Ukrainian army seeks to modernize bygone Soviet era


WASHINGTON – As Ukraine is at war with Russia and its agents in the east, it also faces an internal battle with military reformers seeking to modernize after the Soviet era against the country’s bureaucracy, corruption ubiquitous and the defense industrial base largely outdated.

Kiev’s new government, which took power after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych ousted in 2014, is adopting NATO standards as the country plans to join the US-led alliance. But to get there, defense officials say, the old ways must go.

“We are working hard because all the Ukrainian people are watching us, and we are like flags of the Ukrainian people, symbolic flags of future change for Ukrainians [nation]”said Konstiantyn Liesnik, adviser to the Defense Ministry‘s reform office and head of its logistics and procurement task force.” If we change the Defense Ministry, people think we will change the whole country . “

The Ukrainian army, at worst considered corrupt and shabby, is under the administration of President Petro Poroshenko and is seriously examining both its organization and the work of the defense industry, intended to make its military and defense industry really efficient, and to orient itself towards the west.

“Like everything else in the Ukraine reform zone, this is going to be a difficult task,” said John Herbst, director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and the Bush administration’s ambassador to Ukraine. “While the national interest is clear, the self-interest of some institutions and individuals does not necessarily align. Corruption is a huge problem in this society, including in the defense sector.”

Military reform and transparency would not only thwart Russian efforts to destabilize and undermine the Ukrainian government, but would help reassure potential donors of military aid that it will be put to good use, said Olga Oliker, director of the Ukrainian government. Center for Russia and Eurasia and International Executive Policy Analyst at Rand.

“Reforming the military and the national security sector is integral to showing the world that, no, Ukraine really works, this government is effective and is doing things that no previous Ukrainian government could do,” Oliker said. “Transparent and accountable armed forces are probably armed forces to which you can supply weapons and be sure that they will be used as you expect.”

US lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons, and the Wall Street Journal reports Pentagon seeks White House approval to provide Ukraine with bigger, longer radar range after sending light radar units and other non-lethal aids.

The United States reinforces its commitment to military education for Ukraine. On July 24, the Obama administration announced that it would extend the training of the Ukrainian National Guard to the Ukrainian armed forces. This is remarkable, because it marks the beginning of the formation of frontline US military units that are actively engaged in the battle against the separatists; previously, the units formed were based in the western regions of the country controlled by Kiev.

“This small unit training will be conducted by personnel from US Army Europe to help develop the internal defense capabilities and institutional training capability of the Ukrainian armed forces, and is similar to our ongoing National Guard training announced in March, “said Laura, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Seal said in a statement. “This additional program brings our total security assistance committed to Ukraine to over $ 244 million since 2014.”

Asked what equipment the Ukrainian military could use from the United States, Liesnik and other Ukrainian officials at a press conference at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington on July 23, called a wish list which included anti-tank systems, armored vehicles, counter-battery radars, reconnaissance systems, jamming and anti-jamming systems, and NATO standard replacements for Soviet era radios.

Ukrainian troops have been widely reported to have difficulty countering artillery fire and electronic jamming.

“The problem with Russia versus Ukraine is that we use similar systems from the Soviet Union, like radios, like counter radios, and that’s a problem. [that] we work the same way, ”Liesnik said.

Ukrainian officials present at the event said they were convinced that with or without foreign support, Ukraine would win the war. The difference, said military attaché Colonel Serhii Dolenko, is that foreign support could reduce the death toll.

“My personal opinion and the opinion of the Ukrainian people is yes, we need support, we need weapons, but if you don’t give us these weapons, we will win at any time,” Liesnik said. “Any war we will end, and after the war we will remember who helped and who didn’t.”

Herbst has predicted much more, more effective and more serious foreign support for Ukraine over time, led by the United States – although so far it has been granted too cautiously for some. Herbst, author of a report calling on the United States to arm Ukraine, said the two most important systems the United States can send are Javelin shoulder anti-tank weapons and counter-battery radars.

