On New Year eve Ukrainian young men of preinduction age received a present from the Defense Ministry. Minister Pavlo Lebedev announced that in 2013 the conscription would be suspended and Ukraine would start moving to a professional army based on contract principles. At first it was planned that the last conscript would leave the service in 2014. But then the plans changed and the Ministry announced the year of 2017. Anyway, hardly any time left till the big change. But is it real to move to the volunteer army based on contract principles on such tight schedule? 

Know-how or second nature

Volunteer contract army is a professional army, and military service for its personnel is a profession and occupation. Professional army existed in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.

As for recent times, the army of Great Britain, for example, canceled conscription in 1961. Moving to a professional army based on contract principles was gradual and well-planned. The government spent more than nine million pounds per a year only for promotion of advantages of volunteer contract army through mass media.

British Army is one of the most up-to-date and high-tech armies in the world. The equipment of the army is constantly updated and modified. The normal term of engagement is 22 years, and, once enlisted, soldiers are not normally permitted to leave until they have served at least 4 years. The selection process is very tough: 410 out of 500 applicants get a refusal.

In Poland military services is also considered prestigious. As of 1 January 2010, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Poland have transitioned to a completely contract-based manpower supply system. The Polish Armed Forces consist of 100,000 active duty and 315,000 active reserve personnel. Polish government finances well its army, even in the times of crisis - 1.95% of GDP of the country (nominal GDP in 2012 made 531.758 billion dollars).

Ukrainian army in numbers

The authorities have been talking about contract-based army for a long time. Despite permanent lack of finances, the Armed Forces already have an experience of forming divisions and corps by this principle. Thus, in 2000 the Armed Forces numbered 28.8 thousand contract militaries, and in 2004 - 40.7 thousand soldiers.

As ForUm learned from the Defense Ministry, as of February 1, 2013 the Armed Forces of Ukraine consist of 33% of conscripts and 54% of contract militaries. "We do not lack volunteers, but the leadership of the Defense Ministry and Armed Forces HQ insist on continuous promotion of military service," acting DF spokesman, lieutenant-colonel Maxim Prauta said. To attract more volunteers the Ministry has increased twice the salaries for all categories of militaries of Navy Forces, Special Forces, certain corps of Air and Ground Forces.

Lieutenant-colonel Prauta also underlined that moving to professional contract-based form of service will free the army from uncharacteristic tasks, like guarding, cleaning, cooking. "All efforts of volunteer soldiers will be focused on battle training, improvement of skills and professional training. Moreover, it is planned that Ukrainian contract soldiers will participate in peacemaking missions to obtain combat experience. Therefore, the prestige of this profession will improve.

Who is more expensive: contractor or conscript?

The Defense Ministry informs that according to approximate calculations the state allocates 28 thousand 765 hryvnias per each conscript annually. Expenses for one contract soldier make UAH 36.845.

"Taking into account food, monthly payments, bath and laundry service, accommodation in barracks, etc., one conscript costs about 2 thousand hryvnias, while one contract soldier costs UAH 1.600.

So, how does the contract-based service help to save the funds? According to the statistic estimations, maintenance of military equipment by a professional reduces expenses for repair by 30%, Prauta explained. According to him, the same concerns annual expenses for training from scratch of conscripts. Professional contract soldiers will help to reduce these expenses by 25%. Released finds, in turn, can be directed to salary and social payment rise. The Defense Ministry plans to hire 65 thousand contract soldiers by 2017. Within the time, the total number of contract personnel, including soldiers and officers, will be increased to 110 thousand military.

Who will finance the moving to contract-based service system?

"Does the army have money for the reform?" ForUm asks. The Defense Ministry responds: the financing of the reform is provided by the state program on reforming and development of the Armed Forces for the period until 2017:

• provision of measures on hiring contract soldiers - UAH 1 mln 17 ths;
• promotion of contract-based military service - about UAH 418 ths;
• upgrading of training bases - UAH 800 ths;
• provision of retraining of the contract military (military occupational specialties, not available in military units) - UAH 3 mln 735 ths;
• training of substitution sergeants - UAH 6 mln 210 ths;
• provision of military uniforms and accessories - UAH 190 mln 950 ths;
• subsistence of militaries - UAH 965 mln 510 ths;
• security of military facilities - UAH 133 mln;
• construction (acquisition) of dwelling for the military - UAH 1 bln 690 mln;
• reconstruction of barracks into dwelling for contract military personnel - UAH 97 mln 836 ths.

