New weapons emerge as Ukraine sheds Soviet past

Kyiv Post - - Business Focus - BY WILL PONOMARENK­O [email protected]

For a coun­try at war, Ukraine ex­ports a lot of weapons.

How­ever, the coun­try sells fewer than it did be­fore Rus­sia launched its war on Ukraine in 2014, seiz­ing Crimea and in­sti­gat­ing vi­o­lence in the eastern Don­bas that has killed 10,000 peo­ple.

The war closed off the Rus­sian arms mar­ket, once Ukraine’s big­gest weapons buy­ers.

Ukraine has re­sponded by seek­ing out new cus­tomers and de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts in a bid to shift away from the dwin­dling sur­plus stock that Ukraine in­her­ited after the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

So the search is on not just for new buy­ers, but new weapons to sell.

Old stock

Ac­cord­ing to a Swedish think tank, the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, Ukraine was the world’s 10th big­gest weapons ex­porter in 2016, sell­ing $528 mil­lion.

While 53 per­cent more than in 2015, Ukrainian arms ex­ports took a steep dive in 2014, amid war and re­ces­sion.

China is emerg­ing from the ad­just­ment as Ukraine’s big­gest cus­tomer, tak­ing $316 mil­lion or 21 per­cent of Kyiv’s arms sales be­tween 2014 and 2016. Other big buy­ers over this same pe­riod in­clude Thai­land ($160 mil­lion), In­dia ($116 mil­lion), the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo ($86 mil­lion), Viet­nam ($84 mil­lion), and Equa­to­rial Guinea ($80 mil­lion).

Over­all, in the five-year pe­riod from 2011 to 2015, Ukraine ac­counted for 2.6 per­cent of weapons sales glob­ally.

But even with the re­cov­ery that started in 2016, Ukraine’s sales have a long way to go to get back to pre­war lev­els. In 2012, arms sales peaked at $1.5 bil­lion.

More­over, many of Ukraine’s arms ex­ports con­sists of stocks of re­paired Soviet-era weaponry. De­spite the on­go­ing war, Ukraine still sells tens of thou­sands of firearms: in 2014 to 2015, some Soviet-era 40,000 ri­fles, 900 ma­chine guns, 590 pis­tols and 100 as­sault ri­fles were sold abroad.

It also sold 230 man-por­ta­ble air-de­fense sys­tems, ac­cord­ing to Ukraine’s State Ser­vice of Ex­port Con­trols. The United States, Canada, the Czech Repub­lic, Be­larus, Uganda, Zam­bia and the South Su­dan are cur­rently among the top buy­ers of these types of weapons.

Big­ger ticket items sold abroad in­clude two An-26 transport air­craft to Mozam­bique, one MiG-29s fighter to Chad and two Mi-24 he­li­copters to Nige­ria. Also go­ing to Nige­ria were 18122 mm D-30 how­itzers, although they are much needed by Ukrainian forces in the Don­bas.

Mod­ern­ized tanks

An­other prob­lem with sell­ing off old stock abroad is that while it brings in for­eign cur­rency, it doesn’t gen­er­ate any work for the arms in­dus­try at home.

Ukraine is try­ing to counter this draw­back by us­ing Soviet-era tanks as the ba­sis for mod­ern­ized ar­mor that it can sell at a pre­mium abroad.

The best known of these “new” prod­ucts is the T-84 Oplot main bat­tle tank, de­signed in 2008 by the Moro­zov Bu­reau in Kharkiv on the ba­sis of the Soviet-era T-80. With its Du­plet ac­tive ar­mor pro­vid­ing up to 90 per­cent pro­tec­tion against shaped-charge and ar­mor-pierc­ing pro­jec­tiles, this ad­vanced com­bat ve­hi­cle is con­sid­ered one of the most sur­viv­able heavy tanks in the world.

The T-84 Oplot’s de­fense sys­tems can in­ter­cept and neu­tral­ize self-pro­pelled rock­ets, while its Varta sys­tem de­tects laser sight­ing spots from en­emy anti-tank guided mis­sile sys­tems, which it coun­ters with a smoke screen.

The Oplot is armed with a 125mm au­to­mat­i­cally-load­ing main gun, along with its coax­ial ma­chine gun and anti-air­craft tur­ret. And if fa­tally hit in the bat­tle­field, the tank in­creases the sur­viv­abil­ity of its per­son­nel with an ad­vanced fire sup­pres­sion sys­tem and emer­gency es­cape hatches.

Ac­cord­ing to Ukraine’s de­fense in­dus­try con­cern Ukroboron­prom, the ex­port ver­sion of Oplot costs up to $5 mil­lion per unit – af­ford­able com­pared to anal­o­gous Wester­nand Rus­sian-built ma­chines.

How­ever, Ukraine lacks pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity – it can make only five Oplots a year – and this has hurt its only ex­port or­der to date, with Thai­land. In 2011, Ukraine struck a $241 mil­lion deal with Thai­land for 49 Oplots, with the pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion to 200 tanks.

But Kyiv has re­peat­edly failed to meet de­liv­ery dead­lines, and so far has supplied only 25 tanks to the Thai Royal Army, which could well make other po­ten­tial buy­ers wary.

An­other Ukrainian mod­i­fi­ca­tion of an old Soviet tank is the T-72UA1 – a mod­ern­ized ex­port ver­sion of the old Soviet T-72, of which Ukraine in­her­ited at least 2,800.

The moth­balled T-72s, which Ukraine’s mil­i­tary couldn’t af­ford to keep in ser­vice, have since 2011 been used as the ba­sis for the T-72UA1.

