Ukraine’s “Total Defense”: A Critique

Ukraine can make the cost of any invasion so great that the Russian bear will have to choke on it


George Woloshyn and Eugene Stakhiv

Note to the reader: On March 25, 2021, Pres. Zelenskyi signed into law Ukraine’s national Military Security Strategy (“Strategy”) document. It is not only a significant improvement over three earlier ones, but a clear-cut acknowledgment that Ukraine’s best chance at deterring further conflict with Russia is to make itself indigestible to the Russian bear — not unlike a porcupine.

Because of the scope of the document, the current “negotiations” between Russia and the western powers, the effect that “total defense” is likely to have on hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians as well as its importance as a deterrent to Russian aggression, this critique is serialized into several parts.


…Putin has an obsession with Ukraine and believes that Ukraine has no right to exist…

Putin’s armies surround Ukraine. The western nations are worried about imminent war. Putin claims that further expansion of NATO and the arming of Ukraine threatens Russia’s national security and its “sphere of influence”. NATO and the U.S. threaten sanctions. The U.S. will be meeting with Russia in early 2022 to resolve the stand-off [The article was prepared in 2021].

While it is difficult to predict the outcome of those discussions, we believe it likely that the U.S. will offer some concessions and Russia will agree to remove some of its troops. NATO may agree to “suspend” indefinitely Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership in NATO and to reduce its level of interaction and military support for Ukraine, leaving Ukraine alone to face-off Russia’s military threat, while forestalling — at least for the short term — further aggressive action.

What then? Putin has an obsession with Ukraine and believes that Ukraine has no right to exist because the state occupies what he claims is “Russian land”. “Reunion” of those lands will be his legacy. But he needs time to fully dominate European energy needs and insulate Russia from sanctions; while Ukraine needs time to prepare, without western military support and prospects of NATO membership, for a full-scale invasion in the future.

When a small nation has its back to the wall in facing a super-power that will be growing stronger while it grows relatively weaker, it should seek guidance from one of God’s creatures — the porcupine. The porcupine, when faced with a predator, first lashes out at it with its tail as a warning and then raises 30,000 sharp, barbed quills (up to 30 centimeters in length) across its whole body to discourage further aggression. It is entirely defensive, and — with some adjustments — that is what Ukraine’s military strategy proposes to accomplish. Even the Russian bear would not want to ingest a mouthful of barbed quills.

…Total defense is needed to meet Ukraine’s primary existential threat — Russia’s aggression…

Ukraine’s Strategy is appropriately entitled “Comprehensive Defense” (a.k.a. “Total Defense”) for that is what is needed to meet Ukraine’s primary existential threat — Russia’s aggression. Ukraine’s former Defense Minister, Andriy Taran, noted that the Strategy is expected to evolve and be implemented over a 10-year period. It is our view that certain core elements of the strategy — its lowest hanging fruit — must be implemented much sooner — within 2–3 years.

At times the Strategy reads more like a political document, emphasizing NATO accession and assuring Europe and the world of Ukraine’s compliance with international standards. In order to transform it into a working document and give it traction, it needs urgency and tight timelines, major reforms of UkrOboronProm, funding priorities, widespread acceptance and support, as well as an authoritative and totally dedicated cross-sectoral monitoring center reporting directly to the National Security Council with final budget approval authority for military needs.

Other than general principles of “total defense” and some early listing of priorities, not enough is known at this time about how the Administration will pursue its “total defense” strategy. So this series will attempt to extrapolate from “total defense” strategies implemented in other countries, and from new developments in military technologies what course it is likely to take.

The unique features of this Strategy is that: (1) it can be implemented within several years rather than the extensive time-lines for funding, acquisition, training and implementing of more conventional defense/deterrent systems; (2) its earliest and most important components can be almost entirely funded within Ukraine’s own defense budget, using its own military-industrial base and occasional commercial sources, but without dependency on foreign funding; (3) it has the dual purpose of not only transforming Ukraine into a “porcupine” state, but also funding research and development, while restoring the former profitability of Ukraine’s military industrial base; (4) it assumes continuing Russian air supremacy but denies Russia its benefits; and (5) it makes it possible for Ukraine to greatly reduce its asymmetric imbalance with Russia’s military by use of “smarter, smaller, cheaper” Artificial Intelligence technology.

