Infantry: Britain Increases Training For Ukrainian Assault Forces


April 23, 2023: Since mid-2022 Britain has been providing continuous intense, five-week, training courses for Ukrainian infantry. Ukraine sends the trainees to Poland where Britain flies them to British training facilities in Britain, and then back to Poland. Currently the Ukrainian ground forces are more than three times the size of Britain’s 153,000 strong army (including 37,000 reserves). Combat units in the British army include 62 infantry and tank battalions. Sixteen of the 47 infantry battalions are reservists while four of the 15 tank battalions are reservists. Normally Britain has far more training facilities than it needs. That is on purpose to provide training capacity for a wartime mobilization and rapid expansion in the number of combat troops. The 35-day training program worked for highly-motivated Ukrainian troops who know they have an edge when it comes to morale and determination to fight the Russian invaders.

Ukraine currently has larger ground forces than Russia and keeps it that way by having their troops undergo more training than their Russian counterparts. This was the case during the August 2022 Ukrainian counteroffensive and will be even more so for the upcoming summer 2023 offensive. The British program has trained 60,000 Ukrainians so far. A new program, which quietly began in early 2023, has doubled the number of Ukrainians flown to Britain every five weeks. Britain obtained additional trainers from several NATO members plus Australia and New Zealand. The new training program has halted most field training for British troops and that will continue until the larger program for Ukrainian troops is no longer needed. Most of the training is for infantry but there are a few for helicopter crews and UAV operators. Most specialist training (for artillerymen, tank crews and air defense systems) takes place in Poland or other nearby NATO countries.

For over a year the quality of Russian manpower inside Ukraine has declined, while the Ukrainians sought to train the many volunteers that joined the military once the invasion began. Even with losses from a year’s fighting, there are still over 500,000 of these volunteers. Most require training before they are up to the standards required for a successful offensive to push the remaining (under 200,000) Russian forces out.

Even before the invasion, NATO had been assisting in training Ukrainian forces. This accelerated after 2014 and by the end of 2021 most of the Ukraine’s 200,000 active-duty troops were adequately trained, or at least better trained than most of the invading Russians. Ukrainian troops suffered heavy losses in the first six months of the war and had to be supplemented by partly-trained reserves and untrained volunteers. There was little formal training for volunteers in the first few months of the war. Weapons were distributed and training was often on-the-job. This became more effective as there were more trained troops. A few of these in a platoon (30-40 soldiers) made a big difference because the trained troops taught the new ones that needed it.

Since late 2022 the Ukrainians have been on the defensive, which requires less skill and experience than attacking but does benefit from enthusiasm and steadfastness. Still, casualties were high, especially when the Russians were using a lot of artillery. Trained troops know to quickly disperse and dig in, not just in trenches and foxholes but also with sturdy overhead cover. The reaction of new, untrained and unwilling troops is to panic and fleet. Russian losses during these offensives were very high and gains were small.

Part of the NATO support was offered to conduct training outside of Ukraine. This was most commonly done in Poland and Britain. There were language barriers and some of the training outside Ukraine was for new weapons systems. The Ukrainians proved to be quick learners and mastered technical skills in days that conventional military training programs spent weeks on. That urgency and motivation is what still propels Ukrainian volunteers but, for offensive warfare, a lot more skills must be acquired.

To do that NATO nations are expanding their training programs and allocating some of those efforts to teach experienced volunteers how to operate basic and advanced military training inside Ukraine. This would involve shorter, more intense training programs that are possible if the trainees are eager to do it and do it well. Even with all this it still takes several weeks to turn an untrained volunteer into a trained soldier with some of the essential skills needed to carry out offensive operations that are not suicidal. In other words, showing the volunteers how to avoid fighting like Russians.

Going on the offensive unprepared is not good for maintaining morale and enthusiasm. Two key elements of a successful offensive are competent staff and senior officers to plan and organize the offensive operations, and competent junior officers and senior NCOs in the combat units to carry out the plan effectively. Senior officers and planners Ukraine has, but there is a shortage of NCOs and lower ranking officers needed to lead platoon and company (three or four platoons) units. The infantry has always suffered most of the casualties and the number of casualties those are depends on the quality of training, leadership and support (artillery, intel on the enemy and good communications). The support is there but the major weakness continues to be training levels and shortages of NCOs and combat unit officers.

Ukraine has also been quietly devoting a lot of resources to supporting armed underground resistance in Russian occupied territory. Ukraine already had an effective special operations force. These capabilities were demonstrated after 2014 when Ukrainian special operations were responsible for foiling Russian operations in Donbas. Work was already underway to carry out covert and sabotage missions in Russian-occupied territory but that was difficult because Ukraine was not actively trying to take back Crimea and Donbas until after Russia invaded all of Ukraine in 2022. It took about six months to recruit, train and organize attacks on Russian bases, Russian officials and Ukrainian collaborators. This lifts the morale of the Ukrainian troops preparing to go on the offensive.

Even with active partisan and special operations forces attacks in occupied territory, the offensive operations will be carried out gradually until more trained units are available. This disappoints many Ukrainians, but less so the closer you get to the front lines. The troops understand but the general population continues to suffer from Russian attacks with missiles and unguided rockets on infrastructure and cities. The Russians do this on purpose because if they can damage civilian morale, it will have an impact on the outcome of battles.




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