forces acquisition chiefs are also part of the group.

GIS Ukraine is intended to support needs identified by the United States European Command and manages items procured under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. “The GIS addresses items such as latest operational requirements and resolves issues impeding urgent materiel and logistics requirements needed to support EUCOM and support to Ukraine,” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said. .

The United States is directing a flood of Western weapons into Ukraine that helped blunt Russia’s initial offensive and is expected to be critical in the next phase of fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine. On Tuesday, hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were evacuated from Mariupol, appearing to cede control of the city to Russia after 82 days of bombardment.

Congress is set to pass a $40 billion package for Ukraine that authorizes the Biden administration to send an additional $11 billion of US military equipment to Ukraine and includes $9 billion to fill stockpiles already sent.

This equipment includes 20,000 weapons designed to defeat armored vehicles, some 1,400 shoulder-fired Stinger missiles to shoot down planes, and more than 50 million rounds of rounds, among many other items. Heavy armament for the final phase of the war includes 90 howitzers, 200,000 artillery shells and around 20 radar systems to detect incoming artillery.

Without an expedited process, responding to requests for equipment from Ukraine could take the Washington bureaucracy months, with a request passing through State Department and Pentagon security cooperation channels.

Respond to urgent needs

In 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates launched the 50-member Warfighter SIG to respond to Joint Statements of Urgent Operational Requirements, or JUONS, from the low end. Ash Carter, then the Pentagon’s chief of acquisitions, said in his 2019 book that the weekly GIS meetings included “everyone that mattered across the department, from top generals to senior executives.”

“We brought the need for camera-equipped balloons to the GIS, marking it as a super-urgent challenge on which American lives depended,” Carter said. “Officers responsible for budgeting, ordering and shipping materials have been instructed to make this a top priority. Within days, dozens of airships were on their way to Afghanistan.

A flexible group, it has changed in membership, frequency and mandates ― even playing a role in arming proxy forces fighting the Islamic State group at one point ― but a common thread has been the seniority of its members and its mandate to solve problems for commanders in war zones as they arise, according to people familiar with her.

Andrew Hunter, now the Air Force’s chief of acquisitions and former director of the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, told Congress in 2015 that GIS was a model for reducing red tape. He then described it as “a giant room, tons of people around a table” with battlefield commanders participating via video teleconference.

“Everyone around the table, with the Under Secretary of Defense over there, and the question is not a debate about whether we should or not: we will. That’s the main thing,” said Hunter, now an Air Force representative with GIS-Ukraine at the time. “And everyone who has a role in the system is there, and a decision is made. Undersecretary says, here is how we are going to do it. Everyone goes out. These are marching orders.

As the United States ended its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the group also shrank and focused primarily on withdrawing people and equipment, but also obtaining intelligence , surveillance and reconnaissance, said Ellen Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. in the Trump administration.

“In the days leading up to the mega Zoom meetings, it was very unusual, but we had the combatant commanders and whoever [U.S. military] leadership in the country in Iraq or Afghanistan would be,” Lord said. “The way I handled it was if there was a priority issue, maybe the money wasn’t released, you would go to the controller and see what we could do to fix it. “

On Tuesday, Lord hailed the Pentagon’s new adaptation of the GIS model as a sign that Ukraine is getting the attention of senior Pentagon leaders, in a holistic way.

“It shows enormous focus, unity of action and priority within the department,” Lord said.

Joe Gould is a senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.

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