…Total warfare against the homeland, where civil life is the primary target… needs to be countered with total defense…

A “total defense” strategy is the equivalent of a call for “all hands on deck” wherein all national components — civil, military, institutional, private, public, business and individual — are called to participate in the defense of their homeland. Such strategies are implemented when weaker nations (Switzerland, Finland, Yugoslavia, Sweden, the Baltic States) fear imminent aggression from a more powerful adversary. Switzerland — fearing a Soviet invasion — even set up a government-in-exile in Ireland. The Swedish commission responsible for civil defense during World War II concluded that “total warfare against the homeland, where civil life is the primary target… needs to be countered with total defense, including both a military and civil side.” According to German general Erich Ludendorff who developed the concept in his book Der Totale Krieg, the essence of “total war” is that “the armed forces and civilian population is one whole. [1]

In short, “Total Defense” is a serious and urgent deterrent strategy with far-reaching implications closely watched by the enemy. If the Strategy should end up on bureaucratic shelves, and fails to be implemented with the “Manhattan Project” urgency it deserves, Putin will know and draw his conclusions.

…New generation warfare has transformed “total defense” into a viable deterrent strategy rather than a high-stakes, “Dunkirk” reaction by a weak nation to a superior force…

The Strategy is a fine synthesis of, and complements well, those drafted by other states and based on their experience. Several of Ukraine’s neighboring states — Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia — recognizing NATO’s institutional inability to respond adequately to a Russian invasion, have also adopted tailored versions of the “total defense” strategy. NATO, itself, has recently eschewed an arms race with Russia and adopted a policy of “defense and deterrence” through integration of new generation technologies into its war plans. New technology has so radically changed the nature of warfare that the term “new generation warfare” (“NGW”) has been coined to define it. The good news for countries like Ukraine and frontline NATO states is that NGW has transformed “total defense” into a viable deterrent strategy rather than a high-stakes, “Dunkirk” reaction by a weak nation to a superior force.

The Strategy also envisions integration into the Euro-Atlantic community and NATO membership as among its highest — perhaps ultimate — goals. That goal is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution. NATO is mentioned 17 times and NATO membership is seen as the ultimate guarantor of Ukraine’s security.

…Membership in NATO is an important deterrent, but it is not the holy grail…

Membership in NATO is an important deterrent, but it is not the holy grail any more than U.S. and U.K. “affirmations” have been in the Budapest Treaty. Ukraine must build up its deterrence irrespective of NATO and absorb as much of NATO’s better practices and advanced technology as it can.

In the next parts of the article, we will amplify the following key elements of a “total defense” strategy:

  • The “Strategy” and the Porcupine State;
  • The Battlefield;
  • Command, Control, Communication and Cyber (C4);
  • The Roles of Professional Soldiers, Reservists, and Territorial Defenders;
  • Next Generation Warfare (“NGW”);
  • Between Old and New: Transformation to the Porcupine State.

Ukraine’s Strategy and the Porcupine State

…A nation’s “total defense” strategy emphasizes deterrence and defense rather than an offensive capability…

Not unlike the peaceful porcupine, a nation’s “total defense” strategy emphasizes deterrence and defense rather than an offensive capability. The Strategy requires Ukraine to “resist the aggressor on land, sea, air, as well as within its cyber and information space” by invoking its “potential in the military, political, economic, diplomatic, spiritual, cultural, etc.” realm, and to engage in all forms of combat including asymmetric warfare. In particular it calls for preparedness “to give the enemy unacceptable political, economic, military, and other losses forcing him to stop escalation and continuance of war.”

Although Ukraine is at more than a 12 to 1 financial disadvantage with respect to Russia’s military budget, has a very weak air force and navy, and is greatly outnumbered in troops and ordnance, the porcupine strategy is Ukraine’s best bet for avoiding conflict. But will the Ukrainian government have the self-discipline to properly allocate and prioritize its defense budget; and do so quickly against the pressures of its famously slow-acting and self-serving bureaucracy?

