The Armed Forces of Ukraine collectively represent the Ukrainian armed forces, which include the Ukrainian Ground Forces, the Ukrainian Naval Forces, the Ukrainian Air Force, and the Ukrainian Airmobile Forces or Air Assault Forces.
Apart from the aforesaid four major service branches, the military capabilities of Ukraine are also empowered by support and auxiliary forces such as the signals and cybersecurity, logistical, and medical forces, as well as a local defense industry.
Explaining the Military Strength of Ukraine: Key Facts About the Capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Military Spending and Reform Across the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Observers noted that the military strength of Ukraine suffered from years of neglect and underfunding due to corruption prior to 2014. The weakened Armed Forces of Ukraine became evident from how the country struggled against separatist movements following the political unrest in 2014 and the continued occupation of Russia of Crimea and Donbas.
The National Security Strategy of Ukraine recommends that it should have a security and defense budget of at least 5 percent of its gross domestic product. The parliament followed this recommendation when it allocated USD 5.172 billion for security and defense expenditures in 2016. The specific allocation for its military was USD 2.11 billion.
Note that “security and defense” represents the Armed Forces of Ukraine of the Department of Defense, the National Police of Ukraine, the Customs Authority, and the State Border Guard Service. But 2016 saw a 30 percent increase in weapons development spending. Overall defense budget jumped from USD 2.11 billion in 2016 to USD 4.9 billion in 2021.
The dramatic growth in military spending stemmed from realizations in 2014 after a series of armed struggles with pro-Russian Ukrainian factions, the invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the mobilization of the Russian Armed Forces near its borders beginning the Russia-Ukraine conflict which started in February 2014.
As part of its attempt to strengthen its defense and manage threats from Russia, the Ukrainian government aspired to become a party of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But it is important to note that membership in NATO has several requirements. Ukraine must meet these requirements and other standards before it can become a NATO party.
The 2016 Strategic Defense Bulletin outlined priority reforms and the 2017-2020 State Program for the Development of the Armed Forces outlined implementation steps. The updated National Security Strategy of 2020 identified Russia as a long-term threat and emphasized the need to develop stronger ties with the European Union, the United States, and NATO.
In 2018, the Law on National Security legalized the 2016 recommendation that security and defense spending should come from at least 5 percent of its GDP. The 3 percent should come from military spending. But economic realities prevented the Ukrainian government from meeting this requirement and funding its military reform strategy.
Defense Industry to Support the Military Capabilities of Ukraine
A report from the Congressional Research Services of the U.S. Congress mentioned that Ukraine inherited a capable defense industry from the Soviet Union. The industry is capable of producing a range of military hardware and other related products such as tanks and armored vehicles, aircraft and ships, missiles, and communication systems.
The defense industry of Ukraine has been regarded as a strategically important sector that employs a large portion of the Ukrainian population. The industry was export-oriented but following the Donbas War in 20154, it increased its activities aimed at supporting the capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Several manufacturers operate under the industry. These include the Antonov State Enterprise and General Aviation Design Bureau, which manufacturer aircraft, the Kharkiv Factory of Transportation Machine-building of Malyshev and the Kremenchuk Automobile Plant KrAZ, which manufacture land-based military vehicles.
There are also numerous shipbuilders capable of designing, building, and repairing numerous naval assets. For example, the Black Sea Shipyard has the capability to produce light cruisers and destroyers, battleships, and submarines. The Kuznya na Rybalskomu produces small sea vessels and naval military equipment and armament.
Ukraine also owns and operates the RPC Fort, a weapons manufacturer located in Vinnytsia City. The company has a wide range of firearm portfolios including the Fort series of pistols, as well as pump-action shotguns, a variety of rifles and sniper rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers. It also produces non-lethal weapons and equipment.
Note that the state-owned conglomerate Ukroboronprom oversees the different enterprises operating under the Ukrainian defense industry. It is responsible for strategic planning and strategic directives, interacting with government officials and relevant agencies, and coordinating the different divisions or enterprises under its control.
However compared to the defense industries of military superpowers, such as the defense industry of Russia, the Ukrainian defense industry is not as advanced. It does not produce advanced combat aircraft or jet fighters, comparably more innovative military hardware and equipment, and next-generation missiles delivery systems.
