Nato programme has been massively beneficial for Ireland and Ukraine, says Defence Forces officer

Commandant Daire Roache says he has personally witnessed the transformation of Ukraine’s military from a ‘basket case’ to an effective fighting force

A senior Irish officer responsible for evaluating the Ukrainian military says he has witnessed it transform from a “basket case” into a remarkably effective fighting force in recent years.

Defence Forces Commandant Daire Roache is an evaluator under Nato’s Operational Capability Concept (OCC) of which Ireland is a member.

The purpose of the OCC programme is to bring the militaries of non-Nato countries up to Nato standards. Cmdt Roache said the OCC programme has been extremely beneficial to the militaries of Ireland and Ukraine in recent years.

The OCC is one of a number of Nato partnership programmes the Defence Forces is involved in under the Partnership for Peace initiative which Ireland joined in 1999.

As well as evaluating Irish military capabilities, Cmdt Roach is a trained evaluator for other countries taking part in the OCC programme, including Ukraine.

Ukraine entered an accelerated OCC programme in 2014 after its military performed poorly in resisting the invasion of its eastern territory.

Cmdt Roache said he has been “very fortunate” to witness the improvement of its military during several evaluation visits since then, including one in late 2021, just before Russia mounted a full-scale attack on the country.

“I was in Ukraine in 2017, 2019 and late 2021. I watched them be a basket case in ‘17 and kind of getting it together in ‘19, really seeing certain improvements,” he said. “And in late ‘21, I was genuinely impressed in Lviv with the way in which Nato command and control systems had permeated down, particularly to the junior ranks.”

He said, as a result of the programme, junior officers and noncommissioned officers have a large amount of autonomy.

“You’re given a broad idea of what you want to achieve and you’re given the freedom to go and achieve that.”

Cmdt Roache said the Russian military does not have this advantage. This means that the most senior commanders are being forced to come to the front lines to get their troops to attack. “There’s a reason why three star generals are getting shot on the frontline.”

The OCC process is one of two reasons Ukraine is “sticking it to” a military many multiples of their own size, he said. “The other reason is incredibly sophisticated weaponry delivered by the West.”

Ireland joined the OCC in 2016 and is at Level One of the two-stage process. Cmdt Roache compared this to the Junior Certificate. Ukraine is about to complete Level Two, “the Leaving Cert”, he said.

The Defence Forces has so far completed three OCC evaluations, in the areas of land, maritime and special forces. Nato is evaluating its artillery capabilities.

He said the Defence Forces have benefited “massively” from OCC membership. “It reinforces the things we think we’re good at and reminds us of the things we need to work on.”

Ireland “absolutely” receives more from Nato than it contributes, Cmdt Roache said. But, unlike some countries, Ireland also pays for its participation, which gives it more flexibility and means it is invited to more training exercises.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times