To pro­duce T-72UA1s, Kyiv Ar­mor Plant equips older T-72B tanks with the mod­ern Nozh and Kon­takt-1 re­ac­tive ar­mor sys­tems and a more pow­er­ful 5TDFMA 1050 horse­power en­gine.

Mod­ern­iz­ing and re­pair­ing one T-72UA1 tank costs $250,000, the plant told the Kyiv Post, mak­ing it cheaper over­all than Rus­sian mod­i­fied ver­sions of the T-72. In 2011, Ethiopia and Ukraine struck a $100 mil­lion deal for up to 200 tanks, and ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, 143 Ukrainian T-72UA1s en­tered ser­vice in Ethiopia by 2015.

Sim­i­larly, Ukraine ex­ports an­other up­graded Soviet-era tank, the T-64B, re­paired and mod­ern­ized to be­come the T-64B1M. In 2014, the Kharkiv Tank Plant pre­sented this mod­i­fi­ca­tion as sim­pli­fied and cheaper T-64 ver­sion pro­tected with Nozh re­ac­tive ar­mor and a safer am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zine. Un­der a $10-mil­lion deal, Ukraine supplied 50 of these tanks to the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo by 2016.

New APCs

Ukraine can, how­ever, of­fer new prod­ucts to the arms mar­ket. These in­clude a new ar­mored per­son­nel car­rier, the BTR-4 Bucel­phalus (named after Alexander the Great’s horse), which has been pro­duced at the Maly­shev Tank Fac­tory in Kharkiv since 2008.

The eight-wheel-drive BTR-4 is among the most ad­vanced ve­hi­cles of its type. It can op­er­ate on any ter­rain and un­der all weather and bat­tle­field con­di­tions, in­clud­ing when nu­clear, bi­o­log­i­cal or chem­i­cal weapons have been used.

The ve­hi­cle can transport up to eight soldiers, and de­liver fire from its over­head weapons sta­tion, which is equipped with anti-tank guided mis­siles, a ma­chine gun, and grenade launcher.

The price tag is mod­er­ate too, at $1.6 mil­lion, so the BTR-4 has at­tracted Asian and African cus­tom- ers. Around 10 BTR-4s were pro­duced for Nige­ria in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, and five were de­liv­ered to In­done­sia for ground tests, in­clud­ing two up­graded BTR-4Ms with the Ukrainian-made BM-7 Parus com­bat tur­ret.

Ear­lier, 60 BTR-4s were sold to Iraq, although the last de­liv­ery of 42 units was re­jected as de­fec­tive. Still, Iraqi-op­er­ated BTR-4s have been in ac­tion against Is­lamic State, and one is re­ported to have sur­vived a di­rect rocket hit by Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Oc­to­ber 2014 near Bagh­dad.

Be­fore that, Ukraine’s best sell­ing APC was the BTR-3U Guardian, pro­duced in Kyiv since 2001. Thai­land or­dered a batch of BTR-3Us in a $170 mil­lion deal in 2012, and as of 2016 had taken de­liv­ery of at least 115 ve­hi­cles. These in­clude anti-tank ver­sions armed with Shk­val fight­ing mod­ules, which are equipped with 30 mm can­nons, 7.62 mm ma­chine guns, au­to­matic grenade launch­ers and two Konkurs-M anti-tank guided mis­sile sys­tems.


Ex­ports of Ukrainian war­planes are yet to take off. Most sales abroad were of Soviet sur­plus, such as the An-26s Ukraine sold to Mozam­bique.

But in 2011 the state de­fense hold­ing Ukroboron­prom struck a $45 mil­lion deal to de­liver three Il-78 aerial re­fu­el­ing tankers to China, which were re­paired and mod­ern­ized at Myko­laiv Air­craft Re­pair Plant. Ukraine supplied the third and last plane in 2016.

Ukraine has also sold air­craft re­pair ser­vices to Croa­tia, in a $14 mil­lion deal to over­haul that coun­try’s seven MiG-21 fight­ers – a Sovi­et­made third gen­er­a­tion jet still in ser­vice in 19 coun­tries. Ukraine also man­aged to sell Croa­tia five of its own MiG-21bis fight­ers.

To arm MiG and Su fight­ers, Ukraine can of­fer the Soviet-era R-27 air-to-air mis­sile, which is made at the Artem state-run hold­ing in Kyiv. In 2014, Poland pur­chased 40 R-27R1 rock­ets for its MiG-29 fight­ers.

In com­bat, the Ukrainian-made R-27s have a range of up to 60 kilo­me­ters and max­i­mum ceil­ings of 25 kilo­me­ters. Al­ge­ria has bought 55 of the mis­siles; In­done­sia and Chad have also made trial pur­chases.

Ukrainian-made mil­i­tary air­craft en­gines pro­duced by the Mo­tor Sich com­pany in Za­por­izhzhya also sell well. Ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, Ukraine has de­liv­ered dozens of mod­ern AI-222 tur­bo­fans, used in Yak-130 and Hondu L-15 light jets, to Bangladesh, Be­larus and Zam­bia, where train­ing and com­bat war­plane fleets are be­ing de­vel­oped.

Mo­tor Sich also main­tains sales of its older AI-25 tur­bo­fan via China’s sales of its K-8 fighter, which use the en­gine in fa­vor of Rus­sian-made ver­sions. China has sold its K-8 fight­ers to a dozen coun­tries.

The T-84 Oplot main bat­tle tank is shown at the Maly­shev Fac­tory in Kharkiv on Feb. 23. Ukraine’s most ad­vanced tank is con­sid­ered one of the best com­bat ve­hi­cles in the world. (Wla­dys­law Musi­ienko)

Since Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine in 2014, China has be­come the top buyer of Ukrainian-made weapons.

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