Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced, on February 11, that Ukroboronprom (a state-owned association of multi-product enterprises in the defense industry) has successfully tested a new type of domestically produced air-to-ground rocket with impressive technical characteristics (Pravda.com.ua, February 11). This 80 millimeter caliber munition can be launched from both attack helicopters and strike fighters. A round of 20 rockets can be fired within half a second. The Ukrainian-built munition and other recent defense-sector developments (see EDM, January 25) suggest that the timetable for modernizing Ukraine’s armed forces—as put forth by Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak and President Poroshenko—is meeting the target goal of bringing domestic standards up to those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by 2020.
As expected, the news produced a wave of harsh criticism from Russian military specialists and commentators. Mihail Hodarenok, a former editor-in-chief of Voenno-Prosmyshelennyj Kurier, blatantly accused Ukraine of “reinventing the wheel” and capitalizing on the legacy of the Soviet military-industrial complex. He also suggested that this 80 mm munition “has nothing to do with NATO standards” (Bfm.ru, February 11). Meanwhile, the editor-in-chief of Arsenal Otechestva magazine, Viktor Murahovsky, expressed doubt that Ukraine will be able to mass produce this type of rocket “any time soon.” Murahovsky claimed that the country does not have enough qualified specialists to achieve sufficient production levels in a timely manner (Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier, February 13). Such arguments were also echoed by other Russian experts and pundits.
However, some officials in Moscow have been less singularly negative in their assessments. For instance, army general and former commander of the Russian Air Force Petr Deynekyn gave a much more nuanced interpretation. He admitted that given Ukraine’s current economic hardships, it will probably take some time for its military-industrial complex to start mass producing this weaponry. Nevertheless, the high-ranking Russian officer did not dismiss the possibility that the country’s arms manufacturers have indeed made a technological breakthrough with the announced 80 mm rocket. Namely, Deynekyn noted that during the Soviet period, “Ukraine used to be an aviation power,” where “excellent missiles were produced” (Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier, February 13).
In the meantime, Ukraine’s technological and military modernization pursuits appear to be a matter of growing concern and vexation for Moscow. For instance, Kyiv’s decision to conduct shooting exercises with the employment of Buk-M1 (NATO classification SA-17 “Grizzly”) complexes in the vicinity of the unlawfully annexed Crimean peninsula stimulated particular ire in the Kremlin. Numerous Russian experts and commentators have expressed their concern over this decision, suggesting that this move will constitute a “peril for Russian national security.” The danger, according to these Russian commentators, allegedly stems from the lack of professionalism and outdated military equipment used by the Ukrainian military (Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier, February 13).
However, the real reason behind Russia’s concerns may be fears of a growing competitor in the international arms trade. Despite chronic corruption scandals, difficult economic conditions and the consequences of external aggression, Ukraine still maintains substantial development and production potential within its domestic arms industry. A sensible use of the country’s internal resources and a quicker passage of necessary reforms, coupled with external support, could create fertile ground for new achievements and exponentially increase Ukraine’s presence on the global arms market. In fact, Ukrainian progress in this sphere thus far was recently highlighted at this year’s International Defence Exhibition (IDEX-2017—hosted by Abu Dhabi, between February 19 and 23). During the exhibition, Ukraine presented a number of new samples of weaponry that drew considerable interest from potential international buyers. One such example was the tactical unmanned multifunctional vehicle “Fantom.” The Fantom is equipped with the “Barrier” anti-tank missile complex, which is be able to hit targets in the range of 100 to 5,000 meters (Ukroboronprom.com.ua, October 20, 2016). In addition, during the Abu Dhabi arms expo, Ukroboronprom presented a new light fighting helicopter, code-named KТ112 “Combat.” The helicopter could be equipped with the “Barrier-V” anti-tank missile system, designed to destroy practically all types of armored targets. Also, the helicopter can be equipped with “Strela-2” and “Igla” missiles, for destroying flying objects (Ukroboronprom.com.ua, March 1).
According to Ukrainian military experts and veterans of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), which still continues in Donbas, Ukrainian arms producers have been able to overcome many deficiencies in military equipment that were visible in 2014. The main progress was apparently achieved in armored vehicles, tanks and tank guns—areas that proved to be the weakest link in 2014, at the start of hostilities between the Ukrainian army and Moscow-backed separatists. Additionally, the outbreak of war has enticed Ukrainian producers to resume work on long-range missile systems. Those had been largely halted in 2013 for a whole host of reasons, but primarily owing to the unwillingness of the previous authorities to invest in new military technologies (Ukroboronprom.com.ua, March 1).
During IDEX-2017, the majority of contracts between Ukrainian manufacturers and foreign buyers were signed in the domain of armored vehicles and optical electronics. As noted by an unnamed Ukroboronprom representative, “Ukrainian military products are valued on the international market primarily due to their compliance with requirements presented by contemporary standards.” Most important, however, is the fact that Russia’s so-called “hybrid war” against Ukraine (even though this term does not reflect the actual current stage of the conflict) has reinvigorated technical research and development pursued by the Ukrainian military-industrial complex (Ukroboronprom.com.ua, March 1).
In the final analysis, in spite of a torrent of criticism emanating from both Russian and even some Ukrainian experts, it is safe to say that Ukraine has achieved visible progress within the arms industry, especially in comparison with the pre-2014 period. Incidentally, this has been corroborated by external sources as well. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Ukraine was the ninth-biggest of the world’s major weapons exporters during 2012–2016 (Sipri.org, February 22). And its arms sales in that period grew by nearly 50 percent over 2007–2011 (Sipri.org, February 20). Further development of Ukraine’s domestic arms industry is certain to continue in the years ahead.