A private US-based company has helped to train Ukrainian personnel at sites in Ukraine, with the process being conducted outside of any Nato-led national or multinational training effort.
A number of Nato countries have initiated training programmes for Ukrainian forces as Kyiv continues its fight against Russia following Moscow’s large-scale invasion of its neighbour in February last year. In contrast, the provision of training by the private sector to Ukraine, is less well understood.
Utilising its series of autonomous target robots, Marathon Targets claims it is able to increase infantry small arms accuracy by providing moving targets for live-fire training purposes. The US Marine Corps has undertaken firearms training using Marathon’s systems, such as the T50 autonomous robot for outdoor ranges, for a number of years.
Company officials outlined the scale of the programme, indicating that it had helped train approximately one battalion’s worth of Ukrainian military personnel. The company has also conducted training for Polish forces in Poland.
Although the numerical composition of a battalion-sized Ukrainian military unit is not known, US military doctrine states that a battalion consists of four to six companies and include up to 1,000 personnel.
Speaking to Army Technology in March, officials from Marathon said that the training programme was “ongoing, but intermittent”, with serials conducted whenever autonomous training robots were available, along with the required Ukrainian and Polish personnel.
“It has become increasing challenging to train within Ukraine, so we are shifting our efforts to large scale training complexes further west. In Poland, our autonomous robots were used to train Polish Territorial Defence Forces, [and] in Ukraine, the robots were used to train Ukrainian Armed Forces. In each country we trained the equivalent of a battalion of soldiers,” the company official said.
In addition, Marathon continued to “look for additional opportunities to train Ukrainian and Polish forces”, either at their home installations or “at the centralised training being performed in the UK and at US bases in Germany”, where such training could be performed “more safely, and at scale”.
According to Marathon, the use of robotic autonomous targets for firearms serials provides significant benefits for military personnel, who are more used to the traditional static range exercises commonly utilised for infantry training.
Marathon said that its autonomous targets are able to simulate realistic enemy unit movements pattern, even dispersing when fired upon, seeking cover, and undertaking tactical advances towards the trainee.
The US Marine Corps has utilised Marathon training programmes and adapted areas of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to accommodate firearms training using autonomous robotic targets. According to Marathon, the ability for soldiers to hit moving targets in firearms training is critical.
“This life-or-death skill is currently not trained in traditional live fire training, where all targets are static and highly predictable. Current small arms live fire training is focused on ‘marksmanship,’ but autonomous robots convert that into a ‘decision-making exercise’ under the stress of a firefight,” said the Marathon official.
Training conducted by Marathon, which did not specify the recipient, that mimicked Russian soldier and mercenary movements was “enthusiastically praised” by both the instructors and the trainees, with the former, “fresh from frontline combat” enabled them to teach combat skills to new recruits.
“One of our team summed this up succinctly: ‘It was very gratifying to convert bakers and bankers into ‘pre-combat veterans’ in just a few days’,” the Marathon official stated.