Army-2020: Between Declarations and Realities

Slow Transformation of the AFU makes Ukraine a Vulnerable Target for Years to Come.
Photo: Ministry of Defence Ukraine

Conversation about army should be started with the primary thing: the undeniable fact that the project of national army does development has not been included to the list of priorities of the head of state presupposes considerable risks.

The main one of these risks consists in the fact that slow transformation of the AFU into deterrence institution or army development according to a false paradigm makes Ukraine a vulnerable target for years to come.

Unfortunately, the position of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief has determined the current state of affairs: Ukraine doesn’t have a person (body) systematically engaged in army development neither it has got a person (body) engaged in development of domestic weapons.

Between the Minister of Defense and the General Staff

If we have a serious conversation about army development (its transformation into a real institution for deterring Russian aggression) we must recognize interconnection of a number of components. Firstly, there are prerequisites for changing the qualitative characteristics of personnel, which implies a capacious “motivation package” (and not just an adequate level of cash retention at the forefront) for military personnel. Secondly, a proven technological modernization, which in the future will reduce the Armed Forces and make a realistic reform of all current rusty construction. Thirdly, creating a new type of universal “support” for the army in the form of an extensive and motivated system of territorial defense.

By and large, the task is global, and it is not the prerogative of the Ministry of Defense or the General Staff, though they are those institutions which could implement the program if it appeared. A perfect variant would be to create a decision-making platform at NSDCU but the Security Council is virtually excommunicated from the development of defense capabilities (excluding, perhaps, the task of developing territorial defense entrusted to General Mykhailo Koval). But again, this is the position of the commander-in-chief.

Can such a body be created at the President’s Office? I think it is possible only in theory. In practice, it would be more logical for the President’s Office of Ukraine to have a function of control and coordination. Should that be a function of control and coordination at the Cabinet of Ministers? Perhaps it could be possible if the Cabinet of Ministers had a profile Prime Minister with the Ministry of Defense and nonexistent Ministry of Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) subordinated to him.

Anyway, today the military department and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine form themselves. In January of this year, not least thanks to the active public activity of a number of specialized public organizations, they made the public aware of their views on key spheres of army transformation. On the one hand, this fact itself is important and positive, since now the contours of the Armed Forces movement have been revealed and there are grounds for discussion. And on the other hand, many differences between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff, and in some cases their almost opposite views on the main tasks have become evident.

So, the “Vision” (vision of army development for the next 10 years) created by the General Staff of the AFU presupposes provision of a successful aggressor deterrence while NATO standards remain the main guideline for the Minister of Defense. “My main task is to meet the military membership criteria and do everything to become a member of the NATO Enhanced Opportunities Program” — informed the minister Andriy Zahorodniuk this week.

Someone may point out that there are not really many contradictions here. Especially on the basis of the fact that neither the Minister of Defense nor the Chief of the General Staff have any ambitions concerning creating a professional army. In other words, the army (as planned by the current military leaders) in ten years will also remain a worker-peasant formation with a selective conscription, quite a low level of motivation and, as a result, with a low authority in the society, but a high level of non-combat losses…

As for the assessing potential combat losses, in our case they are largely related to the ability to transfer the army to modern weapon systems with a focus on new technologies. Therefore, it makes sense to address the proposed rearmament priorities. It should be noted that the message of the General Staff of the AFU includes a considerable part of the positions of army rearmament of the army recommended in 2019 as priorities by the CACDS and the Ukrainian Security Studies Institute (CACDS is one of the co-founders of the USSI).

First of all the matter is about modern reconnaissance assets, electromagnetic warfare, communications, air defense, firearms (improving their accuracy and range), which are listed in the “Vision”. But for some reason at the General Staff they have mechanically “cut off” such obvious “technological” directions as development of unmanned aircraft complex (UAC), ground and naval unmanned combat systems, as well as creation of a unified automated control system (UACS) of the Armed Forces.

In turn, the Ministry of Defense, having declared through the mouth of the Minister Zahorodniuk about change of approaches to formation of the state defense order (SDO), defined priorities for development of the Naval Forces of Ukraine (NFU), air defense facilities, UAC, electronic warfare, communications and automation.

Differences in the formation of priorities are obvious. But that is not all, because it is unclear how possibilities of purchasing necessary equipment were taken into account in the process of priority formation. For example the position “Development of the Fleet Surface and Land Components of the fleet, including exclusively Anti-ship Coastal Arsenal” (the Ministry of Defense) is difficult to be executed since purchase of “Neptune” anti-ship missile and appearance of missile boats are possible not earlier than 2021. In addition, sailors do not want to get artificially inflated extremely expensive development called “Forges on Rybalsky”. Therefore the Ministry of Defense gave way to rumors about plans to buy “Harpoon” anti-ship missiles alongside with coastal missile systems from the USA. I wonder, has anybody tried to assess whether this step is going to invalidate years of work spent for “Neptune” ant-ship missiles. Or, for example, has anybody carried out an expertize concerning possible purchase of imported boats? For example, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov believes that localization of 20% of production is a great result. But in that case it turns out that we are a third world country, because even India in projects with the Russian Federation agrees for “at least 50% of localization”.

A similar situation is about air defense facilities. The State Kyiv Design Bureau “Luch” is developing a air defense missile system with a range of up to 50 km. The Ministry of Defense supported the purchase of US Patriot and F-16 air defense missiles. Perhaps if big political agreements (like in case with Poland) were reached, such decisions would be justified. But as far as I know currently no one has conducted such an expertise. The last time we seriously considered the matter of aircrafts for the Ukrainian Air Force yet in 2008 when the Chinese airframe and the Ukrainian-Western components were viewed. But the train has gone long ago: you cannot step into the same river twice. On the other hand, while purchase of Patriot air-defense missile systems is still unreachable for Ukraine due to political reasons purchase of F-16 (taking into account infrastructure preparation, pilot training and service organization) is going to destroy a third of the national defense industry.