The Battlefield

In the winter of 1939 Stalin threw the full might of what (at that time) was considered one of the mightiest armies in the world — the Red Army — against tiny Finland with its 3.6 million people. The winter was one of the coldest and the distance from Leningrad to Helsinki was less than 200 miles but half of it through sparsely populated, dense forests and marshes. It took 3 months and tremendous human and material losses together with heavy air and artillery bombardment before Stalin gave up on his invasion. The kill ratio, according to some historians, was 10 Soviet soldiers for every Finn. The weather and terrain made it possible.

…The problem is that most of Ukraine is open to ground and aerial assault…

Ukraine does not possess favorable terrain advantages. Most of Ukraine is fairly level and open terrain. Only 15 % of the country is forested, 5 % is mountainous, and 1.7 % are wetlands with the nearly impassable Pripyat marshes extending across much of northern Ukraine and into the Chernobyl zone 60 miles from Kyiv. 73 % of the population live in urban areas. The climate, though capable of very cold winters, is not intense enough to deter invaders. The problem is that most of Ukraine is open to ground and aerial assault and Russia would quickly — probably pre-emptively — destroy what air and sea power Ukraine has as well as known command, control, cyber and communication (C4) centers, military bases, anti-aircraft missile systems, and prepositioned supplies. After that enemy airpower would encounter no obstacles in searching out and destroying whatever has military value. Ukraine’s only recourse would be deception, mobility, and concealment.

…Ukraine’s only recourse would be deception, mobility, and concealment…

While certain C4 centers and shelters for top government officials may be placed in the Carpathian mountains (near the borders of its several NATO neighbors), great care must be taken that such locations — above or below ground — remain covert. Any location is subject to discovery so redundancy is needed in the form of alternative shelters, railroad cars, trucks, vans, and boats.

Military or strategic assets, armaments, and stockpiles should be placed on trains, trucks, or river boats (including barges) and remain mobile in sidings, forest roads, and covered shelters. Ukraine has 15,000 miles of rail road trackage (13th largest in the world) and 11,000 miles of navigable rivers. It also has 85,000 RR wagons, 1400 railroad stations and 2000 passenger cars.

Its forests, mountains, and marshes can accommodate covert sites for partisan sanctuaries, limited medical support, and pre-positioned supplies for sustenance and infliction of losses on enemy forces. Their heaviest enemy losses, however, are likely to be in the cities where urban warfare greatly favors defenders familiar with every building and street and shelter for hiding.

It need not be concealed from the Kremlin that — while Ukraine will not be the first to attack — once Russians cross the border by air, land, or sea Ukraine may have no choice but to attack all enemy staging and stocking areas as well as infrastructure such as bridges, airfields, ports, and railroad within reach of Ukrainian arms, though avoiding civilian areas as much as possible.

Command, Control, Cyber and Communication (C4)

…The first order of business for a state readying to confront an enemy is to ensure that its lawful government cannot be destroyed…

The first thing an enemy state targets is a nation’s command, control, cyber and communication commonly referred to as “decapitation”. For that is exactly what it means. A nation at war without unified and effective leadership will almost certainly be defeated and disintegrate into competing power centers, greatly facilitating the enemy’s takeover of the country. The first order of business for a state readying to confront an enemy is to ensure that its lawful government cannot be destroyed. A “continuity of government” program with its “line of succession” and secure, covert facilities for the president and his family from which he can continue to control and communicate with his civilian and military leadership and address the nation is essential. Every potential successor to the presidency should be lodged separately from the others. Russia has made great strides in its electronic and surveillance capabilities, so Ukraine must acquire the means to jam Russian communication, secure its own, and ensure the safety of its leadership.

