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Thursday, 19 May 2022 22:47

UKRAINE'S TERRITORIAL DEFENSE FORCES AT WAR: LESSONS LEARNED

Taras Bartka, Colonel of Armed Forces of Ukraine, 19.05.2022 
 

The experience and misuse of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in combat operations on the front line in eastern Ukraine revealed several problems, which led to serious consequences with significant losses of personnel, equipment, weapons and property as well as reputational losses. This is due to the low combat capability of units when not used for their intended purpose. Analysis of the causes of low combat capability in the misuse of the XXX TRO brigade demonstrates a problem similar for all the brigades of the TDF (Territorial Defense Forces) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

 

The example of the XXX Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which were involved in the forces of OTG (operational-tactical group)"YYY" on April 28 which received the combat mission to secure certain areas of the frontline, identified the following shortcomings. 

 

1. On a wave of patriotism, in the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and the announced mobilization, a large number of motivated people came to the DTROs (district territorial recruitment offices; former military enlistment offices), but they were not registered neither was information about them or about their health recorded. Given the specifics of the service provided by current legislation, DTROs sent discharged non-military servicemen, the elderly, with health problems (limited fitness, unfit in peacetime, and even the disabled III and II groups, who for patriotic reasons hid their actual state of health) to the TDF; 

 

2. Many volunteers who arrived at the DTROs immediately volunteered for service in the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. For various reasons they were not ready to serve in combat brigades of the UGF (Ukrainian Ground Forces) and other types of the Armed Forces of Ukraine; 

 

3. From the beginning of mobilization, there was minimal organizational support for the  TDF units (as they allegedly did not need support in the first place), from the deployment of newly formed battalions – to the logistical supply of equipment, weapons, food, vehicles, communication means, etc.), led to a delay in the start of combat coordination of these units.  

 

The first days and even weeks of support were provided on a volunteer basis. According to the instructions of the local CMAs (civil-military administrations), vehicles or other property were allocated for the needs of the battalions on the principle of "it is not a pity to give or get rid of." Enlisted volunteers bought and restored freelance equipment at their own cost and brought their vehicles, and then used them as regular ones, according to the official staff list no battalion was provided with even 50% of the specified requirement for XXX brigade. 

All inquiries from non-government organizations that helped provide for the Armed Forces of Ukraine were answered with notices that they focus their efforts primarily on providing for those units that are already performing combat missions. As a result, at the time of departure, the TDF units were not provided with everything deemed necessary for an active battalion. 

 

Despite this, the command and local CMAs reported the status as "the full provision of everything required is delivered". All attempts to convey an objective situational report resulted in pressure from above and a ban on talking about problems, so as to mislead the enemy. As a result, the Higher Command of the TDF, CMAs, relatives of servicemen and the local population were misled;

   

4. At the same time, the existing proving grounds of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were occupied by combat brigades that were deployed there. This resulted in the units of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine being unable to use the proving grounds.  

 

The bad experience of the missile strike on the Yavoriv Proving Ground showed the impossibility of a concentration of troops there. The TDF battalions, when possible, decided for themselves on the methods of conducting exercises and combat training, not always finding an understanding with the local CMAs. Besides, the exercises were carried out in small groups - only within a part of a department, or a part of a platoon - and not in the correct places, i.e.on proving grounds of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the National Guard, end even in the territories of private hunting clubs… There was no full brigade or even battalion training at all.   

 

5. The full completion of combat coordination was affected by the fact of sending of up to 70% of members of combat units (in some battalions) to serve in the defence of important critical infrastructure, strategic facilities, service at checkpoints in various areas of ​​responsibility such as cities, on bases from the first days of formation, which meant there was an impossibility of completing requisite combat training of all battalion personnel particularly new recruits; 

 

6. At the request of orders from the Command of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, battalion commanders were directed not to report the actual state of affairs to the brigades' HQs, only the desired assessment expectation. Objective reports were returned to battalions with the requirement to report as ready for the assigned tasks regardless of their actual readiness state because they did not meet the deadline brigade HQ expected;

  

7. The combat readiness of some battalions was also affected in some instances by the decision to remove the best-trained soldiers and officers, including combatants, to a consolidated unit and to send them to the combat zone, however without removing them from the battalion duty roster. That is to say, the battalions were officially staffed, but in reality were never available. No one shared the real situation in the combat zones so nobody knew how and where to use TDF units properly.  

