Report to Congress on Ukrainian Military Performance

July 4, 2022 8:44 AM

The following is the June 29, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Ukrainian Military Performance and Outlook.

From the report

The Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) continue to face disadvantages in seeking to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity against Russian military forces. On the one hand, since Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the UAF has successfully defended against, and in some areas pushed back, Russian forces. On the other hand, this resistance has come with losses in personnel and equipment, and the overall outlook for the war remains uncertain. The Biden Administration and Congress have expressed support for Ukraine’s defense of its territorial integrity against Russia’s invasion. An understanding of the evolving state of the UAF may be of interest to Congress as it continues to weigh policies potentially supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression.

Some observers note that the UAF’s initially positive overall performance is due in part to the experience and motivation of its personnel. The UAF has continued to benefit from high levels of recruitment and motivation. High losses, however, pose an ongoing challenge to the UAF’s ability to maintain effective and sustained operations.

Since 2014, the UAF has gained important combat experience fighting Russian-led forces in the Eastern Ukraine regions of the Donbas, which has led to a large proportion of trained, experienced veterans among Ukraine’s population. These veterans and other volunteers (including foreign recruits, some with previous military experience) were quickly mobilized into Ukraine’s new, volunteer Territorial Defense Forces (TDF) and Reserve, without the need for lengthy training. Additionally, the high level of experience and training among the recruits meant they were able to operate artillery, tank, and support systems that traditionally require time for reservists or volunteers to master. These units were crucial in supporting and enabling regular UAF units to spearhead resistance and counteroffensives in multiple areas.

Since the beginning of the 2022 war, Ukraine reportedly has suffered high levels of casualties. In early June 2022, Ukrainian officials estimated losses of up to 100-200 killed in action each day, but officials have not provided precise figures. Losses are likely higher among regular UAF and Special Forces units, forcing a greater reliance on TDF and Reserve units. Due to losses and the need to rotate out troops, Ukraine has had to recruit and train a substantial amount of replacements. Unlike the initial period of war when most recruits were veterans, most new recruits and volunteers have little military experience. As a result, it takes longer for the UAF to train new recruits.

The UAF also faces two major hurdles to training and deploying new personnel. First, like many militaries, Ukraine was in the process of developing a professional noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps along NATO standards before Russia’s 2022 invasion. The UAF did not have a fully developed professional NCO corps by the time of the invasion and continued to deal with issues with retention, professional development, and funding. As described previously, the high proportion of trained veterans, many with combat experience, mitigated to some degree the need for an established NCO corps to train and command new recruits. However, with mounting UAF losses and recruits with no experience as replacements, continuing the development of an effective NCO corps will likely remain a major challenge and a key UAF priority.

Second, the UAF’s need for immediate reinforcements creates pressure to train new recruits to only the bare minimum levels. Training recruits to conduct complex operations and operate advanced weapon systems takes longer, but both areas are widely considered necessary for the UAF to sustain combat operations in the current conflict.

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