Russian armed forces can’t deal with Ukrainian NCOs, says enlisted leader
- After five months of fighting, the Ukrainian military has forced Russia to scale back its ambitions.
- Much of Ukraine’s success on the battlefield is due to its more capable NCOs.
- With increasing strategic competition, Western militaries are emphasizing the role of qualified non-commissioned officers.
In the five months since Russia launched its attack, Ukraine’s military has relied on its enlisted leaders to frustrate Moscow and force it to scale back its ambitions after heavy casualties and limited advances.
Speaking Monday, Ukraine’s Air Force chief, Chief Master Sgt. Kostiantyn Stanislavchuk, attributed the effectiveness of these NCOs – which refers to troops who have risen through enlisted ranks but not been commissioned as officers – to a training process that follows the Russian Invasion 2014 was redesigned to emphasize leadership and the ability to think and act independently.
“I think the Sergeant Corps has an important role to play in that [success]. After all, the actions of small army units are directed by our junior commanders,” Stanislavchuk said at the Senior Enlisted Leaders International Summit hosted by the US Air Force near Washington DC.
“The armed forces sergeants, without waiting for orders from above, took the initiative” to conduct “independent, small-scale operations” and “act independently and resourcefully,” Stanislavchuk said through a translator. “In this way, the [Ukrainian] Defense forces are comparatively different from the enemy, where generals are forced to personally call on their subordinates to attack.
Russia’s reliance on generals for battlefield decision-making was quickly identified as a deficiency in Ukraine. The deaths of several senior Russian officers have been attributed to their need to be close to the front lines, in addition to operational failures that left them vulnerable.
While Russia’s military has sought to professionalize its corps of non-commissioned officers in recent years, its mentality remains one where “they see their officers as representing most of the traditional non-commissioned officer roles,” US Air Force Lt. Col. Jahara Matisek said on Tuesday the summit .
“That’s why you would see a much higher kill count on their officers,” added Matisek, an instructor at the US Naval War College.
Stanislavchuk contrasted Ukraine’s approach to non-commissioned officers with that of the Russians, who he says are “adhering to the Soviet approach” in which “the individual plays no part.”
“The Russians can’t deal with the unpredictability of the Ukrainians,” Stanislavchuk said, adding that the Russians “act according to a plan, they follow the order letter, [and] Their junior commanders and NCOs lack intelligent initiative.
Ukraine also used this Soviet approach after the Cold War, leaving it ill-prepared for the 2014 invasion of Russia.
After that conflict, Kyiv began efforts to “improve the multi-level sergeant corps training system to meet the training requirements for career sergeants in NATO member states,” according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry wrote in February 2017. This effort strongly pulled from the training of the US military for team leaders.
The resulting four-stage training process begins with the basic training of non-commissioned officers, Stanislavchuk said. “As they go through these different levels, you see who is actually capable of becoming better non-commissioned officers who are leaders, who are dedicated to work, who are dedicated to service, or who are really much better on a technical level.”
“Because of the newer system, we’re actually able to spend a little more time with the officers, and they see that the NCOs aren’t just there to follow orders. They are also there to make decisions,” added Stanislavchuk.
This improved training and high level of motivation has enabled Ukraine to impose heavy costs on Russia, Stanislavchuk said, giving updated totals for Russian losses, including about 41,000 casualties, 5,800 tanks and armored vehicles destroyed and more than 400 planes and helicopters shot down .
Ukrainian troops also shot down more than 730 unmanned aerial vehicles – including operational and tactical drones and “not just the ones you can buy in stores,” Stanislavchuk said.
Despite Russia having a larger and more technologically advanced air force, Ukraine has denied it control of the air over Ukraine – which Stanislavchuk attributed to extensive pre-war planning and quick decisions in the early hours of the morning that allowed Ukraine’s air force to Preserve planes and personnel by getting them out of the line of fire.
“The vast majority of the planes also managed to get airborne,” Stansilawchuk said. “With this it was possible to save the main combat potential of the Luftwaffe from annihilation.”
Intensifying competition with Russia and China has prompted the US military to place more emphasis on managing its own talent and developing junior leaders who can take the initiative, especially in environments where communication with higher-level commanders is disrupted.
The U.S. Air Force, in particular, has focused on spreading its operations to counter growing enemy range, coupled with an effort to develop “multi-capable” aviators that can perform multiple tasks at remote outposts to “fill the footprint.” to minimize and stay agile,” one officer said last year.
Highly qualified non-commissioned officer leadership is considered essential to these operations and to counter the ambitions of adversaries more broadly, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. JoAnne Bass said Monday.
“A strong NCO corps” is a strategic deterrent for China, Bass told the audience. “It’s the people who win wars. It’s the people who are the deterrent.”