Agency heads in line of succession and those responsible for war-time duties must be included in the “continuity of government” program. Each must understand how their work and that of their agencies would have to be adjusted to meet war-time needs. This is best accomplished by organizing “desk-top’ exercises during which they are expected to respond to specific hypothetical war time scenarios in consultation with others. Independent monitors would record the responses and interactions and issue reports listing both weaknesses and strengths as well as steps to improve performance. Such exercises should take place on regional and local levels and include military personnel, first or primary responders, as well as business people and professionals. Such exercises are effective in getting senior officials and relevant segments of society to think about their war-time assignments and what should be done, stockpiled, etc. to prepare civilians for war and to ensure resistance and resilience under occupation.

The Strategy places primary responsibility for the civilian sector on the Cabinet of Ministers.

Professional Military, Reservists, and Territorial Defense (TD)

…The prospect of a force of hundreds of thousands of largely volunteer patriots, trained and equipped to resist enemy forces, would constitute a huge deterrent for any invader…

The one common feature of the “total defense” strategy is the introduction of “territorial defense” (TD) as a distinctly new and appended defensive layer to that of professional military and reserve forces. It is largely a volunteer adjunct to the military in working with civilians in peace-time to impart preparedness for, and encourage resistance and resilience to, enemy occupation. If the enemy were to attack and begin occupation of Ukrainian territory, large numbers of territorial defenders would switch over to impeding enemy movement and inflicting losses on them within occupied areas. They meet regularly for drills, exercise and training in peace-time and take on clandestine assignments in war. It is interesting to note that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — all NATO members — have declared a policy of total defense and are expanding their volunteer territorial defense force to fight partisan warfare.

Unlike active military or reserve personnel who can be called up and sent wherever they are needed, TD forces stay close to their homes and families defending familiar (to them) terrain. In fact, they are intended to be a regional force, subject to regional authorities and with a somewhat decentralized structure. When the enemy attacks the defenders will have access to prepositioned, clandestine caches of supplies and armaments needed for civilian resistance and resilience (such as counteracting enemy propaganda) and partisan-type armed operations against enemy forces. Much useful information as well as excellent analyses of supplies required by TD units is available in a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the three Baltic States [2]. Of particular interest is the inclusion of cameras to take films of enemy atrocities, the intensity of resistance, and the carnage unleashed by the Kremlin. Its perpetrators may (subsequently) find themselves unwelcome anywhere in the world, labeled as war criminals, and all foreign assets frozen and/or confiscated.

There is a current TD force within Ukraine’s Armed Forces that grew out of the thousands of volunteers who flocked to the eastern battle zone to stop further Russian advances into Ukraine in 2014. They were incorporated by law into Ukraine’s Reserve forces and are now deployed in brigade strength among their various home regions (oblasts). A new and much more detailed law has been drafted since then, and it is now under consideration by the Rada.

Under the new law, TD will become an independent, volunteer, military-civilian formation, separate from the Armed forces, but subordinated to the Ministry of Defense and responsive to regional peace and war-time needs. In addition to its current responsibilities (guarding state borders, protecting local authorities as well as infrastructure and key assets, anti-sabotage, etc.), it will also be responsible for responding to natural disasters, counter-acting disinformation, organizing resistance cells, training civil personnel, cyber defense, and patriotic education.

The first draft will be 80,000 strong including 10,000 military commanders, instructors and civilian administrators. Pres. Zelenskyi has already authorized recruitment of the 10,000 plus an additional 1,000 with “special operations” backgrounds to serve as experts, instructors, and unit leaders in partisan warfare. Military and medical supplies are to be provided by the Ministry of Defense, while other requirements would be provided by the regions they support. The prospect of a force of hundreds of thousands of largely volunteer patriots, trained and equipped to resist enemy forces, capable of being mobilized in a few hours, and ready to fight in familiar terrain in defense of their own families and homes would constitute a huge deterrent for any invader. The Ukrainian Diaspora should encourage friendly governments to provide funding, training, and necessary supplies.

…Advanced technology has revolutionized modern warfare so as to flatten the asymmetric curve in favor of the defending country…

Ukraine’s current professional military and reserve force, together with the TD “in-depth” defense force may suffice to meet its actual defense needs. In the past a nation’s military power depended heavily on large numbers of troops. That is no longer the case. The invading country still needs large and very costly land, air, and sea forces if it hopes to subdue and occupy a target country, but advanced technology has revolutionized modern warfare so as to flatten the asymmetric curve in favor of the defending country.

