Original by Andrey Soyustov published by RIA-FAN; translated and abridged by J.Hawk
Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) which according to many Ukrainians existed only in anecdotes rather than in reality experienced major changes by 2016. After the humiliation of Operation Crimea is Ours, of the bloody ATO and the confusion of six waves of mobilization, the Ukrainian Armed Forces finally became…Ukrainian Armed Forces. The real thing. Battle-ready. Not in words but in deeds. Or at least that’s what Ukraine’s General Staff is saying. All problems have been solved!
Is that really the case? We won’t touch upon all the unpleasantness the UAF experienced on the Donbass, in the Southern Cauldron, Saur-Mogila, Ilovaysk, Debaltsevo–that’s water under the bridge. Instead we’ll look at the current state of the UAF and its main trends.
It would be logical to start with UAF’s pluses. With what Ukraine’s General Staff can really be proud of.
The First Plus: The UAF still exists
This is the biggest plus as of early 2016, the fact that the UAF exist as such. In spite of all that happened with them since independence–the reactivations, reductions, “reforms,” “optimization”, and the miserly funding, the unpopularity of military service, poor living conditions, shortage of modern weapons, the sale and theft of post-Soviet inheritance, the tooth-gnashing nationalist propaganda, the utter lack of professionalism of a sizable proportion of the officer corps–in spite of all that, the UAF retains significant combat potential. After all that, one is struck by the resilience of the Soviet model of armed forces which Ukrainians try to unravel but thanks to which Ukraine’s army continues to exist.
Partial mobilization and draft
The waves of mobilization can also be considered as an achievement. Some 200 thousand men were cycled through them, and they allowed UAF units to be brought up to strength and sent to the front, where the individual soldiers received actual combat experience. The waves also gave UAF command the ability to do which Novorossia’s military which lacks the mobilization reserve cannot, namely rotate units out of the front line. They also allowed the UAF to increase its forces in the ATO zone. While there were 32 thousand Ukrainian troops fighting on the Donbass in August 2014, according to official numbers in August 2015 there were 73 thousand. The return to conscription, which was to be abolished after the fall of 2013, is also a plus, even though it was a forced measure. Altogether, these measures allowed Ukraine to stand up 13-15 new brigades and 5 separate battalions.
Dances around Special Ops Command
The development of SpecOps Forces needs to be discussed separately. It’s still not clear what will come of it–a separate branch of forces or simply the most combat-ready part of ground forces?
So far Ukraine’s MOD is waxing pathetic on “hybrid wars,” “secret operations,” and the like. However, the GenStaff managed to block SpecOps cooperation with NATO forces and even cancelled the NATO-organized and funded SpecOps exercise in Khmelnitskiy.
Moreover, while the command officially does not exist, it already has a commander, Major General Igor Lunev who emerged after a lengthy power struggle.
State expenditures, exercises, and foreign instructors
Here’s another plus for the UAF: the growth of government spending on the armed forces. 2015 budget was 4 times larger than 2014 one, at 45 billion hryvnya. It is to increase further in 2016.
The UAF is conducting more exercises. In 2015 it held 508 events, or more than twice than in 2014. US and Canadian instructors trained UAF’s airmobile unitsat the Shirokiy Lan training area.
New equipment and foreign aid
According to Ukraine’s MOD, the UAF received 15 new equipment types in 2015, including transport aircraft, APCs, and light armored vehicles. Ukraine also received 55 used Saxon APCs from the UK, and Humvees from the US, along with 22 military radars. According to Poroshenko, the UAF took out of long-term storage and repaired 9 aircraft, 9 helicopters, 316 tanks, 251 BMPs and BTRs, 220 artillery pieces, etc. There are reports that Belarus defense industry played a significant role in “reanimating” Ukraine’s military equipment…
But that’s where the pluses end.
The First Minus: RAND fail
Ukraine’s MOD still has not come up with a military development program that would define the future size, organization, and equipment of the UAF. Experts note that Ukrainian generals like it better this way, because it allows them to do what they do best: intrigue.
Even the US Rand Corporation could not overcome that tendency, though it laid out a detailed military reform plan for Ukraine. Joe Biden’s visit did not help either, though he said that US funding was conditional on implementing Rand strategy. So in the end Rand strategy implementation was pushed to 2016, and then everyone scattered to celebrate the New Year.
Drunkenness, theft, and “dead souls”
Ukraine MOD report for 2015 indicates that many units suffer endemic problems with discipline, alcohol use, desertion, lawbreaking, weapons safety, supply shortages, and medical care. The report reads as if it was written by a Napoleonic general in 1812!
The UAF discovered 7.8 billion hryvnya worth of theft and embezzlement in 2015. One of the cases involved an entire unit base in Artemovsk which was thoroughly plundered, with the destination of the stolen equipment unknown but believed to be the Donbass. No investigation was launched by the UAF…
Many of UAF’s newly formed units are poorly equipped and trained, as well as understaffed, in some case by as much as 50%. This, too, is what the GenStaff likes to do, because it allows it to create ever-more headquarters. While the number of actual soldiers hasn’t changed, the UAF recently created 15 new HQs for operational commands, sector commands, branches of forces, and air commands!