“The White House has, in my opinion, been strategically short-sighted, where other parts of government at senior levels understand the strategic issues,” Herbst said. “The White House doesn’t understand, and it’s pretty appalling.”

The United States, traditionally cautious about sending weapons and materiel, is concerned that they will be lost or stolen, and in this case, there is no solid track record where the United States has helped Ukraine with satisfactory results, said Oliker. To boot, the United States has already sent non-lethal aid that meets most of Ukraine’s needs, she said, compared to anti-tank weapons which may require substantial training.

Oliker argued that the Ukrainian victory over militarily dominant Russia will have to be political. While US aid can be a political tool that shows support, the US has made it clear that support will not include troops, so it has limited effect.

Ukraine, for its part, is moving closer to a cautious West. Part of Ukraine’s estrangement from Russia is evident in the adoption of NATO military standards or stanags, short for standardization agreements. By revamping its military equipment, part of the effort across the Department of Defense, the goal is to meet 22 out of about 40 stanags in the area by the end of the year.

Ukraine’s military reform effort faces huge obstacles, and NATO membership, if not long-term, is still a long way off, analysts said. Yet the hope of joining NATO is a huge incentive for Ukraine to bring about useful changes that it might not otherwise have made, said Julie Smith, senior researcher and director of the Strategy program. and crafts at the Center for a New American Security.

“It’s an extremely high wall to climb, but [NATO standards] are some of the best standards you could hope for, ”said Smith. they or they [Ukraine] may find many of them out of reach as they face Russian aggression. “

Several officials from the Department of Defense Reform Office, including Liesnik, were in Washington for a few days to discuss best practices with the U.S. Army’s supply office for soldier equipment, PEO Soldier, at Fort Belvoir. , Virginia; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Maryland.

Ukrainian officials said they were able to see US military equipment during the visit, but access to Western equipment is expected to remain limited. This will make it more difficult for Ukraine to meet NATO interoperability requirements, but Ukraine should still be able to make considerable progress with what it has until a greater access is provided, said Paul Schwartz, of the Russian Center for Strategic and International Studies. and the Eurasia program.

Reforming the defense industry would also make a big difference, Schwartz said. Still, Ukraine’s defense industry has survived largely on exports, especially to Russia, and has had to adapt since access to Russian markets was cut. The loss of key suppliers in the Crimea and Donbass to rebel hands created new problems.

“The increase in state orders has helped fill the void somewhat,” Schwartz said. “But in the long term, additional investments will be needed to help Ukraine’s defense industry modernize and further integrate into Western supply chains. However, given the current level of corruption in the system, outside investors may be reluctant to get involved.

Ukraine is working with its local suppliers to improve the quality of soldiers’ equipment, such as body armor and uniforms, and to meet NATO standards. Ukrainian military clothing had retained its Soviet-era style and simplicity, but its quality dropped after Ukraine gained independence in 1991. Instead of being flame retardant, some fabrics would melt, Liesnik said.

The reform council has developed a “personal unified combat kit” of 65 items, each manufactured to standards, with a national stock number traceable to a supplier and intended to prevent black market sales. This kit will include new uniforms, a symbolic and practical step forward.

At the embassy, ​​Liesnik and his team wore a unique Liesnik-designed camouflage pattern called a “lizard,” which would be force-distributed next year, he said. A new ceremonial uniform in the works will replace a Soviet-style uniform that essentially swapped the red star for the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag.

“It is important that our great army has its own uniform,” said Liesnik, “a new army, a new face of the army.

Beyond uniforms, the Ministry of Defense is looking for domestic and foreign suppliers. The plan is to come up with two defense deals for electronics, possibly equipment the Ukrainians don’t have the know-how to manufacture locally.

“We’re trying to develop our manufacturing, but we really don’t care where it should be made,” Liesnik said of military equipment. “We want to have the best quality at the best price in a short time. We are the Ministry of Defense, not the Ministry of Economy.”

Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @reporterjoe

Joe Gould is the Congressional and Industry reporter for Defense News, covering budget and defense policy issues on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.


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