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Inter-services Ukraine – From Army General to Navy Vice Admiral in an afternoon

July 3, 2016

One month ago to the day an entry appeared relating to the announcement by the Ukrainian leadership of a complete overhaul of the Ukrainian Navy and the (hopeful) commissioning of 30 new vessels by 2020 – Ambitious!

The main thrust of the entry however was not the perhaps overly ambitious commissioning of 30 new vessels by 2020.  The entry concentrated upon not only the threats of today, but what vision (if any) the Ukrainian leadership had for the role and interoperability of the Ukrainian Navy in the decades ahead during the working life span of the new vessels – “It can be reasonably expected that the majority, if not all, of the 30 vessels Ukraine intends to bring into the service of its navy by 2020 (as fanciful as that number may appear on the presumption these vessels are more than canoes) have the sole purpose of countering Kremlin military projection from a reinforced and increasingly offensive (rather than purely defensive) occupied Crimean peninsula.

Ergo it is hoped that not only do these 30 vessels seek to leverage whatever advantages they may be perceived to have over what The Kremlin currently has in occupied Crimea (and the possibilities those assets now provide The Kremlin), but also that those ordering these vessels have one eye upon what The Kremlin could place on the peninsula in the years (indeed decades) ahead.  In short, what capabilities and remit will these vessels have, not only for 2020, but for 2030 and 2040 in order to remain strategically relevant?

What are the relevant weaknesses any Kremlin naval presence has in Crimea?  Do the newly announced vessels adequately exploit those weaknesses now – and will they do so in the future?  If so, for how long into the future?

What role will they effectively play in any Ukrainian military doctrine now – and in the future?

How are they to be used?  Is speed and punch-power far more important than armour and self-defence capability?  Are they primarily to defend Odessa and other Ukrainian ports, or more generally to retain control of Ukrainian waters, or have expeditionary projection ability – such as a number of landing craft, 2 of which have recently been ordered from domestic shipyards?  Are they to be able to do all or any combination thereof?

What of suitability for secondary roles – immigrants, piracy, smuggling patrols, or participation in humanitarian missions during their decades of projected seafaring?

What of technology?  How extensive will technology transfer be between Ukraine and NATO when equipping these vessels?  Compatible communication systems?  Weapons, guidance systems, defensive capabilities?  How seamless the interoperability with NATO members?

What role can these vessels play in any “coalition of the willing” upon the Black Sea (and beyond)?  How well would what will (hopefully) be delivered to the Ukrainian Navy in 2020 fit into any larger international naval force – tactically specific, or strategically?

How do the current Ukrainian civilian and military leadership see Ukraine’s role without (rather than within) the Black Sea regionally?  Is there a projection capability with the new vessels that matches any aspirations  for operations in other waters?

Within the EU Association Agreement, Ukraine has certain ratified obligations regarding the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (should the Europeans ever arrive at a common security and defence policy).  If Ukraine were to offer naval hardware and personnel to the EU (as Ukraine does to the UN with MiG helicopters and pilots) would what is offered be of any use whatsoever?

In short,  on the presumption that the new vessels will meet NATO standards when considering their projected decades of operational sea life, together with robust Ukrainian efforts to move toward NATO standards, it would be extremely foolish to bring into service 30 new vessels that don’t make the grade.”

Let us be honest, policy and strategy attempt to peer far further into a murky future than today’s tactical necessities – particularly when de facto rebuilding an entire service arm.

The 3rd July is the Day of the Ukrainian Navy, and with that Navy now being based in Odessa following the illegal annexation of Crimea, as such it meant President Poroshenko was in Odessa.

For those that recall this entry, former Commander of the Naval Forces of Ukraine Vice-Admiral Sergei Haiduk has indeed eventually left the building, albeit long after the Presidential Decree dismissing him in defiance of Kyiv.

Having sacked Vice-Admirial Haiduk on 19th April, President Poroshenko appointed an “Acting” replacement – that replacement was not a Navy man, but an Army man, Lieutenant-General Igor Voronchenko.  (No doubt there will be a collective tutting and rolling of eyes of readers with a Naval Officer background.)

During the presidential visit and pomp and ceremony of the Day of the Ukrainian Navy, President Poroshenko removed the “Acting” from Lieutenant-General Igor Voronchenko’s title, thus Lieutenant-General Voronchenko became  Commander of the Naval Forces of Ukraine.

An Army man with an Army rank holding the highest Navy position in Ukraine of course will never do – especially as the new Navy Commander has absolutely no naval or maritime education.  Indeed he is a graduate of the Tashkent Tank Academy.  (The closest to matters “Navy” was command of coastal defences.)

Igor Voronchenko

Igor Voronchenko

Lo it has come to pass that Lieutenant-General Igor Voronchenko is now Vice-Admiral Igor Voronchenko by Presidential Decree.  (No doubt the previous collective tutting and rolling of eyes of readers with a Navy Officer background has been joined by whispered WTF!)

The upshot is that Commander of the Naval Forces of Ukraine at least now holds a Navy rank.

The question therefore is what relevance, if any, is there to an apparent lack of maritime qualification, naval training and experience of seafaring strategy?  How great the understanding of the current and anticipated naval fleet capabilities?  Is it perhaps not as relevant for the tactics of today as it is to the policy planning and strategy questions mentioned above regarding a rebuilding of a new Navy? – But events can change somewhat rapidly and unexpectedly these days.

Unfortunately the Ukrainian military, regardless of service arm, still runs rigidly and unquestioningly from the top – down, which is why particularly at a tactical and operational level erroneous and terrible decisions have been made causing unnecessary death and mayhem when Russia first invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014.

An effective Army relies upon Captains and Majors, and its NCOs to fight an effective tactical fight on the front lines – not a General (or 260+ of them in Ukraine) who is neither fit to fight physically nor tactically aware enough to lead the fluid front line engagements.  Indeed the policies and strategies of the Generals would wisely take into account the knowledge and experience of the Captains and Majors from the front lines – but that is not (yet) how the Ukrainian military works.

Ergo, with Lieutenant-General Igor Voronchenko now becoming Vice-Admiral Igor Voronchenko, the Ukrainian Navy may become the first service arm that has its top commander listening (through absolute necessity) to the lower, active, commissioned ranks when setting policy and deciding upon strategy for the service arm he now leads.

Opportunity presents itself to not only rebuild the Ukrainian Navy with the 30 new vessels, but also in how it runs internally in and of itself.

Undoubtedly Igor Voronchenko is a good leader, a patriot, and somebody capable of reforming this service arm (unlike his predecessor on all 3 counts despite being a Navy man).  He will get a good deal of advice and assistance from his NATO partners too.  However, if he is going to lead a reform and rebuilding of the Ukrainian Navy, then there is a requirement to also consider a wider aperture and set an example for the other service arms too by ever-continuing collection and collation of experience and knowledge from those with the painful and hard earned tactical scars of leadership with which any wider policy and strategy would be foolish to ignore.  It is folly to discount such clearly relevant input.

Does a “traditional” Navy man have to head the Navy?

Perhaps that depends upon the capabilities of that Navy during their command.

In the case of today’s Ukraine, an unquestionably patriotic military man who understands structure, strategy and policy, who is mindful of continued Kremlin infiltration, who is aware ingrained corruption, and who through necessity cannot remain within the Soviet military leadership mindset of strictly “top-down – high losses don’t matter command” is perhaps an opportunity presenting itself to not only rebuild the Ukrainian Navy with the 30 new vessels, but also to fundamentally and irreversibly change the culture of how it runs internally in and of itself.

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