 

8. Upon receipt of the order to send battalions of the XXX brigade to the combat zone, the purpose of the exercise was not issued to the personnel. The provided information on serving at checkpoints, clearing of liberated territories, protection of facilities and other tasks assigned by the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, for which minimal training of personnel had been given, was provided orally; 

 

9. Upon arrival in the combat zone, and coming under the command of OTG  "YYY", the ХХХ brigade received a combat order to occupy the frontiers on the first (zero) line, and the order was immediately sent to the command of subordinate battalions. The tasks were set, both for mechanized combat brigades and assault brigades, without taking into account the lack of appropriate weapons for defence or assault operations, appropriate training and at least some experience. The command of OTG "YYY" was either misled about the combat capability of the mentioned units or did not take into account the possible consequences of using them (the option of a malicious decision is not considered); 

 

10. On active duty in the area of ​​responsibility according to combat orders, personnel, in the absence of communication and interaction with adjacent units, without cover, from the first hours came under artillery strikes of various calibres, MLRS shellings, and enemy aircraft strikes. 

 

Short of a means of firepower and artillery counterattack, and primarily (!) communication, battalion personnel became the target of enemy firepower without being able to convey the real situation. Intelligence data were not provided to unit commanders, and data from commanders to commanders was transmitted late, and inaccurately.  

 

There were no opportunities to build fortifications or even basic trenches, as any works and changes in the landscape led to accurate targeting for enemy drones, as repeatedly warned but not conveyed by adjacent units that were already in the area of ​​responsibility. Attempts to fortify and use camouflage at night resulted in accurate mortar hits, as enemy drones have thermal imaging cameras and fully control the front line.  

 

At the same time, the Ukrainians’ regular means of destruction (mortars of smaller calibre than regular ones) were received during the combat mission and the training of personnel for other weapons was not carried out. Sapper blades without covers were obtained just before the occupation of the frontiers. Anti-tank and anti-aircraft means were not provided before the start of the tasks (except for the regular number of RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) which most units had not been trained to use at the required level). Forms and maps of minefields had not been verified, which has led to irreversible losses during the occupation of the positions; 

 

11. With the start of attempts of the enemy battalion-tactical groups to storm the positions, the personnel of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, were not prepared to conduct combat operations against OTGs with armoured vehicles and artillery, under cover of aircraft, in the absence of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, communications in the system of - company - battalion - brigade, having lost control, left operational "positions" and began a disorganised withdrawal. 

 

In the absence of interaction with adjacent units (as noted above), the units came under crossfire, including "their own". The unjustified requirement to place company and battalion command and control posts in the line of contact led to their destruction and loss. After the repulse of the assault by mechanized and assault units of other types of  Armed Forces of Ukraine, the destruction of the above crossings, the personnel managed to partially return to their "positions" with the task of maintaining defence; 

 

12. During ongoing hostilities for a further 10 days, irreparable losses and injuries mainly from artillery, and airstrikes, led to the demoralization of personnel, and complete despair of the competence of the command from battalion to brigade inclusively. Orders to directly attack the enemy's OTGs only with the available passenger vehicles with small arms only increased the losses. There have been rumours of a "betrayal in the command and an attempt to exterminate patriots in favour of Putin as a part of the so-called 'denazification' of Ukraine." Attempts by company commanders and battalion commanders to convey the actual situation to the brigade command have led to accusations of cowardice, treason and refusal to carry out orders.

 

13. The lack of understanding of the real situation by the brigade command and the failure to report to the High Command of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces and OTG "YYY" caused a distorted perception of the ability and combat effective capability of TDF units. 

 

CONCLUSIONS: 

 

1) Units of battalions of the XXX brigade proved to be incapable in conditions of misuse, in a situation over and above their capabilities and training; 

 

2) The command of the XXX Brigade partially lost control and failed to rectify the critical situation in the conditions of combat actions during the 10 days of active engagement with the enemy. There are great doubts about the ability to further rectify the situation, given the accusations of cowardice aimed at this battalion personnel; 

 

3) The Brigade Command and above consists of officers with combat experience in the use of trained and fully provisioned assault troops and mechanized brigades, which does not correlate with the existing forces and tasks that the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are facing; 

 

SUGGESTIONS: 

 

1. Immediately withdraw the personnel of the battalions of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine from the front line and assign them the tasks suitable to them; 

 

2. Use the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine only as intended, and inform the public about the rapid resolution of the growing scandal, especially in wartime; 

 

3. Replace the Command in some brigades due to the complete loss of confidence of personnel in command personnel; 

 

4. Carry out personnel work on dismissal of unfit personnel, dismiss at the request of a large number of families and others who voluntarily joined the Territorial Defense Forces in the wake of patriotism, or transfer such a category of servicemen to their permanent locations; 

 

5. Maximise opportunities and time to complete the preparation of anti-tank and anti-aircraft units in combat conditions; 

 

6. Organize cooperation with the new Command from soldier to brigadier to restore confidence in commanders and restore faith in our Victory; 

 

7. Withdrawal from the combat zone shortly is impractical until these problems are corrected and will only harm both the personnel and the authority of the higher command. 

 

This analysis, conclusions and suggestions are made by omitting the legal aspect and consequences of the use of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Legal assessment is added below in Annex 1. 

