Ukraine will try to revive neglected navy this year

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After five years of grueling trench war, leaving more than 10,300 people dead and forcing 1.5 million others to flee their homes, the Kremlin’s war continues.

In 2019 the sea is likely to be Russia’s favored venue of war, following its attack on three Ukrainian navy vessels in international waters in the Black Sea on Nov. 25.

So Ukraine, with a weak and neglected navy, must be ready to bite back, and hastily rebuild its sea forces. Several new warships are expected to be launched, together with belated new coastal defense projects in the Azov Sea.

In addition, Ukraine’s 250,000-soldier army will benefit from the country’s record defense budget in 2019 worth $7.5 billion. The army expects to continue its rearmament program, with new weapons and equipment coming into service, while soldiers and officers look forward to higher pay and better conditions.

Meanwhile, the armed forces and Defense Ministry still need to get up to NATO standards by the end of 2020.

New hardware

Defense spending will be heavily concentrated on Ukraine’s navy.

Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said on Dec. 20 that 2019 would see the launch of at least two new Gurza-M gunboats, a Kentavr-class amphibious assault craft, a medium-sized surveillance vessel, and a new Lan-class missile boat.

The fleet’s flagship, the frigate Hetman Sahaidachniy, is also expected to undergo a major refit, giving it the capability to launch Ukraine’s newly developed Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles.

“(In 2019), the financial resources for modernizing and restoring the navy will be billions of hryvnias, not hundreds of millions,” Poltorak said on Dec. 20 during a visit to Odesa Oblast.
He added that the ministry was considering importing new small craft and marine radars in 2019.

Moreover, in July 2019 two Island-class patrol boats provided at no cost by the United States are arrive in Ukraine after clearing nearly four years of bureaucratic hurdles set up by Kyiv. The long-awaited and much-needed U.S.-built vessels are to enhance the navy’s mid-level force, which currently consists of just a handful of old Soviet-era craft.

President Petro Poroshenko, speaking at the end of the 30-day period martial law in 10 of Ukraine’s oblasts on Dec. 26, also promised that the armed forces will receive nearly 6,000 pieces of military hardware in 2019.

The supplies are to include new mortars, mobile anti-aircraft systems, sniper rifles and counter-sniper equipment, night and thermal vision scopes, “dozens” of modernized warplanes, helicopters, and drones, and new munitions.

Poroshenko also promised the army nearly 10,000 modern communication devices, and radio-electric warfare and mapping systems in 2019.

Besides, the army this year expects to get some powerful weapons.

After over two years of development and live fire tests, the country’s defense manufacturing giant UkrOboronProm is about to launch mass production of the Vilkha, a 300-millimeter guided missile system based on the Soviet BM‑30 Smerch, a multiple rocket launcher system known for its devastating firepower.

Higher wages

The military also hopes to stem the flow of professional servicemen out of the army by raising wages in 2019.

In 2018, tens of thousands of contracted soldiers and officers, many with rich combat experience, left the service.

According to official figures, at least 29,000 servicemen returned to civilian life, citing very low wages, insufficient to support a family, poor conditions of service, and a lack of career prospects due to corruption, nepotism, and ineffective Soviet-style command.

The situation was so serious that back in late July, the Defense Ministry urged the government to allocate more funds to increase army pay, which back then started at only Hr 7,500 ($265) a month for a first-year soldier.

In 2019, according to the ministry, the average private should be paid per month at least Hr 10,000 ($355), while a company commander would get Hr 16,000 ($570), a battalion commander up to Hr 23,000 ($820), and a brigade commander Hr 26,000 ($930). All personnel deployed to the war zone in the Donbas will also continue to be paid a bonus of at least Hr 10,000 ($355) a month.

Naval ratings and officers, after years in the shadow of the army, will see even higher wage increases than the ground forces this year. But whether they will be enough to stop the exodus from the military remains to be seen.

Those leaving the military to start a new life behind the lines should have more support from the state this year. By June 2019, the recently created Ministry of Veteran Affairs is expected to start fully operating, finally providing a support safety net for up to 355,000 Ukrainian veterans of Russia’s war in the Donbas, as well as for nearly 1 million former Ukrainian combatants in past conflicts.

New regulations

2019 should also see a series of crucial changes to the army’s rules and regulations.

Above all, this concerns the expected approval of the long-delayed draft bill to introduce an American-style system of ranks, with non-commissioned officers commanding troops parallel to commissioned officers at each unit level, from squad, to platoon, company, battalion, brigade, and so on.

Meanwhile, another draft bill will overhaul the army’s system of everyday regulations of service, ranging from rules of engagement to duties and responsibilities.

Away from parliament, the Defense Ministry and the General Staff have a long to-do list for this year, as stipulated in the Strategic Defense Bulletin, a comprehensive roadmap for bringing Ukraine’s military into line with NATO standards by the end of 2020.

Less than 730 days until the reform deadline, major changes to the unit command structure in the Ukrainian armed forces by the end of 2019 are to be made to ensure the army is inter-compatible with NATO forces, “introducing a new style of command and control based on the Western culture of interaction between leaders and subordinates,” the Strategic Defense Bulletin reads.

In particular, the Armed Forces are expected to increase the percentage of contracted soldiers and sergeants, and decrease the share of senior officers, in line with NATO models, which usually envisage sergeants and soldiers making up nearly two-thirds of the overall number of personnel.

All staff and other command and control facilities must also be made completely NATO-compatible, and a brand new Chief Directorate for Logistics (J4) is to be created and launched to improve troops supplies — a perennial problem for Soviet-style militaries.

The 2019 reform agenda also demands that 100 percent of the army’s supplies be bought through the ProZorro e-procurement system in order to stamp out corruption in military procurement.

Lastly, believers in uniform will also get some good news in 2019 — by the end of the year, the army will complete the launch of a fully-fledged, Western-style chaplain service.

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