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Ukrainian Defence in 2030

This paper sets out a vision of Ukrainian defence in 2030. Things are not perfect because if they were, by logic, there would be no need for defence forces. So to keep a sense of perspective and to provide a potential framework for the forces, Ukraine in 2030 remains the security focus of Central Europe and still faces an aggressive Russia.

The 16 year war against Russia continues but Ukraine has adapted and modernized her armed forces in a way that seemed impossible ten years before. The Russian attack of 2020 was repulsed by a combination of the volunteer reservists pouring into front line brigades and again freeing Mariupol, and stern warning from USA that NATO would engage if Russia did not withdraw to the Minsk line. This time the complaints about the MOD and staff were taken seriously and new organizations created from scratch. Lustration was carried out properly and virtually all those with links to Russia or trained there were removed from the forces.  Also 2 years ago Ukrainian troops, jointly with Moldovan forces, freed Transnystria from Russian ownership in a swift and bloodless operation whilst Russia was engaged elsewhere.  

Ukraine has yet to gain NATO membership but has reached a level of partner status at least equal to key allies like Sweden, Finland and Australia. She is fully engaged in the MAP process and NATO Standards are now no longer discussed as possibilities.

Holding the Minsk defensive line now remains the central driving force for the Ukrainian army which has reduced in size but has focused hard upon becoming mobile, fast and lethal. Operational mobility has replaced tactical mobility as the key working principle with the express aim of being able to deploy all the combat brigades anywhere in Ukraine within one day. Facing Russia, the Minsk line now fully uses technology to maintain the artificial border. Defense is no longer the trench warfare of old. Instead of many manned observation positions there are now a few manned OP positions in key positions supported by cameras, robots, drones, unmanned ground based sensors and unmanned weapon stations all using artificial intelligence to aid decision making. This forms a complex web of people, systems and weapons that Russia has since 2025 failed to penetrate. Behind this line are a series of high flying drones with sideways looking radar and other sensors reaching out over Russia as far as Rostov and across the whole southern maritime coast to Sochi. The ground based matrix is gradually being added to the complete border facing Russia with the intention of making surprise attack by Russia impossible.

This defensive matrix is currently commanded from two headquarters, Minsk Joint Command facing East (The old Joint Forces Command) and Crimea Joint Command facing south (The Old Southern Command). Both have their own logistic organization designed to support two or more brigades on operations for up to 10 days of hard fighting without needing resupply. Their intelligence has been augmented by feed from new satellites covering the operational area

Behind this line stands a fully professional quick reaction brigade force. Now redesigned for operational mobility the brigade is wheeled based in order to move quickly to the point on the Minsk line of any possible breakthrough. New wheeled tanks can also move quickly and fire new ammunition capable of defeating the armor of any known Soviet vehicle. The Brigade is fully balanced and supported by artillery, rocket launchers, attack helicopters, close air defense and engineers and with a newly designed and automated logistics unit capable of supporting the brigade in hard battle for up to 5 days. The brigade like others has its own mobile 3D printing team for creation of spare parts for vehicles and equipment, so making maintenance hugely faster and more efficient.

Deeper within the country and on semi reserve duty are two other brigades capable of driving north or south to fight Russia as the mission requires. Close to them is the fully mobile but professionally manned reserve divisional level Joint HQ bringing with it also additional medium artillery, medium air defense and logistics. The headquarters also has call on longer range missiles, drone systems for intelligence and ground attack aircraft. These reserve brigades are also logistically self-sufficient for 5 days.   

Even deeper situated than this within Ukraine is the fully professional rapid reaction airmobile anti-tank brigade based mainly upon transport and attack helicopters. The brigade can move rapidly wherever directed and deploy in hours to provide an anti-tank blocking position on a key route. This brigade is always at short notice and is the pride of the army forces. The infantry fighting force deploys forward to dig in a defensive position and create the initial anti-tank block and then the remainder of the brigade deploy in wheeled vehicles. When possible the standby army reserve wheeled tank battalion is driven forward to join the Brigade as armored reserve and counter attack force. The brigade reconnaissance uses light wheeled vehicles carried under the helicopters and manned by special forces. They have longer range drones to give the brigade early warning and can call upon multiple weapon systems within range to slow and delay the enemy.

Defending Kyiv is the Kyiv Brigade now in its 10th year. With two active reserve brigades of volunteers trained and equipped for urban warfare and the new air high and medium level air defense systems it is a hard nut to crack      

To the west of Ukraine are based the remaining armored brigades in their home barracks. Reality has set in about manpower and equipment and the brigades have become a combination of professional and reserve forces. As Minsk is now manned by fewer troops it has become easier to find the right professional people for the 6 month deployments and brigades take this in turn as they have done for the last 15 years. Losses are now rare as the AI systems supporting the Minsk headquarters can now predict attacks with accuracy. Gradually these rear brigades are being adapted so that only a few will be fully professional and fully manned and the remainder will be volunteer reserves but with a cadre of professionals with combat experience. All these Brigades are gradually being fully trained and equipped to NATO standards. Future training will be according to the level of readiness of the brigade with volunteer reserves doing less. All brigades are now equipped with simulators for most activities and this allows standards to be kept and raised without deploying to Polygons for long periods. Despite their standards all brigades will be expected to deploy within 24 hours whatever their condition. The Western Division Joint Headquarters will be also fully professional, trained, equipped and mobile and ready to command the counter attack troops should Russia attack in force. It has a secondary role of facing Belarus should Russia choose to attack through its neighbor. This HQ also has its own reserve of artillery missiles and drones and a strong logistic organization.