The recent revolution in warfare — sometimes referred to as the “new generation warfare” (NGW) requires soldiers with specialized skills, other than person-on-person combat, in operating and maintaining the advanced equipment that is now available to them. Columns of invading tanks and armored personnel carriers need not be met with tanks and troops but with swarms of drones fired from distant concealed or mobile platforms. The asymmetric advantage has shifted to the porcupine state if that state is prepared to grasp it.

The next Part will introduce some of these advanced armaments and Ukraine’s current readiness and capability to complete its transformation into a “porcupine” state.

New Generation Warfare (NGW)

…Advantage of new technologies will provide small and medium-sized nations with military capabilities that have previously been reserved for major powers…

Dr. T.X. Hammes is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the U.S. National Defense University. He has also been heralding — for more than three decades — the arrival of the “small, smart, and cheap revolution,” a new type of warfare — the 4th generation” — that advanced technology has ushered in since the end of the 19th century. According to Hammes, “the convergence of fourth industrial revolution technologies — autonomous drones, 3D printing, potent explosives, cheap space and others — make possible a new generation of smart and cheap weapons. They have the potential to be game changers for small NATO nations, but only if governments change their current policies to take advantage of these break thoughts… which will provide small and medium-sized nations with military capabilities that have previously been reserved for major powers — and for a reasonable price. [3]

By “others” Dr. Hannes would include task-specific artificial intelligence, cube satellites, small warheads, nanotechnology, microwave, and precision guided munition… as well as new variations that are regularly coming out and even commercially available. For a nation like Ukraine with its (still impressive) scientific and engineering base, its rapidly growing reputation for IT expertise, and its inexpensive military-industrial production capability, this new technology (a.k.a. “new generation warfare”, NGW) could ensure Ukraine’s independence and restore its former prominence as a major world exporter of arms — but arms that are defensive in nature and intended to deter aggression. And, best of all, it could do so within its own budget and purchase from commercial sources much of what it cannot fabricate domestically.

It has always been difficult for a nation and its military services to abandon the battles of the past and to prepare for the battles of the future. Those battles will be fought and won by those who recognize that their institutional biases keep defense spending on the dominant technology while numerous emergent technologies threaten it. The recent U.S. National Defense Strategy requires assessment of new technologies and the defining of problems to be faced in future conflicts. Ukraine’s Strategy also calls for assessment of new technologies including those that would reduce the asymmetric imbalance with Russia.

…Ukraine’s Military Security Strategy calls for assessment of new technologies including those that would reduce the asymmetric imbalance with Russia…

Let’s start with drones. Both Ukraine and Turkey are co-producing drones using Ukrainian engines. Turkey’s TB2 drones enabled Azerbaijan to defeat Russian-backed Armenian forces by weakening Armenian supply lines, finding high value military assets far beyond the front lines, and killing 138 tanks, 167 artillery pieces, 90 MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems), 49 armored vehicles, 386 soft-skinned vehicles, and 10 electronic jamming systems [4]. Consider how differently the Donbas invasion would have turned out if Ukraine had TB2 drones to target enemy armored columns.

Today drones are available that are both autonomous in getting to a target area and in identifying a specific target such as an aircraft or fuel truck. They can carry different size and weight payloads. Small drones can overcome their payload limitations by using either explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) or simply by “bringing the detonator” to the target. The former, weighing only a few pounds, can destroy well-armored vehicles, even a tank, while the latter must simply detonate the targeted explosive material such as aircraft fuel tanks, ammo dumps, and chemical facilities. The emerging use of nanoexplosives would double the destructive power of these weapons.

American “javelins” are costly, limited in number, and require proximity to their targets. Why not substitute them with small, autonomous drones (well within Ukraine’s ability to produce cheaply in large quantities) armed with EFPs, and targeted against enemy tank and armor concentrations? Inexpensive autonomous drones with greater range than artillery and deployed in large numbers will wreak havoc on enemy forces without exposure to return fire.

