The Commander of the Naval Forces of Ukraine, Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, introduced the “New Strategy of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to 2035” at the International Maritime Security Conference, in late November 2018. At least a year of intensive work preceded this document. Admiral Voronchenko noted that the Strategy concentrates on building up real naval capabilities to adequately respond to maritime threats created by its more powerful maritime enemy. “This requires new thinking, some time and essential recourses,” he summarized (Mil.gov.ua, November 29, 2018).
From its very outset, the Naval Strategy looks “Western” in terms of its structure and content. Admiral Voronchenko did not hide the fact that it was, in fact, developed in close cooperation with Western experts. The international maritime community’s involvement, in particular, has crystalized the long-term vision of making the Ukrainian navy interoperable with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (Prismua.org, November 28, 2018; Navy.mil.gov.ua, January 11, 2019).
The Strategy lays out three closely interconnected components of the navy’s combat potential—physical, conceptual and moral—which are to be formed in accordance with Allied Joint Doctrine AJP-01. The document defines the priorities for the creation of modern and effective naval capabilities. These are to be accomplished consistently and in three stages by 2035, in accordance with requirements of Allied Joint Doctrine for Maritime Operations AJP-3.1.
The first stage outlined in the Strategy, which covers the period until 2025, aims at developing capabilities to establish control over territorial waters and beyond, approximately up to 40 nautical miles from the coast of Ukraine. Control over territorial waters requires surveillance and carrying out enhanced actions outside of the 12-mile zone.
The goal of the second stage (period from 2025 to 2030) is to recover and further develop the Naval Forces’ capabilities to protect Ukraine’s national interests at sea throughout its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), up to 200 nautical miles from the coast.
The third stage (2030–2035), aims at further expanding on the capabilities gains made in the first and the second stages in order for the Navy to be able to protect Ukrainian national interests in the world ocean.
The recovery of Ukraine’s naval potential in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov is viewed by the Strategy as a crucial task before Kyiv, to be accomplished at the state level. And notably, the document proposes that to implement the naval strategy, while taking into account the ultimate goal of attaining NATO membership, Ukraine should apply the North Atlantic Alliance’s so-called DOTMLPF (doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities) methodology as a way to address the current capability gap with NATO.
It is also worth noting the Ukrainian Naval command’s drive to start implementing this Strategy as soon as possible. The first seminar on creating an implementation plan already took place in Odesa, in early February. And importantly, the meeting involved a defense advisor from the United States, Michael McCarthy of McCarthy Global Consulting (Mil.gov.ua, February 6). Ukrainian planners consider the most pressing task in the short term to be neutralizing the most dangerous maritime threats to Ukraine’s national security within its coastal offshore zone. According to Admiral Voronchenko, these tasks should be performed by the country’s “mosquito” fleet—based on Ukraine’s preexisting concept to build up the Navy by introducing large numbers of small but quick and well-equipped boats (Pravda.com.ua, December 17, 2018; see EDM, March 9, 2017). Two Giurza-class armored boats and two Centaur-class fast assault craft are planned to be commissioned in 2019 (Tsn.ua, December 11, 2018); and two US-built Island-class patrol cutters are expected to finally enter service with the Ukrainian Navy this summer (Segodnya.ua, December 28, 2018).
Around the same time as the above-mentioned naval strategy seminar was taking place in Odesa, Petro Tsygal, the head of the State Boarder Service of Ukraine, declared, “Negotiations with French partners are being held regarding the purchase of 22 modern patrol ships… this will give us the opportunity to completely cover the sea border line with reliable protection” (Espreso.tv, February 4). Earlier, the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior noted that a project for producing new border protection vessels jointly with a French company would be proposed to the Ukrainian government in 2019 (Opk.com.ua, January 6). These would be modern, 32- to 35-meter-long boats, manufactured at one of the Ukrainian shipyards in cooperation with a French company, but with a high degree of project localization in Ukraine (Depo.ua, February 5). Ukrainian experts believe that the French shipbuilder in question may be the firm OCEA (Defence-ua.com, February 5). Such French patrol boats could significantly increase Ukraine’s abilities to provide sea control and protect not only its littoral waters but also the wider EEZ. However, these specific platforms were not considered within the framework of the Naval Strategy to 2035. So if the ship construction deal with France moves forward, it may end up posing a challenge to the state’s current efforts as well as potentially result in some resource duplication.
Other challenges, including bureaucratic management issues, should be considered as well. For one thing, top Ukrainian military personnel still widely subscribe to Soviet-era doctrinal approaches to operations, and many of them lack any proficiency in the official NATO languages. Moreover, Ukraine’s Armed Forces continue to be dominated by a land-oriented political culture, with naval representation largely absent at the strategic levels. And finally, Ukraine’s Naval Command has limited influence over needed procurements of maritime and coastal armaments.
Close cooperation with the US and other international partners can substantially help Ukraine tackle these challenges to upgrading the country’s naval capabilities. In the meantime, however, Ukraine will need to demonstrate momentum in implementing its Naval Strategy by credibly reasserting maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.