RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Defense leaders from more than 40 nations amassed on a blustery April day in southwestern Germany, recruited by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to better coordinate efforts supporting Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.
Tuesday’s gathering, which was organized with less than a week’s notice, will now be a monthly event. Austin announced the creation of a standing Ukraine-focused “contact group” during a press briefing at the end of the event at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
“The contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts, coordinate our assistance, and focus on winning today’s fight and the struggles to come,” Austin said.
A key focus of these meetings will be improved coordination with participating nations’ defense-industrial bases, he added. “That means dealing with the tremendous demand that we’re facing for munitions and weapons platforms.”
The congregation of so many countries — not only NATO members but also partners based in Africa, Asia and the Middle East — on Tuesday sends “a powerful signal,” Austin added. Several nations, including Germany and Canada, announced new heavy weapons shipments to Ukraine over the course of the event.
While this meeting was in person, future gatherings could be virtual or mixed, he noted. A senior defense official told reporters there will likely be more nations attending virtually.
The intent is to include any nation that wants to contribute to the self-defense of Ukraine, and the monthly meetings will take place in different locations, the official added, noting that the frequency of the meetings is due to the sense of urgency participants feel about the second phase of the war in Ukraine, as Russia focuses its attention and combat power in the Donbas region.
The meeting Tuesday and its successive events to follow are just one example of the U.S. Defense Department and its allies’ plans to continue supplying lethal and nonlethal aid to Ukraine as quickly as possible.
In March, U.S. European Command created a new unit called EUCOM Control Center Ukraine, or ECCU, to coordinate and synchronize equipment deliveries from Washington and its partners. Fifteen other partner nations — including NATO and non-NATO countries — have provided staff stationed at the center, located at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday.
ECCU, led by the command’s director of logistics, Rear Adm. R. Duke Heinz, consists of a “near-soup-to-nuts of all things security systems delivery,” and combines a call center, a watch floor and meeting rooms, the official said. It has facilitated the delivery of equipment from more than 40 nations to Ukraine.
The center has worked to ensure those deliveries are facilitated as quickly as possible, the official added, noting that since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the DoD has significantly ramped up delivery rates — from one flight every other day, to about eight to 10 flights per day.
“At some points, it has spiked to nearly double that as we ramped up our coordination and logistics efforts to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces in near-real time,” the official added. The U.S. military has also expanded its equipment delivery support from “a single path” to a “multi-modal effort,” including multiple routes over air, ground and rail, the official said.
In the 60-plus days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, nations have supplied more than $5 billion worth of equipment to the Ukrainian forces, with about $3.7 billion coming from the United States, Austin said Tuesday.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.