 Each brigade now has a full garrison staff to manage life when the brigade is deployed. The garrison Colonel manages the administration budget, infrastructure, brigade recruiting and being the titular head of all the local reserve forces. He supports families when the brigade is absent on operations. This allows the Brigade commander and his staff to concentrate fully upon operations and training. His deputy now has the full time role of managing logistic support for the brigade.  Also based upon each brigade are the civilian volunteers called Peoples Self Defense or Territorial Defense troops. These are not part of the brigade’s immediate volunteer reserve but in the brigade area have now taken over many of the roles formerly managed by the national guard and police. They have the capacity to provide the brigade with second line but lower trained reserves if needed in an emergency. They can also guard camps when the brigade is deployed, assist with training, act as local intelligence, or support the brigade in other ways like driving supplies or new equipment forward. This volunteer but very active reserve has become the envy of most European armies    

Command of the new Ukraine forces now comes from the MOD Joint HQ. This military command post built underground outside of Kyiv is technologically world leading. It combines the military expertise with National Guard, SBU and police liaison. It has the capacity to see all the intelligence feeds from the front, satellites, air and sea, allies and from NATO. It can pass the latest information to the command post at the NSDC for the President and cabinet by multiple secure electronic means. It has direct links to all the operational headquarters, the MOD and General staff. The new reformed MOD and GS are much smaller and use technology to speed actions., The biggest breakthrough has been the introduction of the 24-hour rule that sees any needed supply or spares requirement from a front line unit delivered there in one day or less.

The overall logistic system has been redesigned with much decentralized. The Joint HQs now have strong physical and technological links to the supply system and warehouses and can supply their units faster and more efficiently. The new 3-star post of commander Joint logistics with his HQ for the whole defense forces has been filled by a civilian business man since the 2020 attack. New practices and methods have made supply and procurement faster and more focused upon the needs of the fighting units. Defense industry has been reformed and now it is possible to gain the services of any defense firm inside and outside of Ukraine that can meet the tight contract terms. Some parts of industry are still supplying key components and repairs on demand but the monopolies of old have gone. In consequence prices have dropped and quality and reliability have risen.

The NATO training teams stopped when the education and training system was reformed. Now all courses are short and highly focused upon operations. Most training is done in the field and training areas have been modernized to produce not just firing exercises but exercises designed to test leadership and decision making at all levels. Now international trainers join their Ukrainian counterparts as part of the teams of training and education units. A mass of simulators for basic skills like shooting, artillery observation and driving have been produced and now two new brigade and battlegroup trainers have also been developed that each battalion and brigade must pass through before deployment.  The new Joint senior and mid-level Staff courses are now turning out far more highly qualified battle ready officers than ever before. Both courses are run in English and have a steady input of NATO officers attending bringing new ideas and sharing valuable knowledge. 

The Ukrainian military regularly practices in international peacekeeping operations. These have proven to be important for learning new skills and for engagement with partners. Also more international training has been organized with the US at Hohenfels Germany with brigade and battalion staffs regularly working with their NATO counterparts. The Ukraine, Polish, Lithuanian has been reshaped for operations and is currently deployed in Africa. The Ukrainian contingent was a professional battalion normally based in Lviv.

The war for Azov is now balanced. Funding was found for the mosquito fleet and the presence of these fast attack boats armed with missiles, torpedoes and guns has forced Russia to a more cautious position. The use of drones by the navy has given new attack options that cause the Russian border guard fleet problems. Now they need military escorts with AD weapons. The task of escorting trade ships to Ukraine has gone to the fleet and delays are shipping now negligible. Kerch remains a problem but finally international pressure and the presence of attack boats has forced Russia to back down from her former aggressive stance.  The open sea around Odessa is also more quiet as the newly opened NATO naval base and renegotiation of treaties now sees NATO ships in the Black Sea constantly

The air force has gradually restarted development after years of neglect. New fighter aircraft armed with Ukrainian produced air to air missiles are arriving slowly but steadily. Smaller ground attack aircraft have also been purchased. The attack helicopter fleet supporting the army has been renovated with new engines, avionics and missiles. Key to development is the new AF Technology Development Headquarters looking at all aspects of IT, satellites, drones and robots for the forces. New ideas are already turning into new products for defense industry. Most important has been the development of air liaison teams for each Brigade HQ and for the full integration of air force officers inside all Joint HQs. Already two Air Force Officers have commanded Joint HQs.

Special forces have been starkly reduced in size by much harder entrance tests. The funding has also been focused upon a reduced amount but much higher standard of equipment. Their roles have been focused upon deep attack and operations that normal forces cannot achieve. The navy seals have been reintroduced but managed for training and operations by the SOF commander. SOF Officers and NCOs are in each Joint HQ. The HQ SOF is next to the MOD Joint Headquarters to allow for speedy briefings from government. Their results are of course secret but the destruction of two gas rigs off Crimea and the capture of the leading Russian general in Crimea are indications of their growing confidence and skill. Teams regularly now work with US and UK internationally to cross breed knowledge.      

Deploying new and better technology has now become the watchword of the defense system. A chief technologist and a small team of experts sit in Policy Directorate in MOD to both push new thinking and to vet procurement ideas to ensure that money is spent wisely. They work closely with the AF technology center. In all areas of defense, the turnaround time for deploying new technology is now counted in days and weeks not years. The budget system has changed from the heavy slow one year plans to monthly plans that can be adapted and changed quickly as the need arises. Support for operations and speed of response have become the MOD and General Staff watchwords.

Glen Grant, expert on National Security and Defense of Ukraine of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future