SDO-2020 – Is this a Delayed-Action Mine?

Although the Minister of Defense A. Zahorodniuk informed about intention to direct about 90% of the SDO to domestic arms manufacturers and developers, even in the relevant parliamentary committee of the Parliament working specifically they do not hide that the Ministry of Defense has made considerable efforts to open a wide import route. Therefore, it turned out to be quite a hard task to defend even the received version of the draft Law of Ukraine “On Defense Procurement”.

At the same time, although in 2020 rearmament of the army has received the largest financial resource in Ukraine’s history (along with the state guarantees it exceeds UAH 30 billion) new underwater reefs have emerged. For example the Minister shocked industrialists and experts with his statement that a part of SDO would be “reserved” for the future – and namely until the moment when certain rearmament would be formed at the Ministry of Defense. What is this period? Will it take some months or some years? Well informed people say that it will take at least few months: the defense review is completed and its results need to be analyzed with new priorities determined. In fact, if the industry anabiosis period lasts till May (as it has already happened), then the SDO-2020 will be on the verge of collapse at the end of the year, as it was in 2019.

Finally, the Minister came up with a unique novelty – to design an internal control system within the department by means of creating groups of people close to the Ministry of Defense, endowed with special powers. Right, the sacred space is never empty: if no one in the country is still engaged in this, then the process should be headed.

Experts have already noted that if 20% of the funds are allocated for rocket and artillery weapons, another 30% are used for armored and motor vehicles the real priority will not look the way it is presented in the document of the General Staff and the speech given by the Minister of Defense. “If warfare, communications and automation are the priority why were costs determined in amount of only 1%?” — the Director of the information and consulting company “Defense Express” Serhiy Zgurets rightly asks. The expert mentioned one more problem: “When late last year the funds were urgently redistributed we had a vivid example of bringing changes to the state order of Ukraine. This mechanism is not determined in the governing documents and is carried out in a “manual” mode leasing to subjectivism in the system of managerial decisions”. In a word, the system has not been created yet and our rearmament is going on in a “manual” mode not that one of Poroshenko’s period but still a very similar one.

Chaotic Procurements vs Expertise

The main thing catching the eye in the field of rearmament: the state has not developed a unified concept for future military actions because there is no credible program for army development, and as a consequence, instead of a proven program of arms development, there are haphazard procurements with a focus on patching old holes. New technologies are not in our fashion yet…

Here is a specific example. It is known from insider sources that the Central Scientific Research Institute of Armaments and Military Equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (CSRI AME AFU) has long been working on the development of unmanned combat platforms. Current trends in the army development just require this. For example, neighboring Turkey in 2019 introduced a range of UKAP combat robots equipped with combat modules. In 2019 European MBDA and Milrem Robotics created robots with guided missile weapons. In November of 2019 a tender for the development of MUTT ground-based robots for the transportation of ammunition and equipment was finished in the USA. And in January 2020 Pentagon informed that the Armed Forces would receive robotanks in an accelerated mode — within RCV-light і RCV-medium programs. Russia sharply intensified the development of combat robots, and in 2018 they tested the “Uranium-9” in Syria, and then they equipped it with enhanced weapons. In Ukraine at least five private companies are engaged in developing combat robots and in addition to that the CSRI AME AFU promoted the creation of a sample on the basis of one of the existing “most digital combat machine” created by a state enterprise. However, for a year and a half, the military department has not made a decision about conducting research and development work.

On the basis of that private companies are ready to invest their own funds – if only the Ministry of Defense were really interested in this. And they talk about the possibility of transforming existing developments into a multifunctional platform. Provided own guided missiles, electronic warfare and signals intelligence equipment, air support devices (UAC) are installed on a remote controlled robot vehicle. Up-to-date a unit of combat robots with intelligence, security and fire support functions is not a fantasy, but a real way to dramatically reduce personnel losses. By the way, some of the works have already been successfully tested in the war zone and even caused a stir in the enemy’s camp.

Robots are just a single example, taken out of the context. This example was made in order to demonstrate that: the country’s military leadership is ready to run after the chase of the world’s leading armies without carefully noticing the prospect of new breakthroughs.


Nobody knows yet what the country’s army will be like. Neither the General Staff nor the Ministry of Defense has this information. And that is due to the fact that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief hasn’t set this question either to himself or to the others.

Nobody knows yet how SDO-2020 is going to formed and implemented. Despite formally defined benchmarks, the problem of strategies and, accordingly, timing has not been resolved yet.
The Armed Forces are getting accustomed to work out nothing but reflections – reflections on fire attacks, sniper bullets, use of new technologies used by the enemy. Hoping for a brighter tomorrow.
The traps of the up-to-date defense planning play an extremely negative role and significantly hamper the army development.

In connection with the above, in the industrial circles they are coming to the idea that the President Zelensky may appear to be a frustrated Supreme Commander-in-Chief…

Today there seems to be only one way. This way is to ignore the defense planning trap – let the Military Security Strategy and the AFU, AME, and MIC Development Programs become something like a fixer of operational decisions. For the president it makes sense to entrust the task of defense reform to a single state body after determining forms of control and time frames. It may be a good practice to organize series of discussions involving all relevant agencies, as well as relevant non-governmental organizations and analytical structures. And finally, we should still pay attention to the army that considers itself deprived and “unloved”.