Swarms of autonomous drones can also threaten Russia’s naval ships nearing Ukrainian shore-lines. Although their payloads may not be powerful enough to sink large ships, they can incapacitate them and rebuff amphibious assault ships.

Drones can also provide a greater and more accurate range than artillery (as was recently demonstrated by Ukraine’s targeting and destruction of a Russian artillery unit) without artillery’s large logistics and training tail. Although drones may not (as yet) pose a threat to flying aircraft, swarms of small drones can be targeted against Russian military aircraft on the ground and within range.

Additive manufacturing (a.k.a. 3D printing) makes drones and other armaments cheap enough to produce quickly in large quantities to meet a variety of military needs, such as surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial IEDs, one-of-a-kind targets, anti-personnel fragmentation mines, etc. Just one 3D printer can produce dozens of drone bodies in a day with very little waste and great precision. As early as 2015 a company called Voxel8 revealed a new $9,000 printer, that printed a complete operational drone with electronics and engine. A variety of other weapons could be quickly and cheaply fabricated through the use of additive manufacturing while the manual skills used in their assembly would create jobs for Ukrainians [5].

Satellites. The advent of micro and cube satellites allows for the development of a space program for surveillance, communications, and navigation. Ukraine is one of the few countries that has the ability to launch multiple small satellites into space capable of very detailed, real-time tracking of enemy forces within or moving towards Ukraine, and communicating their movements to civilian, military, and territorial defense components. In fact, Ukraine could even buy this service from commercial companies [6].

Microwaves and other “directed energy” technology are increasingly gaining recognition as capable of disabling drones’ electronics with a densely concentrated pulse of energy. They are also being considered for overwhelming computers and a defense against missiles [7].

IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) have been the bane of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for 15 years and have shaped U.S. military behavior, tactics, and strategy in war zones. They were responsible for two thirds of U.S. and coalition casualties. The Pentagon spent $65 billion to detect and neutralize IEDs but they remained a constant threat. Iraqi insurgents shaped IEDs into EFPs to increase their power and were able to destroy M-1 tanks.

Although IEDs are “old technology”, Dr Hammes regards IEDs as “the ideal weapon against Russian ground invasion.” Its base explosive is a fertilizer that is very common in Ukraine — ammonium nitrate. “This provides an inexpensive, easy, combat-tested way to obtain the explosive charge for a range of IEDs from small anti-personnel devices to massive weapons that can stop an armored column… The state could buy sufficient fertilizer to create tens of thousands of IEDs and distribute it to reserve and home guard units… As long as the high explosive detonators are not stored with the IEDs they are safe. [8] By placing explosives on drones costing as little as $9,000, the drone itself becomes the IED and is commonly referred to as “kamikaze drone”.

Between Old and New: Transformation to the Porcupine State

…Despite Ukraine’s low funding, its capability gaps with Russia are narrowing, and even outperforming Russia in some areas…

Fortunately, having, at one time, been a lead country in the development and production of various weapon systems, including the most advanced missile systems in the world, Ukraine still maintains a respectable base with which to get back into research, development, and production of armaments — new and old — required in becoming a “porcupine state”. Unfortunately, corruption, mismanagement, treachery, brain drain, and low funding — especially in UkrOboronProm — has set Ukraine back quite a bit, but there is enough residual capability that — under competent, honest, and visionary management — can restore its former luster and commercial profitability in advanced weapon technology, while refining a variety of older but still indispensable deterrence-capable systems. Despite Ukraine’s low funding, its capability gaps with Russia are narrowing, and even outperforming Russia in some areas.

