How Ukrainian military schools should change to train efficient professionals
It is common knowledge among the military that the unusually large number of generals, lieutenant colonels and colonels in Ukraine’s army is combined with the lack of junior officers. However, the contribution of the latter to the armed defense of Ukraine is difficult to overestimate. During the war in Donbas, 241 officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the rank of lieutenant-captain and another 94 in the rank of major-colonel were killed. The vast majority of the officers awarded military decorations are senior lieutenants and captains.
There is also other statistics. According to very conservative estimates, since Ukraine's independence, at least 80,000 officers graduated from military training establishments. Only half of them went on to serve in the army. Besides, we have a considerable number of officers who graduated during the Soviet era. These include all generals and almost all colonels. When in spring of 2014 the armed confrontation started in Crimea, the number of officers in the Armed Forces of Ukraine exceeded 60,000 (constituting about a half of the servicemen), including the so-called civilian personnel, that is, colonels of the Soviet mold that changed their military uniforms for jackets.
Despite this inadequately large number of officers in the Armed Forces, during the first phases of mobilization many more civilian reservists, graduates of military departments, were recruited. In half of the battalion task groups and most territorial battalions, reserve officers (graduates of reserve officer training departments) accounted for the bulk of the command staff. About half of the younger officers that were killed were these very graduates of the military training departments.
The question arises: where were those tens of thousands of officers trained in military education establishments? For some reason, there are much less trained army officers in Ukraine than officers specializing in other professions that for the most part proved to be absolutely useless in the situation of hostilities in the ATO area.
The officer corps of NATO countries, including the USA, is built on entirely different grounds. The majority there are the officers of the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Forces, as well as pilots and naval experts.
Officer personnel of the US Army are recruited from three sources:
- Over 50% are graduates of three military academies;
- About 40% are graduates of civilian universities who attended military courses;
- 5.7% are civilian experts with a narrow focus, such as health care workers, chaplains, etc.
Being an officer in the United States is extremely prestigious: enrolment competition is usually 10 students per 1 student space.
The training of reserve officers at military courses offered by civilian universities (Reserve Officers Training Corps) is fundamentally different from what Ukrainian (post-Soviet) military departments can offer. Military training is provided at almost 600 US civilian education institutions. These courses are attended on a voluntary basis, and students are paid additional scholarships for enrolling on military courses. During four years of study at their universities, students are required to attend military training once a week. Following graduation, graduates are obliged to serve (to be listed at military units and periodically visit them) in the units of the National Guard or Reserve for eight years. Alternatively, the can join the armed forces in officer capacity.
Given the fact that American high school and college students do not face mandatory military service, military courses only attract motivated and patriotic students. The selection criteria for the courses are very strict.
Unlike their Ukrainian counterparts, American officers attend career development courses every few years. After serving in the army for five years, officers may choose to study in one of the military schools, focusing on special operations, radio and radio equipment, military intelligence and counterintelligence (including at the Joint Military Intelligence College), information and propaganda, navy, engineering, infantry, and special warfare at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
After 10-15 years, officers may obtain another (in our terms, academic) degree in several educational institutions:
Command and General Staff College;
Air Command and Staff College;
College of Naval Command and Staff;
National Defense University (consisting of several colleges training specialists to work in the office of the Ministry of Defense and command headquarters).
NATO member countries having much smaller armies don't need to maintain numerous schools and advanced training colleges. Instead, they can send their officers to study either in the U. S. or in the joint regional schools and colleges in Europe (in Italy, Estonia, etc., see Table 1).
In Ukraine, the main burden of providing officers to the Armed Forces of Ukraine is carried by Hetman Petro Sahaydachny National Army Academy, Kozhedub Air Force University of Kharkiv, and the Military Academy in Odesa. Each year, they produce the same number of officers as the two telecommunications and information schools, whose reason for existence is doubtful: Korolyov Military Institute of the State Telecommunications University in Zhytomyr and the Military Institute in Kyiv (see Overlapping training).
