It is indisputable that the main criterion for assessing the armed forces of any country is its ability to effectively perform tasks under wartime conditions, stresses Mykola Bielieskov, a Deputy Director of the Institute of World Policy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

"Nevertheless, the ability to use the defense budget as efficiently as possible can be an equally important way of assessment—when each unit of investment can achieve the greatest possible positive net effect," he wrote in a column for the National Interest.

This approach is especially useful to understand the changes that have taken place in Ukraine’s armed forces since 2014.

Read alsoUkraine's Gen. Staff says ATO over, new Operation in Donbas kicking offSince the start of confrontation with Russia, Ukraine’s defense spending has increased several times. In 2013, the army budget stood at UAH 15.2 billion; in 2017, the figure rose to UAH 64.4 billion. In 2018, Ukraine has allocated a record UAH 86.14 billion to bolster its defenses.

However, looking at the dynamics in dollar terms, the budget has seen no significant increased over the last four years, rising from $1.9 billion in 2013 and $2.35 billion in 2017 to $3.02 billion in 2018.

However, compared to early 2014, Ukraine’s armed forces have improved considerably. First of all, the Ukrainian Army is now a 250,000-strong force against a modest 157,000 troops back in 2014.

At the same time, at the beginning of Russian aggression, only some 6,000 military—right about a size of a single brigade—were in fully combat-ready and resolute to execute the political leadership’s orders. While no drills were held at brigade or regimental levels in 2013, the White Book of Ukraine’s ministry of defense logged 20 brigade-level exercises inn 2016, while ground forces conducted 26 exercises at the brigade level in 2017.

Since 2014, when a large number of tanks were inoperable, there has been a strong drive to purchase new or modernize old tanks and armored vehicles. The armed forces received a total of 4,142 tanks and armored vehicles in 2014; 3,227 units in 2015; and 530 units in 2016. Today, Ukraine has covered its needs for tanks and armored vehicles.

The quality of Ukraine’s Air Force has also changed for the better. Today, the air force has as many as 71 fully functioning fourth-generation fighters (Su-27s and MiG-29s). Between 2014 and 2017, up to sixty fighters and bombers were modernized or repaired. By mid-2017, up to 65 percent of S-300PS/PT1s and 20 percent of Buk-M1 air defense systems were repaired. Today the armed forces include 25 divisions of the S-300PS/PT1 systems, 10 Buk-M1 divisions, and an S-300V1 division.

Read alsoNational security bill tabled in Ukraine's parliamentSuccess in missile development is also worth noting. Test launches of the Vilkha missiles are planned for March 2018. This surface-to-surface system was developed on the basis of the Smerch multiple-launch rocket launcher. It will allow Ukraine’s armed forces to hit targets with high precision at a range of up to 120 km and replace the outdated tactical missile complex Tochka-U. Development of the Neptune anti-vessel cruise missile is also underway. The missile’s first public tests were conducted in January this year.

Read alsoUkraine offers latest weapons and equipment at NATO HQ for first time (photo)Over the past four years, Ukraine has managed to strengthen its defensive capabilities without a radical increase in funding. One reason for this is that the proportions of the defense budget distribution have changed: the share for procurement and modernization for weapons increased by 10% since 2014. To understand how allocated funds are spent, it should be mentioned that in 2013, Ukraine spent 10% ($190 million) of its military budget on procurement—only got two modernized airplanes, five different radar systems, a training complex for pilots, 194 navigation devices and 28 radios. Another reason is the development of an internal audit and control system—as stipulated in the Strategic Defense Bulletin—which helps to effectively utilize scarce resources. Overall, available resources are being marshalled more efficiently. Ukraine has made more strides to eliminate gaps in combat readiness in four years than in the previous twenty.