Key criteria for a sensible porcupine deterrence strategy are: cost-effectiveness, layered defense, mobility, concealment, and domestic production. The concept of “layered defense” ensures that an attacker that penetrates one layer of defense will be stopped by the next… or the next. This concept, though reasonable and forms the basis for most military budgeting decisions, must, nevertheless, be conditioned on the cost effectiveness (i.e. — “bang for the buck”) of each layer and its survivability in the face of Russia’s aerial superiority. Until Ukraine develops a robust air force and modernized air defense with a reasonable and convincing (to Russia) chance of surviving and protecting its land and maritime assets and population centers, all resources should be concentrated on convincing Russian planners that victory would be impossible without an unacceptably high cost. Only after such deterrence is secured or if Ukraine were to acquire a survivable and dependably protective air force and air defense system (but without risking delay of its “total defense” strategy) would it be reasonable to move into more costly but less-cost-effective and less survivable layers.

…Key criteria for a sensible porcupine deterrence strategy are: cost-effectiveness, layered defense, mobility, concealment, and domestic production…

In other words, would Russian planners consider 40 Turkish missile-armed TB2 drones at $3 million each more of a threat and more survivable against its invading forces than one well-armed “Ada Corvette” naval patrol boat costing $120 million? What about compensating, equipping, and training, 24,000 TD volunteers at $5,000 each? Which of the three would cause Russia greater concern or be more likely to be identified and targeted from air or sea? Those are the sort of trade-offs required in molding a porcupine state when considering how best to spend $120 million.

Land Defense. Ukraine’s Karasuk and Kvitnyk high precision “smart” shells and guided jet munitions such as Vilkha gives a decisive advantage over the enemy while reducing cost and waste. They are being produced entirely with domestic components.

The Korsar and the Skif are portable Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) which can find fixed and mobile targets up to 5 km. Both have been tested and proven their effectiveness. Again, they should be produced and distributed in sufficient numbers on a top priority basis. They may not be as good as the “javelin,” but it is refreshing to know that the safety of Ukrainian soldiers is no longer dependent on the political considerations of foreign powers.

Naval Defense has been receiving a great deal of support ever since Ukraine’s loss of Crimea and Russian efforts to control much of the shipping in the Black and Azov seas. While the rebuilding of the Ukrainian Navy is an important project with NATO because several NATO countries share the Black Sea shore-line, it is hard to justify the build-up of the Navy as a priority in building up deterrence. Whatever invasive forces should come ashore from amphibious craft are likely to be rebuffed from the land and those forces would not be a significant threat. Russian naval intervention may lead to conflict with Ukraine’s navy but Russia’s advanced naval technology and air superiority is likely to overcome Ukrainian resistance.

However, one very promising weapon system is the Neptune anti-ship mobile cruise missile with a range of 300 km, capable of destroying Russia’s invading Black Sea surface fleet, and launching from a truck. The survivable Neptune is an excellent first priority deterrence option in that Russian invasion planners would have to factor in the cost of restoring their Black Sea fleet, bridges, military airports, and multiple other assets used for staging and transport of its military and naval assets.

Air Defense. Until recently Ukraine had one of Europe’s largest and most capable surface-to-air systems in Europe. However, in light of overwhelming Russian air-power and advances, this system requires modernization and remains one of Ukraine’s most critical vulnerabilities. If, as is likely, Ukraine’s air force and fixed air defense installations can be neutralized within the first few days of an invasion, it leaves Russia free to roam Ukrainian skies and target whatever appears to be of military value. Therefore, the man-portable Strela and Igla missiles which have been proven effective in combat should be further refined and distributed in sufficient quantities to deny low flying enemy aircraft and helicopters access to Ukrainian skies. They will not, however, reach the elevation of fighter jets and bombers.

In the short term, the only aircraft that does not need an airfield, may survive Russian pre-emptive targeting, and is invaluable as a counterforce during the first few days or weeks of an invasion are helicopters for transporting troops and supplies, medical evacuation, and close-in attacks on Russian troop and armor concentrations. Ukraine’s 25–30 Soviet-era attack helicopters and 35–45 transport helicopters should be augmented with the KT112 light combat helicopter equipped with anti-tank and SAM missiles as well as a RPK machine gun. In addition, every effort should be made to expedite production, under license, of Bell UH-1 Iroquois military helicopters in the government-owned Odesa Aviation Factory.

