Briefing from Ukraine’s Front Lines
General Wesley K. Clark (Ret.)
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander
March 30, 2015
The Kremlin has been waging a covert, hybrid war against Ukraine since February of 2014. In this war, Moscow has used a combination of local separatist forces, irregular volunteers, and Russian special forces and regular (conventional) forces. Since the original Minsk I ceasefire in September and the Minsk II ceasefire in February, the Kremlin-directed forces have taken additional territory.
The team consisted of General Wesley K. Clark (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, Lieutenant General Patrick M. Hughes (Ret.), former Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Lieutenant General John S. Caldwell (Ret.), former Army Research, Development and Acquisition Chief. The team met with senior civilian and military officials, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, and Ukrainian ministers, parliamentarians, and leaders at all levels of the military, both in Kyiv and in the operational area.
The form of warfare currently undertaken by aggressor forces in Ukraine is a hybrid-heavy form of warfare—a new model not seen before. Despite political and media commentary to the contrary, the fighting in Ukraine is not a civil war driven by Ukrainian separatists. It is a war directed, financed, and supplied by the Kremlin that also exploits the discontent of some of the population of the Donbas.
The idea that Ukraine is helpless against Russian aggression is wrong and should be refuted, but, on balance, Ukraine’s capabilities are woefully inadequate.
Ukraine Is Marshalling All Available Resources
The Ukrainian government has adequately marshalled the resources it has, but Ukrainian forces are arrayed against a much stronger aggressor. Ukrainians are mobilizing under conscription. Some forty-one thousand troops have been mobilized thus far. New forces are being rudimentarily trained and sent into the operational area for further training during this cease-fire.
Russian Forces Are More Numerous and Technologically Advanced
Ukrainians do well against the separatists and irregulars but cannot withstand direct engagement with Russian regular forces, who are heavily involved in the fighting in Ukraine’s east. According to estimates, some nine thousand Russian Federation personnel and thirty to thirty-five thousand separatist fighters are in eastern Ukraine. These forces include some four hundred tanks and seven hundred pieces of artillery, including rocket launchers. Another approximately fifty thousand Russian military personnel are located along or near Russia’s border with Ukraine. A further fifty thousand Russian personnel are located in Crimea.
Russian forces use very advanced weapons systems—tanks, artillery and mortars, air defense systems, helicopters, secure communications, electronic countermeasures, communications intelligence, imagery systems, satellite-borne systems, and other tactical and operational capabilities.
Ukrainians Are Missing Key Capabilities
Ukraine is using old “Soviet-era” equipment combined with limited numbers of modern equipment and capabilities. Ukrainian forces are at a huge military equipment shortage:
- Radio. They cannot communicate by radio due to Russian jamming, which is also effective at degrading, disabling, and even misdirecting GPS. The use of very strong electronic counter-measures (ECMs), such as destructive jamming, was also noted—especially affecting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in use by Ukraine and by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors.
- Anti-armor weapons. Ukrainians have no such weapons, except a close-range tank main gun that is ineffective against the Russian T90 tanks. These tanks, equipped with modern passive and new active armor, are essentially invulnerable on the battlefield against all but advanced counter-measures.
- Effective night vision sights. Ukrainian tanks have virtually no effective night vision sights. Russian tanks have French or modern Russian FLIR sights. Ukrainian forces lack sufficient numbers of US-supplied night sights to cope with Russian infiltration and night-fighting.
- Counterbattery radars. The old Ukrainian sound-ranging passive counterbattery sets are ineffective. US-supplied counter mortar radar is very accurate, but the older computers in these sets take too long to shut down (the radars are immediately targeted when operating; the computers take ten minutes to shut down and move, making the radar vulnerable to Russian EW and counter fire).
- Counter-sniper. The Ukrainian forces need several hundred modern sniper rifles with day and night optics to run an effective program to counter Russian snipers.
Ukrainian forces expect attack within the next sixty days. This assessment is based on geographic imperatives, the ongoing pattern of Russian activity, and an analysis of Russian actions, statements, and Putin’s psychology to date.
By itself, Ukraine will not be able to stop the aggression. Ukraine needs immediate military assistance in seven critical areas:
- strategic imagery and other electronic/communications intelligence detailed and timely enough to be able to provide warning of an impending attack;
- long-range, mobile anti-armor systems, as well as the shorter ranger Javelin system, both equipped with thermal imagery;
- secure tactical communications down to vehicle level;
- long-range, modern counter battery radars able to detect firing positions for long range rockets;
- sniper rifles with thermal or night vision sights for counter sniper teams;
- modern intelligence collection and EW systems effective against Russian digital communications; and
- whatever counter UAV systems can be made available on a near-term basis. The urgency here is driven by the pending Russian spring offensive. At the minimum, a palletized, emergency assistance package consisting of as much of the lethal components as possible should be assembled and pre-deployed for strategic airlift upon commencement of the Russian offensive.