Censor.NET’s Chief Editor Yurii Butusov approaches the issue in his article for Dzerkalo Tyzhnia.
Military aid by NATO countries, the United States in the first place, in Ukraine’s war for independence is of extreme importance for successful countering of Russian aggression. But is this aid suitable to the real situation and how efficient is it?
The matter is better looked at through examples. Let’s start from military hardware. The key program for weapon deliveries is providing Ukraine with radars for artillery reconnaissance aimed at finding artillery batteries of the enemy. The radar detects the batteries through projectiles’ path.
The program is of vital importance for Ukraine’s Army combat effectiveness, as long as Ukraine doesn’t have its own radars of this kind. Soviet equipment has long failed. Renewal of manufacturing of artillery intelligence radars like Zoopark in Iskra Developmental Plant in Zaporizhia is very slow, and the date of serial production launch is not yet known.
Thus, major part of the efforts to reveal artillery positions of Russian troops in the Donbas is conducted by the U.S. radars. Several dozen systems have been delivered so far. Most of them are lightweight mobile close-range systems like AN/TPQ-49, with 10-kilometer detection range. There are at least six mobile systems of medium range, like AN/TPQ-36, with range of detection of 24 kilometers. The 36th are modern weapons that allow detecting Russian long-range artillery of 152 mm caliber inside the combat orders of the enemy.
There is one problem, though. When delivering the radars, the U.S. military limited their functions. Radars are able to provide exact coordinates of targets, but have been deprived of the ability to adjust own counterbattery fire, i.e. computing the trajectories of their own missiles that aim at the enemy’s batteries and detect how accurately the target was hit. Despite numerous requests by the Ukrainian party, the U.S. side has not yet provided access codes to change the parameters. This lowers to some extent the efficiency of combat use of the Ukrainian artillery in counterbattery fighting.
Russian command hunts for the U.S. radars at the frontline and systematically opens fire upon them if revealed. However, thanks to their small size and mobility, the losses of the radars compared to their scale of impact are insignificant. Only one 36th radar has been lost due to combat reasons; several 48th and 49th systems have been lost as well. Despite popular rumors, the enemy was not able to seize the U.S. radars in Debaltseve entrapment — they only managed to seize one spare parts kit to radar servicing the 128th brigade.
In summer 2016, 72 systems of unmanned aerial devices RQ-11 Raven were delivered in Ukraine. Each system consists of three small drones with ranges up to 10 km.
Ravens are currently one of the key devices for close reconnaissance in the U.S. army, at company-battalion level. But there’s one important catch here.
Ravens that were produced to be delivered in Ukraine under supply contracts of September 2015 are equipped with analogue communication systems, while the U.S. army has been supplied with Ravens with only digital communication channels since 2009. Digital channel allows for higher data transfer capacity, which in turn allows for better high-resolution images, possibility to be used at higher altitudes, and the most important part — for much better jamming invulnerability against electronic warfare systems used by the Russian army in the Donbas.
A number of volunteer design bureaus in Ukraine have by now learnt how to make much better drones, including with the digital communication channel that is much more efficient than the analogue channel of Raven.
Deliveries of modern military communication systems, e.g. Harris, are of crucial importance — no similar systems are made in Ukraine. The stations and spare parts are expensive, which limits the volume of deliveries and abilities to use the systems. Short wave U.S. radio stations are of significant importance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They are used as command and staff stations at the brigade-battalion level, and have proven to be great. Harris offers modern jamming-invulnerable communication, which Russians fail to decipher or jam. Ultrashort wave Harrises, also delivered in large quantities, have not become popular. The reason is the lack of relay stations. Ultrashort wave Harrises have all the benefits and are great stations. However, without relay stations, they only cover 3-4 km, while cost about $20,000. This is why instead of using these expensive stations, the loss of which would require much accountability, the units that have received them prefer to use regular civilian ‘Motorolas’ purchased by the MoD and other civilian stations from volunteers, for which relays are available along the frontline.
It’s very problematic to build a network of relay stations in the Donbas given the war, regardless of the number of Harrises there. In addition, these stations’ functions of data transmission for fire control are very limited.
Another program within weapon delivery efforts are delivery of 130 Humvee vehicles. Some of them are made with fragment protection. They are the only army SUVs officially delivered for servicing the Ukrainian army, and most of the needs remain covered by procurements made by Ukrainian volunteers.
However, they are delivered without spare parts and tires. As a result, the percentage of working vehicles in the units is very low. Procurement of spare parts and tires by the MoD can only cover a small share of what’s needed, and the repair of the vehicles has been again transferred to volunteers, who have organized parts deliveries from abroad, off the books.
What does all of this mean? The scale of the aid is significant, its importance huge, but the methods of organization, the planning of deliveries do not meet current situation requirements. If the early chaos could have been excused with the situation in 2014 and lack of time, now the frontline has stabilized, the groups of military advisers have been operating for three years, a permanent large multinational commission Ukraine-NATO has been created, and a large number of official meetings held. Numerous approaches have been discussed, and thousands of words said.