The debate has been going on for over 10 years now: why do we need two basically similar schools? In NATO countries, the functions of these two institutions are performed by one or two departments. The pro argument was that a modern warfare largely depends on the means of electronic intelligence, electronic warfare, guidance systems, modern communications, etc. When the war broke out, giving a chance to the graduates of those schools to show their worth, it turned out that their education was useless. No one ever saw the high-precision weapons, about which the Ministry of Defense kept telling for 20 years. The invasion of the Russian troops on August 11-13 and 23-24 was not foretold. Ukrainian troops had to fight their way from the so-called Ilovaysk and Debaltseve pockets haphazardly. Artillery and air pointers had to do their work the way it was done during the Second World War: often on foot, snooping around the theater of operations under fire. Even the simplest problems caused difficulties, such as ensuring connection using the old Soviet systems. At the beginning of the ATO, all hopes were laid on mobile phones, and the old means of communication were disregarded. But when mobile coverage in the combat area began to disappear, it turned out that not many people know how to use even the simplest portable radio sets.
Each year, 650 to 1,000 officers of various technical professions graduate from Kyiv and Zhytomyr institutes. However, at least half of them in the years following the graduation leave the army under various pretexts to return to civilian life. Only a tiny percentage of graduates work within their specialty. Others fill vacancies in the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the Security Service and other power structures, irrespective of their profession.
But the main problem with these two universities is that they cannot provide knowledge based on the advanced technologies implemented in other countries (space industry, IT-technologies, etc.). To do so, they would need the technical equipment and the latest developments of NATO member countries, which they obviously don't have. As a result, instead of front-line army officers, they train every year new Internet users wearing uniforms.
This might be a subjective view, but the modern Armed Forces of Ukraine don't need military institutes of telecommunications and information in their current form. This military training sector should be reformed to the standards and under the supervision of NATO experts. It would not be viable in any other form.
Besides the two institutes of telecommunications and information, the 'military computer geeks' are also trained at military departments of civilian universities.
It is not a secret that military training departments of higher education institutions in Ukraine exist to spare students from serving in the army. That is, they traditionally train people who are not planning to have anything to do with the military. Attending military training departments is mandatory. This is the radical difference from the American military courses, to which students enroll voluntarily. Another fundamental difference is the learning approach. At Ukrainian military departments, students traditionally peruse outdated manuals and regulations, with occasional drill training. Students of US military courses do this only during the first two years. The next two years are dedicated to active field exercises, shooting practice, and physical training. Finally, the US military courses train primarily army officers, whereas in Ukraine they prepare specialists in the fields that are either completely useless or too specific for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Let's take the Military Institute of Kyiv National University. This institution is the largest military training department of all Ukrainian civil universities. If offers the following subjects: Psychology, Political Science, Journalism, Public Relations, International Information, International Relations, Translation, Finance and Credit, Law, and Geographic Information Systems and Technologies (topographical surveyors). First of all, most of these subjects are also offered by the Military Diplomatic Academy and other universities and military departments. Secondly, given the severe shortage of army officers, it is hard to imagine what is good of a 'military expert' specializing in political science or international media.
The general unanimous opinion of the officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is that most military departments are obsolete. Of course, some of the military departments could be preserved. But in this case, they have to prepare reserve army officers.
The curricula of military schools also raise many questions. But the management of most of those schools probably could hardly answer a simple question: what officers do they train? For instance, 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 posthumous awards.
Only two universities properly honor their modern heroes: Ivan Kozhedub Kharkiv Air Force University and especially Hetman Petro Sahaydachny National Army Academy. As for the other schools, judging from the information available on their websites, they have nothing to do with the armed conflict in Crimea and the war in Donbas of 2014-2015.
Not quantity, but quality
There is no need to prepare thousands of officers, only half of which at best would end up in the army and only quarter of which would make it to combat units. We do not need officers with civilian occupational specialty. We need ordinary infantrymen, artillerymen, pilots, paratroopers, and naval officers. These people should have patriotic beliefs, and not act like a few thousand Ukrainian officers who in spring 2014 exchanged their oath for Putin's promises.
The reform of the military education system could be modeled on the example of Hetman Petro Sahaydachny National Army Academy, with students from all over Ukraine and graduates who have distinguished themselves (alongside the graduates of Odesa and Kharkiv schools) defending the country.