Since 1991 Kazakhstan has pursued a multilayered foreign policy, juggling its evolving foreign initiatives from hydrocarbons to military cooperation with its former Communist master Russia through growing relationships with China and the United States. Now a fourth player is entering the market—Israel, not for Kazakhstan’s energy riches, but its defense sector.
With the assistance of Israeli defense companies Israel Military Industries (IMI), Soltam and Elbit, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Defense is developing its indigenous defense industry to manufacture three modern artillery systems at its Petropavlovsk PZTM industrial complex to equip the Kazakh army (FGUP Rosoboroneksport, July 21). What is most striking about the three systems under development is that all will incorporate advanced sensor technology, utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) both for target acquisition and post-conflict assessment.
According to Amantai Dzhutabaev, National Armaments Director, the three joint development projects are the Naiza MRS rocket system, based on IMI’s Lynx autonomous multipurpose rocket system, the Semser 120mm truck-mounted howitzer and Aibat 120 mm self-propelled (SP) mortar (Kazakhstan Segodnia, July 18). Dzhutabaev noted that UAVs are integral to the operation of each system, stating, “According to our technical missions, each division, whether the Nayza, Semser or Aibat system, will include a drone aircraft, which will show the entire battle zone on display from the system’s data.”
Dzhutabaev told journalists, “The entire world is shifting to a system of arms management and personnel and fire control procedures. In developing the new ‘Aibat,’ ‘Semser’ and ‘Naiza’ armament-artillery system—we used UAVs, which give information to these systems on target location, as well as their distance, which makes it possible to resolve complex tasks with the new armaments. Consequently all tasks will be performed using less ammunition with less involvement of troops. We therefore can address the issue of remotely administered conflict” (Zakon, July 17).
Dzhutabaev added that the three systems’ Aeronautics Defense Systems Orbiter UAVs incorporate Soltam and Elbit-designed integrated automated command-and-control (C2) systems, which provide real-time aerial reconnaissance, target data and bomb damage assessment (BDA), with the data received from the systems being fed into the overall command architecture of the joint-Israeli-Kazakh fire-control system being developed for the systems (Novosti Voenno-Promyshlennogo Kompleksa, July 18). Furthermore, according to Dzhautbayev, the Israeli contracts, besides providing for joint production of the new armaments, include training personnel to service the new artillery systems. Before the end of the year the Kazakh army will have operational one Naiza battalion, a Semser battalion and three Aibat mortar batteries (see EDM, May 20).
The new artillery systems are not solely for Kazakhstan’s internal use, as Astana intends to export the armaments to the countries of the former USSR as well, reportedly supplying “several fully equipped artillery brigades” to its Central Asian neighbors (Rosbalt, July 17). Nor are potential future exports limited to former Soviet republics—Kazakhstan’s Defense Ministry noted in a statement about the project, “New weapons systems, produced in Kazakhstan, meet the requirements of global advances in the development of precision armaments.”
On May 12 the systems’ prototypes were unveiled for Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the Otar Guards Motor Rifle Division training area near Almaty and earlier this month participated in the “Cooperation 2008” Russian-Kazakh airmobile forces’ joint exercise.
Kazakh-Israeli cooperation is not limited to the military sphere. The Kazakh ambassador to Israel, Galym Orazbakov, appointed Kazakh envoy to Israel in April, on July 14 presented his credentials to Israeli President Shimon Peres. The pair discussed expanding bilateral cooperation. During a press conference following the accreditation meeting, Orazbakov noted that Kazakhstan and Israel already cooperate within the framework of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia and the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, while Peres “noted Kazakhstan’s growing role in the modern world and expressed his admiration with the pace of the country’s development,” stating that Israel was ready to deepen its bilateral cooperation (Interfax-Kazakhstan, July 14).
Future Kazakh involvement in the Middle East might even eventually come to advance one of the U.S. administration’s most cherished agendas, establishing peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. Last December a Kazakh delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Ermekbaev visited Israel, where during a meeting between Ermekbaev and Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovich bilateral relations were discussed. A press release issued after the meeting noted intriguingly, “The sides expressed intention to closely cooperate in foreign policy, jointly work to promote peace in the Middle East, reduce tension, establish peace in the region and in the entire country” (Interfax-Kazakhstan, December 12, 2007).
The joint Kazakh-Israeli military development program is yet one more sign of the growing sophistication of Astana’s foreign policy, as its military juggles its commitments to NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and U.S.-led peacekeeping operations in Iraq while remaining a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization along with the Russian Federation and China.