Although there has been much written and discussion about acquisition of more advanced aircraft to replace Ukraine’s fleet of Soviet era Mig-29 and Su-27 jet fighters, the cost and time-line for completion up through the point of battle readiness is too long to consider as a priority for purpose of deterrence. Only after Ukraine takes on more and more of the features of a “porcupine” state, with a high probability of deterrence and survivability, should funding commence for this critical but long-term defense/deterrent layer.


…Ukraine can make the cost of any invasion so great that the Russian bear will have to choke on it…

For the last 8 years Ukraine has been under continuing threat of both loss of statehood and national genocide from a cabal of predatory, bullying, self-serving thugs operating out of the Kremlin. Ukraine has done nothing to deserve this; has tried to maintain peaceful and mutually beneficial relations with its northern neighbor; and has had to endure the loss of 7 % of its territory, hundreds of thousands displaced refugees, 14,000 casualties, poverty, humiliation, mass migration — largely orchestrated by a deceptive (perhaps deranged) “ruskiy” fuehrer.

Now there are powerful military forces within a few miles of Ukraine’s border, beating their shields with their swords and laying siege to Ukraine. Ukraine cannot hope to match Russian military force with its own. The battlefield is simply too out of balance. But it can make the cost of any invasion so great that the Russian bear will have to choke on it. Not only will he lose much of his military force and some very valuable assets, but he will have to explain to his people why so many of their sons and husbands are returning in body bags; why the world views Russia as a pariah and pestilence; and why they will have to further tighten their already tight belts because of sanctions far greater than they had ever known.

Ukraine must become a “porcupine” state. And it is a credit to Pres. Zelenskyi and his Administration that — at last — Ukraine has a National Security Strategy that will transform Ukraine into such a state… It is called “total” or “comprehensive” defense. And it simply means that every Ukrainian resident will be urged to participate in one way or another towards both halting Russian advances, and (if their advances succeed) making those advances very painful to the invader. The good news is that Ukraine need no longer rely on the military support of any foreign power because it can fund and develop most of what it needs.

In order to accomplish that, Ukrainian authorities must recognize that they are not likely to get the kind of support from abroad they need to hold the line and that they must be prepared to exact a price in blood for every square meter of Ukrainian soil the enemy occupies. They must recognize that within a few days of the invasion Ukraine may have very little ability to contest dominion of its skies, and anything that is fixed or moves would be vulnerable to Russian targeting. Hence, a ship, a new fighter jet, a fixed air defense system (and all that they cost) may be lost even before given the opportunity to use them. And every dollar that is spent out of Ukraine’s defense budget should be measured in accordance with survivability of the asset, its cost effectiveness (“bang for the buck”), and to what extent it will convince Russian military planners that crossing Ukraine’s “red line” will be far from a cake walk.

That is why Ukraine must start developing, producing, and buying advanced “smart” armaments; recruit, equip, and train thousands upon thousands of in-depth “territorial defense” forces/partisans; and prepare the public to withstand a period of repression because the alternative is unthinkable. Some features of “total defense” have already been instituted in the Baltic States and Poland even though they are members of NATO because they know that — ultimately — they can only depend on themselves.

We have introduced the reader to some relevant options in dealing with Putin, many of which are already in process and well within reach as part of Ukraine’s new defense strategy. But tight and speedy implementation is critical.

Time is running out.


About authors:

George Woloshyn is a former Associate Director of FEMA responsible for its National Preparedness program. During his federal career in three administrations he also served as OPM’s Director of the Office of Investigations responsible for the government-wide civil service personnel security program, and retired from a regulatory agency as its Inspector General. Mr. Woloshyn is a retired naval officer, has an MBA and J.D. degree and has been active in his retirement with charitable projects in Ukraine.

Eugene Stakhiv is a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water project engineer, with project planning experience in many nations, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ukraine, and Central and SE Asia. He was Director for Policy, Planning and Special Studies at the Corps’ Institute for Water Resources, where he led many international water resources studies, in joint ventures with the World Bank, USAID, UN, UNESCO, WMO and UNDP. Mr. Stakhiv has a PhD in engineering and currently teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

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