How Ukraine’s Army would face a hypothetical new escalation of war in the East
The defense capabilities of a nation are based on four key components: proper recruiting and manning; weapons supply (defense industry); military training; and military and patriotic education.
Today, the manpower of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is about 250,000, including 84,500 servicemen conscripted during the fourth, fifth and sixth mobilization campaigns, and 46,000 of “civilian workers” (including a fairly large number of reserve officers).
The rest are officers (whose number is disproportionally large compared to common soldiers) and contract servicemen. Out of those drafted during the first three mobilization campaigns, only 12,000 chose to join professional (contract-based) military service.
During 2016, those drafted during the fourth, fifth and sixth mobilization campaigns will have to be discharged, while contracts of many other servicemen expire this year. Already in spring, the crucial question will be: who will serve in the army?
The problem could be solved in two ways: 1) another wave of mobilization and expansion of the list of those liable for military service; 2) dramatic increase in the number of professional soldiers and sergeants. Quite a lot of people drafted in 2014–2015 would have stayed with the Armed Forces of Ukraine if the salaries were good.
But today, a professional serviceman's monthly salary is UAH 2,300 or under USD 100 at the current exchange rate. Officers with 20 years of service earn UAH 6,000 or roughly USD 250. Only idealists or those having no chance of finding a job in civilian life would risk their lives for that much money. Lean salaries paid to professional servicemen result in the Defense Ministry hiring people with moral and physical disabilities. Under such conditions, the issue of professional competences is not even raised. Therefore, until professional servicemen are paid at least UAH 5,000 per month (which, by the way, is also a very low salary level for the country's defenders), the quality of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be far from perfect.
Another cornerstone of Ukraine's defense is its defense industry. In fact, it is currently comprised of the fragments of what was once a unified system of Soviet defense enterprises. While the Russian Federation over the past 20 years has transformed its "fragments" into a completely self-sufficient and closed structure, Ukraine failed to do so. Local military enterprises are mostly non-diversified manufacturers of radioelectronics and other so-called high-precision products that are obsolete by design and performance for the most part. Ukraine has quite a lot of enterprises manufacturing electronics for combat aircraft, but we don't have a single one that builds such aircrafts. Many plants make hulls and engines for armored vehicles, but there are virtually no manufacturers of artillery pieces for them. Of course, the existing enterprises could be converted and modernized, but this would require a national program, large funds, and foreign experts. Nothing of the kind is taking place so far. In today's geopolitical situation, the deployment of Ukraine's defense industry has also become a major problem. The most important plants are located in the east: in Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk oblasts. Major defense industry enterprises are also located in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts. In Kharkiv, there are 11 factories manufacturing various components for tanks and armored vehicles (though none of them produces artillery systems for them).
This location of defense enterprises is explained primarily by the fact that the Soviet leadership was expecting an attack from the west, and also by the proximity to the mineral resources of the Donbas to the production facilities. As a result, 7 out of 11 enterprises producing ammunition and explosives are left in a relatively small area occupied by separatists and Russian terrorists. Out of four remaining explosives factories, three are located in Shostka in Sumy Oblast, near the Russian border.
The seizure by the enemy of the Luhansk ammunition factory dealt a heavy blow to the Armed Forces of Ukraine: a similar new plant needs to be established, otherwise the army might soon be left without ammunition. The situation is similar with shells for various artillery systems. The war in the Donbas, which, in theory, by international classification should be considered a relatively small local conflict, has greatly exhausted the stock of shells and ammunition. The General Staff of Russia is perfectly well aware of this (since its officers have all the data, and Russian military analysts can count well), so this is not a secret.
The lack of 7.62×54mmR ammunition produced after 1943 resulted in the use by the Ukrainian Army of the legendary 7.62x39 mmR Maxim machine guns manufactured before the WWII. The stock of the ammunition of this caliber at the warehouses is rather large. In this way, outdated Maxims were used in 2015 for the defense of the Donetsk Airport and at the checkpoints along the demarcation line.
The training of troops is an extremely important factor for the national defense capability. In Ukraine, scarce resources are traditionally allocated for it. It should be added that, given the deficit of ammunition and artillery shells, holding full-scale maneuvers is impossible. In this respect, expenditures of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine in 2014 (see Defense Spending Structure) were quite telling.
In 2015, the situation changed little, and even deteriorated in some areas:
— Air defense units are practically not being trained because of the lack of appropriate grounds;
— After a Su-25 aircraft crash on November 11, 2015 near Zaporizhzhia, a moratorium was imposed on airforce exercises until its circumstances are clarified;
— Ground troops exercises at the level of brigades or operative commands are not held at all;
— Battalion and company exercises are held to provide the minimum necessary training to civilians newly drafted to the army.
To prepare for a possible war, a completely different format of exercises is required: for example, the one that was used in the Soviet times, or the one that exists in NATO countries, when two or more operative commands take part in army maneuvers using aircraft and special operations forces. Of course, such exercises are rather expensive. But without them, it is impossible to prepare for the war.
The work conducted in the area of the fourth cornerstone of the national defense, namely, the patriotic education, is exemplified by the respective page of the Ministry of Defense’s the official website: it is empty. In other words, nothing is being done (despite the fact that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have a large number of full-time positions for both the so called education officers and civilian professionals). The timeline of the website’s "History" section starts in 1991 and ends rather curiously: "On February 5, 2013, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine approved the Ideological Work Policy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. For its implementation, a new combat training subject was introduced: military and ideological training." That's it.
Judging from the materials published on the website of the Odesa Military Academy, one can conclude that it is proud of its traditions rooted in the Russian Empire, its Red Banners, and Soviet awards. However, it conceals the fact of the participation of its graduates in the protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of Ukraine in 2014-2015. And this is despite the fact that among its graduates are several Heroes of Ukraine, and many of them have been awarded war decorations, including posthumously.
Only two universities properly honor their modern heroes: Ivan Kozhedub Kharkiv Air Force University and especially Hetman Petro Sahaidachny National Army Academy. As for the other universities, military units and educational institutions, judging from the information available on their websites, they have nothing to do with the armed conflict in Crimea and the war in the Donbas of 2014-2015.
This sums up the many challenges Ukraine’s Army is facing: meager wages, inadequate defense industry, low quality and rarity of military exercises and, finally, the lack of ideological grounds and military and patriotic education. Should a new war erupt, these factors may have the most detrimental effect on the country's defense capabilities.