Composition and Estimated Size of the Ukrainian Armed Forces
Understanding further the capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine requires a look into its composition and size. Ranking by an independent tracker of defense-related information Global Firepower placed Ukraine at the 22nd spot in terms of military strength with a Power Index Score of 0.3266. Note that Russia ranks 2nd with a Power Index Score of 0.0501.
The 2022 Military Balance report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies showed that the Ukrainian military has about 196000 active-service personnel, 900000 reserve personnel, 3309 land-based armored fighting vehicles, 132 aircraft, and 55 helicopters. 21.8 percent of the total composition of its army comes from active-service personnel.
Note that most of the assets of the Ukrainian Air Force come from the Soviet Union. These include the Sukhoi series of subsonic and supersonic combat aircraft, the Mikoyan MiG-29 multi-role twin-engine jet fighter, and the Mil-Mi8 twin-turbine transport helicopter. The local defense industry produces and maintains its fleet of transport aircraft.
The Air Force also has several air defense systems. These include around 250 S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems, 89 the 2K12 Kub mobile surface-to-air and medium-level missile defense systems, around 72 from the Buk family of medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, and around 100 9K330 Tor all-weather mobile short-range missile systems.
Most recent data about the size of the Ukrainian Naval Forces suggest that the country has around 27 combat ships and cutters while the specific Ukrainian Naval Aviation has around 11 warships, 31 auxiliary naval vessels, and 10 aircraft. The local defense industry supplies and maintains its fleets of frigates, patrol boats, and assault craft.
Several mid-sized to big-sized naval vessels such as missile boats, landing ships, minesweeper, anti-diversion craft, search and rescue vessels, freight ships, command ships, survey and dispatcher naval vessels were imported from foreign manufacturers such as Germany, Poland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Singapore.
Military Assistance and Aids from the International Community
Apart from importing military hardware and other assets, the military strength of Ukraine is also augmented by the support it receives from foreign countries and relevant international organizations. The influx of hardware and assets in the country has increased in recent years since the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began in 2014.
Information released to the public by NATO indicated that the global military alliance has bolstered its support to the Armed Forces of Ukraine in 2022 following the invasion of Russia. NATO parties have sent thousands of anti-tank weapons, hundreds of air-defense missiles, and thousands of small arms and ammunition stocks.
Even before the events in late 2021 and early 2022, NATO has been providing the Ukrainian military with material and financial assistance, as well as technical assistance. The two have been holding joint seminars and joint tactical and strategical exercises and operations. The command system of the Armed Forces has become more in line with NATO standards.
The 2022 invasion of Russia also compelled Germany to reverse its historical practice of refusing to send military assistance to conflict zones. Realizing the gravity of the threat from the Russian Armed Forces, the German government bowed to send 1000 anti-tank weapons and 500 stinger anti-aircraft defense systems to aid the Ukrainian military forces.
Even the United States has been sending out military hardware worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Ukraine. As an example, in February 2022, the American government announced a USD 350 million emergency package aimed at purchasing and sending weapons and other relevant equipment to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The European Union also increased its financial and indirect military assistance activities. The political and economic union announced that it would spend USD 502 million to purchase and deliver more weapons for Ukraine. The announcement was historical because it was the first time the E.U. committed to sending arms to a country under attack.
Note that the historically neutral Sweden also committed to sending 5000 anti-tank weapons and 135000 field rations on top of USD 50 million in funding. Denmark also announced sending 2700 anti-tank weapons while Hungary vowed to send fuel and food. Given its proximity, Poland agreed to serve as a logistics hub for the delivery of critical military assets.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Basu, Z. 2022. “EU to Purchase and Deliver Weapons to Ukraine in Historic First.” Axios. Available online
- Congressional Research Services. 2022. “Ukrainian Armed Forces.” In Focus. Congressional Research Services. Available via PDF
- Global Firepower. 2022. Global Firepower 2022. Available online
- International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2022. 2022 Military Balance. International Institute for Strategic Studies. ISBN-13: 978-1032279008
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 2022. “NATO Allies Boost Support to Ukraine.” NATO News. North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Available online