Mobilization wave crisis
The six waves exhausted Ukraine’s mobilization potential. Which is why the 7th wave was delayed until 2016, and if it is carried out it will…recall those who served in the first wave of mobilization. But that is now seen as an emergency measure in case of a “Russian invasion”, otherwise the UAF personnel will be replenished using draftees only.
SpecOps are not all-powerful, and the defense industry is weak
While foreign instructors are keeping at it, US soldiers are quite contemptuous of the ability of their trainees, and besides nobody has ever won a war with spec ops soldiers alone.
Ukrainian blogger known as andrei-bt poured cold water on the bombastic UkrMOD statements concerning equipment deliveries: “Nothing but failure, whether it comes to exporting equipment or equipping the UAF. The Oplot MBT is a failure, only 5 delivered, out of 40 ordered. Dozor armored car–7 delivered out of 150 ordered. The only real “accomplishments” are the delivery of T-64B1M, T-72AV and T72B1 originally intended for Kongo, Ethiopia, and other foreign customers. With the result of destroying Ukraine’s reputation as a reliable supplier of arms even to “fourth world” countries.”
There is a difference of opinion on why Ukraine’s defense industry performs so badly. Kiev government believes it’s due to the unending conflict between MOD, GenStaff, and Ukroboronprom, all of which want “their” firms to get the contracts. The manufacturers argue the cause is the critical state of defense industry infrastructure, low productivity levels, absence of closed production cycle, and inefficient resource use.
There are fewer and fewer predictions that the UAF will rearm itself in accordance with NATO standards. Everyone knows Ukraine’s industry can’t rearm the UAF, and nobody expects NATO will supply Ukraine with the quantity of weapons it needs.
Air and Air Defense
UAF’s air component has only one complete military unit, the 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade with 25 flyable Su-25s. Some Mig-29, Su-27, and Su-24 aircraft are being repaired to replenish other units, but so far no results have been noted.
UAF’s air defense is in an even worse shape. Aging weapons, over-age missiles, poorly trained personnel, and no factories capable of producing air defense systems. Ukraine’s Western partners are not about to give the country the kind of money it would need to procure air defense weapons, except maybe of the man-portable kind.
After Crimea’s loss Ukraine was left with practically no navy. The only more or less operational unit is the obsolete Hetman Sahaydachnyy frigate, and the most numerous formation is the 36th Naval Infantry Brigade.
Navy’s commander Vice Admiral Sergey Gayduk earned infamy by reducing the number of ship crewmembers to 130 and at the same time increasing the number of admirals to 13 but still likes to wax eloquent on the future of Ukraine’s navy. He regularly tells people that by 2020 the navy will have 66 ships, including 3 ultra-modern small submarines. But in reality Odessa can’t maintain even the existing ships. There are no repair yards, no munitions, no training facilities, no housing. Nothing. The construction of Vladimir Velikiy corvette has stalled and no Gyurza-M gunboats have entered service yet. The only reinforcement the UAF received were the five inflatable boats given by the US Navy.
Shortages are especially severe when it comes to surface-air and air-air missiles, and also artillery munitions. Which is why Ukraine is buying them from Bulgaria. The loss of the Lugansk munitions plant means that Ukraine has no large small arms munitions factory. Yatsenyuk promised to open a new production line in 2016, but so far it’s only in planning stage. Ukraine turned to the Czechs for rifle ammunition, but the Czechs unexpectedly refused.
Should we expect new attempts to destroy LPR and DPR? There is no easy answer.
Ukraine’s situation resembles Georgia’s on the eve of the 2008 war. There are “separatists” who control territory. There is a country attempting to reclaim it with US help. There is Russia which is trying to establish peace between the government and the “separatists”. The US is urging its puppet to attack on the “separatists” because Russia surely won’t get involved.
Close enough? Yes. But UAF’s commanders remember how Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia ended, so UAF’s commanders are not in a hurry to attack LPR/DPR. USA is far away but Russia is right next door. This is no Hollywood: US cavalry may not show up in time…Moreover, the UAF already tried to attack in 2014 and 2015. We know how it ended.
Aside from the Russian deterrent factor, the UAF even in its terrible shape could recapture the Donbass in 2-3 weeks. It could do that solely because they have a sizable numerical superiority in heavy weapons, rear services, and mobilization reserves. The UAF is hardly “one of the most powerful armies of Europe,” but it is the most powerful army between the San and Severskiy Donets rivers.
Therefore the UAF could very well try something against the Donbass in 2016. Whether they do solely depends on Russia’s decisiveness. But right now things seem to be moving toward a new Minsk rather than a Ukrainian Drang nach Donbass.
2016 will most likely be the last year in which Ukraine’s navy exists as an independent branch of forces. It will probably share the fate of Georgia’s: it will be disbanded and its remnants divided among the coast guard and customs.
Considering the consistent failure to meet draft quotas, a 7th wave of “partial mobilization” is entirely possible.
Whether Ukraine pursues military reforms in 2016 depends on the level of US pressure on Poroshenko, on US financial and military aid to Ukraine, and on the outcome of the conflict between the minister of defense and GenStaff chief. This conflict is due to Poroshenko totally trusting Muzhenko and giving him orders directly, behind the Minster of Defense Poltorak’s back. Poroshenko can’t change that status quo, which defeats any attempts any RAND plans on reforming UAF’s command structure.
And finally Ukraine has no ability to replenish its armored vehicle, aircraft, air defense, or naval fleets whatsoever.