The Ukrainian Army & Force Preservation

It is not my interest or intention to undermine the Ukrainian Army. The rank and file soldiers of Ukraine have done a good job with what is available to them in defending Ukraine against the Russian-backed insurgency. If there is any grief to be given, it is aimed at elements of Ukraine’s officer corps with regards to incompetence and corruption. Incompetence could simply be the absence of proper training, but it is compounded by an absence of common sense, for starters. Astute observers, of course, will know that there is no corruption in Ukraine, only value-added services.

The Ukrainian Army has few luxuries and in many cases is barely able to fulfill basic needs.  (See 20 Ways to Help) This warrants using everything it does have as efficiently as possible. Everything applicable to efficient use of modern equipment and ammunition applies directly to manpower and medicine. Ukraine is only partially mobilized – and a good portion of its force includes older, prior-service personnel.

Medicine & Manpower

There are pros and cons to this, suffice that no one would argue the importance of ramping up the Ukrainian Army with those who have already had some military training. That was needed, so are replacements. In the absence of sufficient replacements - it is essential for Ukrainian officers to get a grasp on Force Preservation - Keeping Soldiers Alive to Fight Another Day.

It would generally make sense to not have soldiers on the front lines who have their movement significantly impaired, are missing parts of their skull, have cerebral contusions, etc., etc.

There are Ukrainian soldiers who have been placed on the front lines with more than two of these kinds of conditions, some as the result of recent battlefield injuries, others with pre-existing combinations, and some with both.  It is one thing to incur these conditions while on the front lines and to keep fighting pending extraction.  That is not the case here.

A wounded soldier typically requires 2-3 people minimum for extraction, more for transportation to nearest field hospital, treatment by medical staff, ongoing evaluations and paperwork.

If you are mismanaging your manpower, you are also mismanaging your medicine.  If you are short on medical supplies, do you want them to be used to help save the lives of soldiers hurt on the battlefield or use them to keep less than physically fit people in the battlefield?

This is an issue of long-standing interest and concern to the US Army, suffice that it should be an operational imperative for the Ukrainian Army which has only recently invented the equivalence of a MASH unit.

“Average time from the front line to a field hospital—12 to 18 hours”

Soldiers unfit for frontline duty have a significantly greater chance to be wounded or killed. When was the last time you saw a modern army sending a battalion of soldiers in wheelchairs assaulting an enemy position?  Never.

This is not to say that physically impaired soldiers should be discharged.   Many are still capable of providing a meaningful service – from communications and logistics to training and other auxiliary support. When you don’t have very much, you must make the best use of what you do have.

Standards & Solutions

It is unfair to compare the standards of the Ukrainian Army to the American Army, but the goal here is for the Ukrainian Army to be more like the American or NATO Armies than the other way around.

There is a long list of medical reasons that can prevent one from joining the US Army.  Once you did get in, you had physical fitness tests, common skills task tests, and Skill Qualification Tests for your specialty (MOS) - maybe with different names these days.  They helped with readiness and competence and has always held to a higher standard than just being a warm body - except where military defense contractors were concerned, but that’s a different story for a different time.

Ukraine’s situation is NOT unique.

The inference is almost automatic, if you are recycling wounded soldiers repeatedly between hospitals and the front lines, you are short on replacements.

Or are you? 

The extracts which follow are drawn from, Logistical Support of the Armies: September 1944 – February 1945, By Roland G. Ruppenthal. This relates to the “manpower shortages” of the US Army in World War II.

“The July experience served to focus attention on a larger manpower problem. The Army had already exceeded its authorized strength of 7.7 million men, and a serious shortage was developing in the Army as a whole…

“Visitors from the War Department to overseas theaters, he said, reported the impression that there was an unnecessary extravagance in the use of manpower in service installations, and he deemed it essential that there be a continuing review of the theater’s needs relative to changing missions so that manpower could be transferred and utilized more efficiently, or recovered and transferred to more urgent tasks…

“Marshall observed that the manpower shortage was being aggravated by the mishandling of two groups of men: physically imperfect men who could still render useful service were being discharged, and men physically qualified for general assignment were being used in limited assignment positions…

“The necessity for action along these lines was again emphasized in February 1944 as the result of a survey which Col. George R. Evans, chief of the Classification and Replacement Branch of The Adjutant General’s Office, made of the entire replacement situation in the European theater. Evans urged the Communications Zone to direct all its units and installations to survey their personnel with the aim of identifying individuals physically qualified for field duty (other than those occupying key or highly technical positions) who could be replaced by men physically disqualified for full field service. The Communications Zone was to earmark such men for assignment to field force units as physically handicapped individuals were made available for reassignment to the Communications Zone.”

In example, aside from C&C and logistical components, the US Army was fielding 811 Anti-Aircraft Battalions, representing over 600,000 men. In consequence of the above reviews, Allied Air Supremacy with continued degradation of the Luftwaffe, 258 of these battalions were disbanded to provide replacements to frontline divisions.  This is similar to what we saw with Corporal Upham, the clerk-typist, in Saving Private Ryan.

In World War II, every army continuously re-evaluated its Tables of Organization and Equipment.  English divisions did so no less than 7 times.  Is it best to have 3, 4 or 5 tanks in a platoon?  Should a heavy weapons company be assigned to each battalion or attached to the regiment?  Should there be one or two 2″ mortars attached to the company HQ?   Or maybe none?  There is a science to this, and the German army in particular proved particularly adept at decreasing the number of men per unit while substantially increasing the unit’s firepower.