On March 16, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree on the “Reformation of the Defense Industrial Complex” (President.gov.ua, March 16). The document could have major implications for the development of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The decree was initially approved on March 6, at a session of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC), during which Poroshenko expressed firm support for the United States’ decision to abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and condemned Russia’s testing of the RS-26 Rubezh (Avangard) solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (reported striking range of 2,200 kilometers). The Ukrainian president also criticized Russia’s actions aimed at expanding the military capabilities of the Iskander-M mobile, short-range ballistic missile system (with a reported striking range of 500 km).
According to Poroshenko, Russian behavior “grants Ukraine the right to create weaponry of its own, indispensable for maintaining its military capabilities… including missile systems” (Mfa.gov.ua, March 7). Poroshenko also firmly stated that “Ukraine will not fall for the same mistakes committed with the Budapest Memorandum,” implying that creation of the most up-to-date missile systems will be one of the main priorities of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex (Interfax, March 13).
Speaking at another event on March 20, Poroshenko reiterated that Ukraine’s top priority is its missile program as the only means that “could make a potential aggressor pay a high price for potential military escalation… Now the enemy’s territory will become endangered as well” (President.gov.ua, March 20).
Based on Poroshenko’s speech, it is possible to infer that the following missile complexes could, under certain circumstances, form the new foundation of Ukraine’s missile program:
– The Vilkha rocket complex, equipped with a 300-millimeter missile. This complex is reportedly said to have a strike range of up to 170 km;
– The Neptun anti-ship cruise missile, which could be mounted on ship-, land- and air-launched platforms. In terms of technical characteristics, this missile is quite similar to the Russian Zvezda Kh-35 anti-ship cruise missile. According to available information, the reported strike range of this missile is up to 300 km, but it apparently can be extended further (Defence-ua.com, February 13);
– The Hrim-2 mobile short-range ballistic missile system, which combines features of a tactical missile complex and a multiple rocket launcher. Developed by the Yuzhnoye Design Office and A. M. Makarov Southern Machine-Building Plant, the complex is reportedly capable of targeting land-, sea- and air-located objects. Importantly, the reported strike range of 280 km is said to be a “formality,” as the distance could be extended to 480 km. As noted by the leading expert of the military magazine Defense Express, Anton Mikhnenko, “For now, this complex is being produced for export, which might change in the near future” (Obozrevatel.com, February 11). Other sources show that research and development operations have been financed by Saudi Arabia. They claim that Saudi interest is primarily driven by the fact that the Hrim-2 could pose competition to the Russian Iskander-M, a weapon that Russia refuses to export except for a less advanced and shorter-range version (UNIAN, January 3, 2018).
It is important to address the broad spectrum of assessments by Russian and Ukrainian experts. As noted by Ukrainian parliamentarian and military expert Dmytro Tymchuk, the current capabilities of Ukraine’s military-industrial complex have now reached the levels necessary for the creation of new missiles and missile complexes (Obozrevatel.com, February 11, 2019). From his side, NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov claimed several years ago that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had successfully tested intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) at a specially created military polygon. According to Turchynov, Ukraine wields the necessary potential to accomplish the goals of its missile program (Zaxid.net, August 26, 2016).
However, this optimism is not shared by everyone. For instance, the deputy director of the Kyiv-based Institute of World Policy, Nikolay Bielieskov, writes that “Ukraine is incapable of engaging in a symmetric response to Russia” in the realms of missile-related initiatives. This is primarily stipulated by the lack of financial means. According to Bielieskov, a basic comparative analysis of the military budgets of countries that have similar missiles in their arsenals show that they spend no less than $10 billion per year (the only exception is Pakistan), whereas Ukraine’s military budget is only $3.5 billion. Bielieskov also argues that all related expenditures on advanced missile development will have to be financed “from Ukraine’s own pocket… not a single foreign investor will be willing to pay this kind of money.” Moreover, he expresses doubts that potential possession of these missiles would preclude Moscow from engaging in further aggressive behavior (Liga.net, March 12, 2019).
On the Russian side, Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, at the Russian Academy of Sciences, stated that, de facto, “Ukrainians can produce excellent missiles with both conventional and nuclear warheads, but will they do it is a purely political matter.” He noted that, in solely technical terms, this is possible: after all “they have already produced mobile launchers with a striking distance of up to 500 km… but they can extend this distance, this is not a problem” (Rosbalt, March 4).
At the same time, Major General (ret.) Pavel Zolotarev, a member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (SVOP), expressed similar beliefs. He argued that when “it comes to Ukraine’s technical-scientific potential, production of such missiles is a trifle. As you all know, a sizable part of our weaponry, including strategic missiles, was created in Ukrainian factories… Even despite the fact that a considerable share of experts abandoned Ukraine, its potential is still sufficient… The rest will depend on the Ukrainian political leadership” (Rosbalt, March 4).
In conclusion, it would not be superfluous to quote Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has categorically argued against the emergence of missiles of this type on Ukrainian territory. Specifically, he stated earlier this month, “We need to understand that the Russians cannot allow these missiles to be deployed there [Ukraine]. We express full solidarity on this issue with the Russian side.” Lukashenka also expressed hope that “Ukraine will not become a playground for big nations,” because “Ukrainians do not deserve it” (Rosbalt, March 1). So while Ukraine likely has the know-how to begin arming itself with short- and medium-range missiles, not everyone in the region welcomes the potential implications of such a development.