I have difficulty to understand that assertion that the Ukrainian military has been thoroughly trained to NATO standards, or that the gear provided by NATO is a game changer.
1) Military equipment is designed for a doctrine of utilization, and this explains some crucial design differences between, for instance, Soviet tanks and Western tanks, or the emphasis put on air defense by Russia vs. the emphasis put on air superiority by NATO. Looking at how the Ukrainian military is equipped, it is immediately apparent that its main systems (tanks, IFV, APC; airplanes and helicopters; artillery, towed or self-propelled; anti-aircraft defenses; electronic warfare; engineering vehicles) are Soviet, Russian and Ukrainian production — whatever NATO and other countries provided is utterly marginal.
How coherent is the result of training to NATO standards an army equipped to fight with Soviet-Russian-Ukrainian gear according to a Ukrainian doctrine based on modified Soviet methods?
2) Ukraine is not NATO, and has therefore been prevented from receiving the real goodies from NATO countries. When the M777 arrived, astute observers noticed that they lacked the fire director allowing accurate long-range firing. Similarly, the M142 was not initially delivered with the long-range ATACMS missiles. Whatever Western countries delivered in terms of NATO fighting vehicles were outdated equipment, such as the Finnish XA-18*, or even really obsolete equipment like 1960s-era Gepard, M113, or Leopard-1. The paucity of NATO counter-battery radars (indispensible in view of the massive reliance of Russia on artillery) was also noted.
Interestingly, and referring to point (1) again, it has been repeatedly noted that Ukrainian troops felt abandoned by their officers, and could not communicate with them — a discrepancy between the Russian and Ukrainian tradition of officers leading from the front, and the NATO doctrine of officers directing from behind the front. But in the latter case, how could they implement a NATO combat leadership doctrine without the comprehensive communication system (C3I) required to make it work?
How can an army be trained to a standard if the required equipment is missing? And how can equipment, often a downgraded version thereof, supplied only in the dozens be a “game-changer”, when was is needed, and what the comparable equipment available so far numbers many hundreds or thousands of pieces?
3) Much has been said about tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers having been trained to NATO standards since 2014. Why do countries like the UK, France, Gemany, the USA, Poland, etc, suddenly launch programmes to train Ukrainian soldiers outside Ukraine? What have they been doing for the past 8 years? Are all those previously NATO-trained personnel already dead without having subsequently NATO-trained other personnel?
There are those persistent rumours that Ukrainians manning M777, HIMARS or Caesars are actually commanded by NATO personnel taking charge of the complex matters such as targeting, fire direction, detection for counter-battery, etc. Even for relatively simple anti-tank missiles, we get testimonies like this one, or that other one.
All in all, it looks as if the much touted NATO training has been very partial. How can one declare that Ukraine has the “NATO’s best trained army” if they are incapable of fully mastering complex NATO equipment (requiring several months to a year of training and experience), and are even incapable of dealing with the individual weaponry like individual missile / grenade / rocket launchers?
4) Thus far, the tactics relied upon by the Ukrainian army were
4.a) Static defenses in trenches, pillboxes and bunkers reminiscent of WWI (Donbass), and static urban “Festungen” reminiscent of the last phases of WWII (Mariupol).
4.b) Waterborne assaults and landings without artillery or air support (Snake island, Kherson).
4.c) Frontal attack by land forces (infantry and armoured), with some artillery preparation but no air support (Izyum, Liman).
Are these really the kind of tactics with which NATO has been inculcating the Ukrainian staff? Because they do not look like the kind of tactics that NATO is supposed to rely upon (lots of air support, mobile warfare, etc).
All in all, I am extremely sceptical about the value, and even the extent of the NATO training given to Ukraine, and I do not believe at all in the “game-changing” character of the weaponry delivered to it. The tenacity of the Ukrainian army is to be explained by its military traditions and national spirit. Those who think that the performance of the Ukrainians is due to NATO input are not credible.
Conversely, there are those pro-Russian commentators declaring that if Ukraine is the best that a NATO-trained, NATO-equipped army can achieve, then NATO as such is toast when facing Russia. They will have a nasty surprise when Russia faces a fully trained and equipped NATO force.
To put it crudely: The King’s African Rifles get an equipment and training that is compatible with, but by far not as powerful, resp. not as extensive and thorough as those received by the Coldstream Guards. And the tactics they follow are for a different kind of war. The Ukrainians are the (expendable) askaris of NATO.
When the war is over, and if Ukraine maintains a professional general staff, it will compile a thick report detailing the course of operations, assessing tactics and strategy, evaluating the weapons and the training of the troops. If that report is leaked, we shall finally know about “game changers” and what “NATO training” was really good for.