There are serious problems with accurate definition of requests by the Ukrainian side. However, it’s as obvious that on part of NATO, the cooperation strategy is as far from being efficient. Why?
The truth is that the existing level of military contacts evidences lack of accurate and clear strategy on part of NATO and the U.S.
The Western diplomacy announces the need to stop fighting and deescalate combat activities. But Western politicians did not explain to their military how exactly these political goals should be met. Political doctrine has been dotted, but military doctrine is totally absent. Meanwhile, the war has its own logic, and the desire to stop the war does not mean the fighting is stopped. Quite the opposite — having technically better hardware in a number of instances, the Kremlin is able to undermine the Minsk process and block fulfillment of obligations.
The leadership of NATO and U.S. have not said what the goals for the military aid in Ukraine are.
What is their goal? What do NATO and U. S. want to achieve in this war?
To prevent large-scale invasion in Ukraine? To end the war? To make Ukraine’s army more efficient in strategically deterring Russia? To make Ukraine’s army more efficient in conducting local operations in the Donbas? To integrate Ukraine’s army into that of NATO?
The weapon deliveries have become a subject of ad hoc solutions not related and not aimed at development of defense agencies and security in Ukraine. The military aid is planned out of opposing political decisions, which makes the situation absurd.
Radar deliveries were promised by the U.S. Department of State back in July 2014. Their purpose back then was to record the fact of Russian artillery being used from the territory of Russia against Ukraine. The war was not yet the war of armored forces. The radars, as Washington saw it, were to disclose Russia’s involvement and become a monitoring instrument, not that to defeat the Russian army. That’s where the absurd restrictions came from, the ones that prevent integrating the radars into Ukrainian volunteer systems of artillery fire control. The restriction of functions was, as Obama administration intended, to show that the U.S. did not want escalation, and the measure was only to record violations, not inflict losses to the Russian army.
In August 2014, after the large-scale invasion of the regular Russian troops, the restrictions became senseless. Ukrainian army was no longer recording Russia’s involvement. It took captive Russian soldiers and military hardware of the Russian army. They should have helped Ukraine repulse the offensive, not uncover it. But when it comes to solving Ukrainian military issues, the U.S. officials are far from being flexible. The old approach to radar deliveries still remains in place.
The bureaucratic idiotism of this approach keeps astonishing. Radar is still radar, and the U.S. deliveries imply that modern weapons are being delivered to Ukrainians. The radars give coordinates of Russian batteries with high accuracy. Having even the simplest systems for fire control, Ukrainians did and do fire back upon these coordinates. Not as fast and accurate as possible, but they still do hit and destroy hardware and personnel of the enemy. So what’s the point in making the radars less effective? Why wouldn’t they give access algorithms for control systems in order to integrate them with the fire control?
Obviously, this decision was affected by people who are incompetent in military issues; and it retains momentum that cannot be overrun in Washington even since many years.
At the same time, NATO military representatives in Ukraine make no efforts to change the situation, and probably have no powers and motivation to support and lobby in Washington any directions for military aid that would go in line with current situation and needs.
Another example of absurdity is production of $9 million worth of drones with outdated communications system, and delivery of ultrashort wave radios without relay stations.
Military representatives of NATO, as we see, also perform very limited tasks in Ukraine. Generals are busy building some abstract military cooperation without certain goals.
Truly efficient aid should include support for certain units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, enhancement of which will provide for sustainable and long-term development of new competences and new modern quality of defense systems in Ukraine. Ukraine has changed; new agencies have been created over the past three years, new experienced people have come, who also have technical knowledge of military use of new types of fighting.
For instance, all NATO representatives, all U.S. generals have many times visited the new unit in the Armed Forces that is engaged in implementing innovation types of weapons — Aerorozvidka. In this case, NATO people cannot say there are no systemic proposals on part of Ukrainians in terms of communication, intelligence, and control integration. Here, they were given certain and accurate requests, shown results of combat activities as achieved by Ukrainian experts with own developments and expertise. However, there is no systemic efforts and support of war-bred units within the Ukrainian army. Military aid from the U.S. remains unconnected to any certain unit or detachment, but just a political ad hoc act. Still no flexible and thoughtful cooperation between NATO military offices and Ukraine. Still no feedback, no will to make situation-based decisions. But targeted military aid in certain military technologies would have allowed Ukrainian military in no time to get equal with the Russian army at war, check U.S. weapons in real combat against Russia, and reveal vulnerabilities of Russian hardware and army in general. Putin will only get away from Ukraine if he incurs high losses and sees combat efficiency of the Ukrainian Army. Without military strength, there’s little diplomacy can do in relationship with Russia.
Alas, there has been no lobbyist so far of military assistance for Ukraine similar to Charlie Wilson, who once lobbied for the Afghan insurgents. And this is the reason why American efforts to change the political situation at the frontline of the fight against Russian intervention are ineffective; the reason why Putin is confident of impunity in waging his war.
Yurii Butusov, for Dzerkalo Tyzhnia
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