Ukraineís human potential, unit cohesion and combat effectiveness
Introduction In the comments section of my Substack and those of partners, readers frequently ask about Ukraineís human potential. So, Iíve decided to write a short article to shed some light on this matter and to answer some other questions that come up repeatedly.
Basics For a better understanding of this article, I suggest you read the following articles first:
Analysis of phase 3 of the war
Prospects for World War III
Ukraineís human potential I propose to do some calculations based on assumed circumstances and figures.
Ukraine had a population of about 40 million before 2014. From then until today, an estimated 15 million people have left/fled Ukraine in both directions, to Russia and Europe, which leaves us with 25 million. These are only estimates, though; no one knows the actual numbers.
Letís divide 25 million by two, to get the number of males. Now we have 12 million males. I checked some official sources that suggest we divide the population in half to get the number of people aged 16 to 65. Now we have six million men who are of military age.
Next, I deduct another two million men who work in essential industries, government, administration, police and rear logistics. Now we have four million left.
Ukraine is anything but a united nation. There is a huge difference between the people in the west and those in the east in terms of their stance on Russia and the war. I assume that many people in the east donít want to fight the Russians or go to war at all. I estimate that at least another million arenít available for the war because theyíve fled to the countryside or somehow dodged conscription so far. We also have to deduct the 1.5 million able-bodied Donbass citizens, which leaves us with 1.5 million men who are theoretically available for military service and mobilization.
I assume that the country can be divided roughly into three ďmotivation spheresĒ: 33.33% of the people are pro-Russian, 33.33% are neutral and 33.33% hate Russia, categories that these 1.5 million men fall into. This is a very rough estimate and only an assumption on my part, but I conclude that 500,000 soldiers are fanatically against Russia. Letís call them highly motivated and ideologically confused. Another 500,000 soldiers are neutral and doing what they need to do to eventually get home alive. The last 500,000 are pro-Russian; theyíre being forcefully mobilized and have no desire to fight.
You can play around with my estimates. The formula itself should be fairly accurate; but, with no real numbers available, Iíve had to make assumptions. Iíve deliberately used round numbers for the sake of clarity. There is no way to get the real numbers, but I think mine are good enough to make a valid argument.
Moreover, I want to highlight that the real range of the human potential is somewhere between one and three million. The actual figure doesnít matter for reasons that I will explain.
NATOís escalation potential Of course, NATO, especially Poland, can commit its own troops under the Ukrainian flag. But there are also several thousand foreign mercenaries. These troops mainly support the Ukrainian army and sometimes lead smaller Ukrainian formations, such as companies. Their most important and dangerous task is, of course, to operate western-supplied weapons, such as the M777 howitzer, the Crab and the HIMARS.
Scott Ritter has correctly pointed out that Polish troops are getting bloodied in the Donbass. Theyíre learning how to fight a real war. When these troops return to Poland, theyíll use their experience to train the next generation of Polish troops. But they arenít there to fight on the frontlines. More than 70% of them will survive and be able to fulfill their task back in Poland.
I donít see NATO making any big troop commitments to Ukraine, although that can change anytime. So, for now weíll base our calculations on the numbers in the section above.
Note that if NATO escalates and commits a significant number of troops, all my predictions will be void. But, for now, Iím ruling out a NATO escalation because I donít see a high probability of it. If my assessment changes, Iíll inform you immediately.
Unit cohesion I consider the four most important functions of an army to be the following:
Iím going to focus solely on unit cohesion because I have already discussed the other three functions at length, as have others.
You can create military formations overnight on paper. You take a million men and give each of them the formation and unit assignments you think make sense.
Each solider is a member of company X, battalion Y, regiment Z, brigade A, division B, army C and so on.
Now that youíve completed your assignments, you start to assemble your troops and you commit them to the assigned frontline sections or rear functions. But every last man will die a quick death. Why? Because they have no unit cohesion. The troops and the commanders donít know one another. They donít know how to talk to one another or how to command effectively. They have no common culture or traditions. The officers will adopt strategies and issue orders, but the troops wonít know how to implement them. They wonít trust one another. This is a fatal flaw. In the field, you must be able to trust the men next to you, because you canít oversee the entire frontline.
How do you create unit cohesion? Itís a process based on months, if not years, of joint training, manoeuvres, common ideologies, objectives, culture and trust.
There is no way you can create unit cohesion if your formations are continuously being destroyed and rebuilt. Weíre not talking about some destroyed companies. Weíre talking about destroyed brigades, with all their assigned subunits.
Letís come back to my initial four points:
Without these four functions, a crowd of people, mobilized and thrown into battle, isnít an army. Itís what the Ukrainians themselves call it Ė meat for the grinder.
Overall combat effectiveness Once again, Iím going to make some assumptions but only for the sake of argument, with the caveat that what I outline here isnít based on military theory. Letís assume that the Ukrainian army had a combat effectiveness of 100% at the beginning of the war:
The officers and the troops had been trained for eight years by NATO
There were many experienced, if not battle-hardened, fighters in their ranks
Ukrainian artillery had gained plenty of experience in eight years on the Donbass front without running any great risk, with a goodly share of their experience having been gained by shelling civilian areas and civilians
Their level of motivation was high
Troop cohesion was high after eight years of joint fighting in predefined units
The logistics routes were well established
They had more weapons and ammunition than they needed
Their Soviet-era weapons could be maintained and repaired on the frontline or in nearby machine plants
They had built excellent fortifications in the Donbass
Et cetera. (If you give it some thought, youíll come up with more on your own.)
Slightly more than a year later, the situation has changed drastically.
The British are testing how close they can get to Crimea