On September 30, 2022, Ukraine filed an application for accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One of the criteria for the Alliance to accept Ukraine is interoperability between the Armed Forces of Ukraine and allied forces. studied if the Ukrainian army has really achieved the necessary level of compatibility.
How the AFU are changing because of NATO
Today, Ukraine’s Armed Forces are one of the most effective armies not only in Europe but in the world. The Ukrainian army gradually gets rid of obsolete standards, tests new battlefield practices, and successfully retakes territories from Russian invaders.
To achieve compatibility with NATO standards, the AFU must complete four groups of tasks:
- increasing the level of operational capabilities and interoperability between the AFU and NATO;
- cooperation in the fields of transformation, defense reforms, and professionalization of Ukraine’s Armed Forces;
- ensuring the participation of units and personnel from the AFU in peacekeeping and security operations and the NATO Response Force;
- implementing the mechanisms of military cooperation and consultation, as well as awareness-raising activities.
According to official data, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has been applying defense resource management according to NATO approaches and principles for years. By the end of 2021, 255 NATO standards and guidance documents had been implemented in Ukraine. To that end, a comprehensive audit of the defense and security sector is carried out routinely.
Therefore, the AFU has already switched to a NATO system of joint command and control of the defense forces and military management and abandoned the obsolete post-Soviet one. Thus, the authority of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff has been delimited, and the positions of the Chief of the General Staff and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been separated. Command and control were divided between the Joint Forces Command, Air Force Command, Communications and Cyber Security Command, etc.
Training of the Ukrainian military according to NATO standards
Based on NATO standards, 13 training doctrines and guidelines were developed for the AFU and other components of the Defense Forces.
"Virtually all NATO and EU countries have joined programs to train Ukrainian service members," emphasized Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
According to him, besides the well-known British program, the following countries are involved in training the Ukrainian military:
- the Czech Republic;
The British program, for example, provides for the training of 30,000 Ukrainian service members.
The AFU are increasingly receiving heavy weaponry from military arsenals of NATO member countries. Thus, Ukraine is second in the world for the number of foreign-made advanced anti-tank weapons. Artillery is being replaced with 155 mm and 105 mm howitzers used in NATO.
Anti-aircraft systems, like the German-made IRIS-T and the American-made NASAMS, are already operating in Ukraine, with the future delivery of the PATRIOT recently announced. Therefore, the replacement of old Soviet-made military equipment with NATO models is underway.
It’s worth noting that our Defense Forces also use NATO systems of operational management, communication, reconnaissance and surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles, armored equipment, etc. Meanwhile, combat medics employ a four-level system of treatment and evacuation measures similar to that used in NATO member countries.
Military experts acknowledge the tremendous progress the signal corps have made towards compatibility with the respective systems used by the armies of the Alliance, having started as early as 2014. The crews serving on lsland and Mark VI boats were also trained in the United States. Meanwhile, our Special Operations Forces have long been training and operating to NATO standards.
Reznikov: "Ukraine has already become a de facto NATO member"
In the autumn of 2022, Oleksii Reznikov, the Minister of Defense, and Oleksii Danilov, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, presented the first results of implementing the LOGFAS logistics program to ambassadors and defense attachés of the donor countries that help Ukraine counter Russian aggression.
LOGFAS (Logistics Functional Area Service) is a logistics accounting and control system applied by NATO members. The LOGFAS system is integrated with a module of the SOTA information and analytical system to monitor the supply of weapons to Ukraine from partner countries, ensuring full control over each unit of equipment entering Ukraine.
"Firstly, this will significantly increase the accountability of all processes related to the use of weapons and other resources. We started the implementation with the monitoring of international aid to ensure transparency and high efficiency in its use. Secondly, we prove that even during the war, the defense sector of Ukraine is developing. We are increasing interoperability with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at the level of standards and procedures. My statement that Ukraine has already become a de facto member of NATO is not an exaggeration. And we will persistently move forward," said the Minister of Defense.
What's wrong: Why is it too soon to assume Ukraine's NATO membership?
Viktor Kevliuk, expert at the Center for Defense Strategies, argues that, despite all the achievements and Reznikov’s statement, the AFU still fall short of meeting NATO standards.
"As an example, let’s take one simple issue—the fueling of combat vehicles on land, at sea, and in the air with different fuels, as well as with technical liquids and oils. Has it been standardized anyhow? The problem of the unification of artillery calibers and their respective munitions is one we’ve only started to experience. Another example is equipping Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter jets with American AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missiles, which were initially incompatible. However, somehow they’ve been integrated. Certainly, some of the capabilities of either the missiles or the jets were lost. There’s a great deal of problems here."
According to him, the AFU has still made some progress: enlisted personnel are being trained by foreign instructors in Ukraine or abroad, which means that the largest part of Ukrainian service members master the same procedures, tactics, and techniques as similar personnel in NATO member countries.
However, there’s a serious problem of linguistic compatibility between the AFU and allied armies.
"This point was exemplified very clearly five or six years ago by a top-ranking American advisor to the Defense Ministry. At one meeting, he asked a Ukrainian general: ‘General, you’ve completed language courses in Canada, but why am I talking with you through an interpreter now?’" Kevliuk noted.
Therefore, the AFU must meet the standards and principles of interoperability with NATO in various fields. NATO armies are not trained units but a command and control system, and integration into it requires close cooperation with virtually all structures of the allies. The Ukrainian army needs more time to achieve it.
Mutual compatibility between the AFU and NATO standards is yet to be achieved
NATO defines interoperability as the ability for Allies to act together coherently, effectively and efficiently to achieve tactical, operational and strategic objectives.
However, the problem should be viewed from a broader perspective: the NATO standard provides for general operational and administrative procedures and logistical support procedures that allow the military of one member of the Alliance to receive military support and supplies from other members.
There are hundreds of Standardization Agreements, or STANAGs, covering everything from language proficiency to piloting unmanned aerial vehicles.
From my perspective, the AFU have not yet achieved interoperability with NATO member armies. Meanwhile, other components of the defense and security sector have just embarked on this path.
During the implementation of the Roadmap, the Armed Forces of Ukraine invested a lot of effort in developing doctrines and implementing operational procedures. The British training mission, Orbital, carried out a number of training sessions, and the personnel of the Joint Operational Staff of the AFU regularly underwent training under the leadership of training teams from the NATO Command in cooperation with North and South Operational Command.
And this is where the problem appears—all these training events were usually attended by second- and third-rank officials. Meanwhile, I never met anyone entitled to carry out operational planning and make decisions there.
We’re talking about "interoperability" and "NATO standards", but in practice, we underperform. The national defense and security sector has barely transformed to meet these standards.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces have spent four years grasping the meaning of interoperability with NATO armies, but the process is far from over.
The AFU are yet to achieve actual interoperability with NATO armies.
The AFU are inventing unexpected defense and assault tactics
The Armed Forces of Ukraine have already proven their compatibility with NATO armies. Our army's operational formations are structured similarly to those of the Allies' armies.
Our defenders devise innovative and effective ways of defense and assault, as well as methods of using weapons, both domestic and those obtained from allies.
The AFU are using new weapons so effectively that even their developers are amazed.
As early as last March, the U.S. Defense Department officially reported a record-breaking successful use of the Javelin AAWS, with 112 shots and 100 hits. And this is just one example.
The AFU proved their compatibility with NATO armies in combat.