 

Commander of the XX Battalion of the XXX Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, 

Colonel Taras Bartka

 

*********** Annex 1 *********** 

 

The legal basis for the use of Territorial Defense Forces is the Constitution of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine "On Fundamentals of National Resistance" (hereinafter - the Law) and other regulations adopted under the Law of Ukraine "On Fundamentals of National Resistance". 

 

Part 3 of Article 3 of the Law defines the following tasks of territorial defence: 

 

1) swift responding and taking necessary actions to defend the territory and protect the population in a certain area until the deployment of a group of troops (forces) or/or a group of joint forces designed to conduct military (combat) operations to repel armed aggression against Ukraine within such territory; 

 

2) taking part in strengthening the protection and defence of the state border; 

 

3) taking part in the protection of the population, territories, environment and property from emergencies, eliminating the consequences of military (combat) operations; 

 

4) taking part in the preparation of citizens of Ukraine for national resistance; 

 

5) taking part in providing conditions for the safe functioning of public authorities, other state bodies, local self-government bodies and military administration bodies; 

 

6) taking part in the protection and defence of important facilities and communications, other critical infrastructure facilities identified by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, and facilities of regional, district, rural, township, urban significance, district councils in cities, villages, townships, disfunction and decommissioning of which pose a threat to the lives of the population; 

 

7) providing conditions for strategic (operational) deployment of troops (forces) or their regrouping; 

 

8) taking part in actions to temporarily prohibit or restrict the movement of vehicles and pedestrians near and within the zones/areas of emergencies and/or the conduct of military (combat) operations; 

 

9) taking part in ensuring public safety measures and order in settlements; 

 

10) taking part in the introduction and implementation of the legal regime of martial law in the event of its imposition on the entire territory of Ukraine or in some of its localities; 

 

11) taking part in the fight against sabotage and reconnaissance forces, other armed formations of the aggressor (enemy) and paramilitary or armed formations not provided by the laws of Ukraine; 

 

12) taking part in information activities aimed at increasing the level of defence capabilities of the state and counteracting the information operations of the aggressor (enemy). 

 

According to the abovementioned tasks, the list of which is exhaustive and not subject to expansion, the main standard arms of the territorial defence units are small arms, as well as hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers and mortars of 82mm calibre. 

 

In pursuance of the above tasks, it is envisaged that the personnel of the Territorial Defense Forces units undergo only initial and basic general military training, which involves the acquisition of basic knowledge, skills and abilities on the handling and use of weapons, action on the battlefield (movement and orientation on the ground). ), provision of home medical care, as well as primary psychological assistance (self-help), handling of improvised explosive devices and the formation of stable moral and psychological qualities necessary for the protection of Ukraine (paragraph 4 of the Procedure for organizing and conducting general military training Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine of December 29, 2021, № 1443). After all, the Law does not provide for the use of territorial defence units in the performance of combat missions that require more specific skills and training. 

 

It is also important to note that to perform the tasks provided by the Law, the unit of the Territorial Defense Forces must be fully provided with regular weapons, regular equipment, relevant engineering equipment, etc. In our case we can say that: 

 

• the battalion is currently not equipped with regular equipment (there is XX% of the need); 

 

• such weapons as hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers (specify brands), and SPG-9 were received only after redeployment to the combat zone, and therefore the necessary training and practical firing of personnel was not carried out; 

 

• training of mortar battery personnel was carried out only theoretically, and it is NOT possible to properly train artillerymen during 3 days of practice shootings; 

 

• it was also not possible to conduct combat coordination at the platoon-company level, as one-third of the most motivated servicemen of the unit, who had previous experience in combat operations, were sent to another area to carry out combat orders during the combat coordination training process. Thus, the personnel was deprived of the opportunity to use the experience of "combat" comrades; 

 

• combat coordination in the battalion was not  planned, and therefore it is impossible to talk about the effective interaction of infantry units with the mortar battery because it didn’t exist; 

 

• during the training, the personnel were not able to practice on certified shooting ranges, and therefore such important skills as throwing grenades, running alongside a tank, etc. were not possible. In addition, there was no corresponding ammunition for grenade launches. 

 

All these shortcomings, which are not dependent on the battalion's leadership, have been repeatedly reported to the brigade's leadership. 

 

Using a unit for a purpose not specified by the law will certainly lead to tragic and irreversible consequences. 

 

It is important to note that as of today, the President of Ukraine has not signed any amendments to the Law. Therefore, according to the rule of Article 20 of the Law, units of the Territorial Defense Forces may be involved in the implementation of territorial defence tasks outside their territorial defence zone only by decision of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But even in this case, the tasks of territorial defence have to be carried out outside the areas of military (combat) operations. Combat statutes and requirements of other laws of Ukraine are applied insofar as they do not contradict the Law of Ukraine "On National Resistance".

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