Kazakhstan is set to boost its military exports markedly during 2006, as it seeks to expand its access to international arms markets and further strengthen its defense industry. This concerted drive towards enhancing Kazakhstan’s role as an arms exporter will put a priority on several special products.
On February 10 Galym Orazbakov, president of the state-owned company Kazakhstan Engineering, explained in Astana, “We expect the export of the company’s special products to double in 2006,” compared to its record in 2005. The key focus of this will be exports to the Indo-Pacific region. “Recently, we held talks with our partners in India and Egypt who are planning to hold tenders for the purchase of arms. The company is planning to take part in these,” he added. Although the law on state secrets strictly limits reporting on these issues in Kazakhstan, minimizing transparency in the conduct of the arms industry, Orazbakov indicated that these special products would include depth charges and torpedoes (Interfax, February 10).
Orazbakov’s confidence in Kazakhstan Engineering, set up spring 2003 to consolidate 21 mostly machine-building companies, is rooted in the level of demand from the Indo-Pacific region and the number of contracts currently secured with these countries. It also reflects Kazakhstan’s intensive diplomacy with these trading partners as well as the positive evaluation placed on the Kazakh products. The export of special products, including torpedoes and depth charges, rose in 2004 by 4%. Orazbakov said, “Historically, we have been carrying out a number of joint projects with India aimed at modernizing and repairing the torpedoes belonging to the Indian Navy. Also, we are designing a new torpedo called Kazy.”
However, Orazbakov has identified domestic targets for his next ventures throughout this year, as he looks to capitalize on the trend towards the authorities spending slightly more on defense products for its armed forces and security agencies. Domestic sales of goods have risen by 5.6% compared with 2004, based on the increased demands from President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s military reform program. Yet the main features of this domestic rise relate to the Zenit joint stock company producing Sunkar-M military cutters, and the aircraft repair plant No. 405, which repairs military helicopters.
Also on February 10 Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev held meetings with U.S. ambassador John Ordway, Russian ambassador Vladimir Babichev, and Indian ambassador Ashok Mukherjee in Astana. Predictably the Kazakh Foreign Ministry reported that Tokayev had “discussed expanding bilateral contacts in various areas of cooperation and looked at a wide range of international and regional issues of mutual interest.” Yet, Mukherjee presented Tokayev with an invitation to come to India on an official visit this year, signaling greater interest in Delhi for forging stronger links with Kazakhstan and increasing Indian interest in Central Asia (Interfax, February 10).
It is clear that the Indian dimension is central to the hopes for greater sales output from Kazakhstan’s defense industries. Indeed a Kazakh delegation recently participated in an international exhibition of land and naval weapons, Defexpo India 2006, in Delhi. Consequently, the Indian government expressed interest in holding talks on procuring torpedoes and mines for the Indian Navy. “The major result for Kazakhstan, which took part in such an exhibition for the first time, is that the Indian Ministry of Defense has expressed an interest in cooperation with our defense companies. In the future, talks can be conducted on selling Kazakh torpedoes and naval mines to India,” a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of Defense confirmed (Khabar TV, February 6).
The Indian Navy is currently equipped with hundreds of torpedoes that were produced in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era. Kazakhstan’s specialists in this field are clearly hoping to foster their own niche within the naval arms market. Sources within the Indian firm Larsen and Toubro believe that production of such arms could shift to plants in India, with Kazakh expertise and supervision.
Kazakhstan, despite its very close political relationship with Russia, has sought for some time to diversify its security network and enhance its armed forces, as well as supporting defense reform through looking beyond its traditional allies. Nurtay Abykayev, the speaker of the Senate (the Kazakh parliament’s upper house) met Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv February 9-11 and discussed strengthening bilateral relations between both countries within the Commonwealth of Independent States Inter-Parliamentary Assembly. Astana is capable of pursuing such efforts to strengthen bilateral relations, not for the benefit of the CIS institution, but for its own ends. It will, therefore, ruthlessly pursue its military export interests, even if this arouses suspicion in some quarters in Moscow concerning the rising security interests in Central Asia of other powers such as India.
Domestically, the defense industries, although lacking in transparency, often provide a glimpse of where the Kazakh government is spending money to procure weapons for its armed forces. Nazarbayev’s commitment to developing a Naval security component to the armed forces, as his country’s contribution towards Caspian security, may be measured in how such companies supply the Kazakh Navy.