As for additional financing, the Defense Ministry will sell out its unexpended balances, including 411 released forts with 918 buildings and structures. The authorities now develop proper legal mechanism of realization of military real estate and land. It is planned to hold open public auctions. Within two or three years, the Defense Ministry expects to earn up to six billion hryvnias.

How real is the task?

Ukraine does not have to wait until 2017 to cancel the conscription. It can be done already this year, expert on military issues and analyst of "Borisfen Intel" center Oleh Makhno told ForUm. "We are already ready for actions. The only thing is to set proper control over the process. If the statements on contract-based army are not an empty talk, the authorities will start with the provision of dwelling for the military. These actions will prove how important a military man is for the state."

Makhno also drew attention to the negative sides of the Armed Forces reformation. "When the discussion on contract-based army started, there were talks only about advantages. However, apart from household and financial issues, there are other, more important questions regarding contract-based service. First of all, it concerns training. Now we can train grenadiers, troopers, machine gunners. But how will we train the military for wars of the future? We need highly skilled hardware engineers, IT specialists, program developers. Did anybody calculate how much the training of such specialists cost? Moreover, the army size will be reduced. But will 18 thousand of contract soldiers be able to meet the tasks, being now performed by 30 thousand of conscripts?"

The financial side of the issue also raises concerns. "Army is expenses, continuous and growing expenses for upgrading of equipment, training of specialists. The budget of the Defense Ministry for current year makes 15 billion hryvnias, cash allowance - nine billion hryvnias. But what I am worried about is not the sufficient amount of allocated money, but about effectiveness of its use," Makhno added.

Roman Zabzaliuk, Batkivshchyna faction MP and deputy head of the parliamentary committee on national security and defense has its own recipe of successful reformation of the army, but, according to him, contract-based service system is not possible in Ukraine at the moment.

"Ukrainian army needs a whole complex of measures, including technical modernization, new defense system, military reserve (trained civilians, who can be summoned in case of necessity). But what we have now is total collapse of the training system. The administration is in no condition to hold military training exercise for reserve division, military arts divisions and institutes get closed. We should start with the modernization of the army, forming at the same time a strong reserve of trained civilians. Only then we can start introducing contract-based system. If we introduce it now, it will kill the revival chances of the Armed Forces at the grassroots level," Zabzaliuk said.

The MP also pointed out that the field personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine numbers not more than 60 thousand militaries, while Interior Ministry and Internal Troops number already 380 thousand. Of someone states that in case of necessity the Internal Troops can meet the challenge, he lies. Such division as "Berkut" Special Forces is not capable meet combat tasks to defend the state. Special Forces have different training and tactics, thus they must be retrained to be able to defend the territories."

In his turn, head of the committee on national security and defense Volodymyr Lytyvn told forUm he did not support the idea of having totally contract-based army. "Ukraine is a non-aligned state. We must have a strong and armed military organization, able to meet external challenges. I don't remember any examples when mercenaries were defending Homeland. Mercenaries are good to solve domestic conflicts or to take part in foreign missions. And finally, there is the financial issue. The experience shows that maintenance of 100-thousand-army costs about eight billion dollars. We have twice bigger army and two-billion-dollar financing. It's better to refrain from unachievable slogans. This is the position of the committee."  

Lytyvn's colleague Oleksandr Kuzmuk, former defense minister, does not agree. "Contract-based military service is quite real. The state budget does not have to allocate additional means for simple cancellation of conscription."

"I don't say that contract-based army is a panacea, but the professional army is, and that is what we need to strive for. Simple contract-based army does not require additional expenses, but professional one does. To perform the tasks professionally, the military needs better financing and better service conditions. Moreover, we should improve the image of military service in general," the official summed up.

The last thing

No doubts Ukrainian army needs reforms, and probably, as the saying goes, better less, but of higher quality: only contract soldiers, modern equipment, professional training, mobility and social package. We sincerely hope that the actions aimed for optimization of the Armed Forces will not come down to a regular cut, and that wearing military uniform will become prestigious again.

Yulia Artamoshchenko


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