Kazakhstan has announced ambitious plans to become the leading regional exporter of arms in Central Asia, transforming its defense industry capabilities within the next two years in order to export mainly artillery systems. Kazakhstan Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov has confirmed that the country intends to sell such weapons not only on the Central Asia arms market but also on a broader international scale.
A key factor in developing modern military technology that will prove to be of interest in the supply of arms has been Kazakhstan’s defense relationship with Israel. Akhmetov explained that Kazakhstan’s defense industry is able to “keep pace with modern military technology and has no comparison in terms of quality in the armies of CIS countries. As the main condition for purchasing new samples of military hardware, we demand that all technical documentation be handed over. Under the money in exchange for technology scheme, for example, we purchased the new Nayza missile system from Israel and obtained all technical documentation for manufacturing this system at the Petropavlovsk heavy machinery building plant in the North Kazakhstan Region and some other local enterprises” (Interfax, May 13).
This artillery system is an improvement over similar systems in the inventory of Central Asian militaries, both in terms of its range and precision. Nayza has a range of up to 95 miles, with several ammunition options including Grad and Uragan missiles. This makes it possible to avoid buying and maintaining different systems for each type of missile. These characteristics are advanced in terms of the artillery systems commonly used in most CIS countries. Akhmetov said that it would be manufactured in Kazakhstan with cooperation from Russia, as the firing unit will be designed for use on the platform of Russian-made KamAZ vehicles, providing mobility for the system (Interfax, May 13).
Moreover, potential buyers for this system and the new Aybat and Semser artillery systems already appear to be expressing interest. The Aybat artillery system is a 120-mm mortar, installed on a multi-purpose light armored vehicle (MTLB). By dispensing with the need to use this by means of a carrier transported by other vehicles, crew and ammunition, but instead combining all the necessary components into a single unit, the Kazakh Ministry of Defense (MOD) believes that the time needed to prepare the system for combat is one-eighth that of other systems. The Semser has been developed on the basis of the D-30 cannon, and through close cooperation with Russia this has been modernized for use on the KamAZ vehicle, with six times as many tactical and technical features–especially relating to mobility and precision–as other systems (Interfax, May 13).
Kazakhstan’s arms exports will be carried out within the MOD by the Kazpetseksport National State Enterprise, which is also responsible for selling its military surpluses. Kazakhstan’s ambitions depend on close cooperation with Russia, serving to confirm that Astana regards its main defense and security interests as being economically interlinked with Moscow. Kazakhstan and Russia are currently planning to hold two joint military exercises this year, with the intention of stepping up the frequency of such exercises from 2009. These exercises will involve an army battalion from each side, with the first taking place in early June involving airborne troops at the Otar base in Kazakhstan. Then in September air assault battalions will hold an exercise in Chelyabinsk, Russia. “This year is remarkable for the Kazakh-Russian military cooperation, as we will hold two serious joint exercises at once for the first time in the last nine years. The level of joint exercises will seriously increase starting next year. We and our Russian colleagues plan to increase the strength of units involved in the exercises. In particular, we plan to hold exercises for land troops, air forces and some other types and arms of forces,” Akhmetov said (Interfax, May 12).
Kazakhstan’s MOD also plans an assessment of the KAZBRIG peacekeeping brigade (established on the basis of the KAZBAT peacekeeping unit) in accordance with NATO standards during the Steppe Eagle exercises in September, which is an annual military exercise held jointly with the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom. “We have set an objective to complete the assessment of KAZBRIG in accordance with NATO standards in the sphere of peacekeeping activity in September of this year, and it will be met. It has been five years since this unit was established, but only one of its companies has passed the assessment. Overall, we will step up our peacekeeping activity. The issue of deploying peacekeeping units is under the authority of parliament and the head of state. The Defense Ministry’s task is to be ready to fulfill the decision to this effect,” Akhmetov told Interfax on May 13.
Future participation of Kazakhstan’s peace support units in operations abroad may be a way of showcasing the Kazakh armed forces and perhaps also of establishing its practical credentials as Chairman of the OSCE in 2010. The main motivation for such deployments, however, may in fact relate to its increasingly active economic plans to expand and activate its defense industries.