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Can Pakistan capitalize upon Ukraine’s Defence Industry?

Ukraine is implementing an extensive re-armament program for its armed forces along, in tandem, with growing the output and activity of its defence industry. The policy was cemented in August 2017, when Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, announced that Kiev was “launching a program of military and technical modernization of the army,” which would include “bringing [Ukraine’s] weapons to the level of the 21st century.”[1] To finance the effort, Ukraine also increased its annual defence budget from $4.9 billion US in 2017 to $6.1 billion US for 2018, a substantial 28% increase.[2] Of this, $603 million US is to be spent on procurement, repair and modernization of equipment for the armed forces.[3]

In terms of Ukraine, the surge of defence spending will translate into funding for its defence industry, which, while beset for many years with slow-moving, technically muddled and, generally, uncertain programs, has genuine potential to generate quality and cost-effective solutions. Furthermore, Kiev has repeatedly expressed its interest in partnering with other countries, namely in Central Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, to share in the funding, development and production of its new weapon systems. In fact, Saudi Arabia has already signed on through the Antonov An-132D, a lightweight transport and special mission aircraft. Others, such as China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are probing for opportunities. However, curiously – yet also unsurprisingly – Pakistan is not a factor, despite the apparent synergy and Kiev’s willingness to engage Islamabad on cooperation in defence.

Background

Defence ties between Pakistan and Ukraine have not been particularly strong, at least beyond several off-the-shelf purchases, most notably 320 T-80UD main battle tanks (MBT) and 4 refurbished Ilyushin Il-78 in-flight refueling (IFR) tankers from Ukraine’s surplus stocks. In terms of actual co-development, the closest example of it had been the Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) al-Khalid MBT, for which HIT procured the 6TD-2 1,200 hp diesel engine and dynamic components (e.g. transmission) from Ukraine. However, the paucity of active Ukrainian defence programs and shortage of funding at both ends through the 2000s and early 2010s (leading to the Crimean Crisis) was not opportune for further technical cooperation.

Despite the lack of activity, Pakistan’s ties with Ukraine spurred two important – and arguably strategic – gains for Pakistan. First, an engine for what was intended to be the Pakistan Army’s mainstay MBT, the al-Khalid. Second, air-to-air refueling (AAR) for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), providing it with the means to offset the inherent endurance deficiencies of its single engine lightweight fighters, namely the JF-17 and Mirage III/5. Lacking long-endurance, long-range and high-payload fighters, AAR is a vital asset for the PAF in its maritime operations and strike efforts. There have also been reports of Ukraine assisting Pakistan in its cruise missile program by transferring ex-Soviet Kh-55.[4] In addition, Pakistan is also regularly importing spare parts and engines from the Ukrainian aero-propulsion manufacturer Motor Sich.[5] This likely relates to Pakistan’s Mil Mi-171 fleet (Motor Sich manufactures TV3-117 and VK2500-series turboshaft engines), though it should be noted that Motor Sich is also a manufacturer of miniature turbofan engines. Motor Sich’s MS400 has a thrust of 3.92 kN[6], a plausible option for the Babur-series of cruise missiles. Thus, the lack of energy on Pakistan’s part to emphasize relations with Ukraine is counterintuitive.

One can acknowledge the inertia of Pakistan’s decision-making (an unfortunate reality), but the Pakistani intelligentsia has shied away from discussing the prospect. The common refrain has been Russia, namely the sense that Pakistan would have to cool its ties with Ukraine to entice Russia. However, it appears that Pakistan is the only country pursuing such a tract, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even China nurturing ties – including defence ties – with both Kiev and Moscow. In fact, when Moscow itself is deeply engaging with New Delhi – despite the latter’s closeness with Washington – it is curious why Pakistanis have unilaterally obliged themselves to cater for Moscow when, in all likelihood, there was no such expectation.

Granted, Pakistan’s own paucity of funding and need to prioritize programs of long-term and far-reaching utility will preclude it from partnering in many programs. It would be understandable for Pakistan to look away from the An-132D, but it would be rash to ignore Ukraine’s radar development efforts, its industrial expertise (e.g. gas turbine production), experience in turbofan engines and its overall scientific base, the latter enabling it to genuinely revive its defence industry and to participate in marquee programs, such as the European space program.[7] Pakistan has much to gain, and with Kiev in an amenable state in terms of trading expertise, transfer-of-technology and co-production for funding and scale, it is time to consider it.

Opportunities

Continuing with the theme of relatively unassuming, but strategically important programs – such as AAR or an engine for a mainstay MBT – Ukraine could be an avenue for contributing to industrial development. For example, Pakistan could engage with Zorya-Mashproekt to collaborate on gas turbine development and production. It need not be directed to a tangible defence outcome, it could simply be a program to curtail Pakistan’s imports of such systems for its energy needs. The resultant science and engineering base could later be leveraged to undertake the development of ship propulsion. Likewise, it can forge relations to pursue electronics development and manufacturing work in Pakistan (e.g. establishing a semiconductor fabrication plant) ahead of radar and electronic warfare systems manufacturing.

Industrial collaboration can form the foundation (or simply expand it in Ukraine’s case) in the long-term, but potential collaboration in subsystems development could feed near-term requirements. Such projects could include active radar-homing (ARH) seekers for air-to-air missiles (AAM), anti-ship missiles (AShM) and surface-to-air missiles (SAM); rocket motors for AAM and SAM; miniature turbofan and/or turbojet engines for AShM, other cruise missile applications and potentially unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The advantage of such development routes is that the aforementioned inputs are not only scalable (by virtue of both countries needing to induct those weapons in numbers), but if left to solely imports, can become costly. With both Ukraine and Pakistan evidently seeking to procure munitions domestically, collaboration on these fronts would be advisable (and relatively unassuming) for both countries.

Of Ukraine’s marquee programs, Pakistan is presently entertaining the prospect of procuring the Oplot-M MBT off-the-shelf. In August 2017, Ukraine’s Malyshev Factory announced that it was preparing a unit for trials in Pakistan.[8] Considering that a Chinese VT4 was spotted in Pakistan recently, it appears that the trials – which could potentially amount to at least 100 MBTs[9] – are to begin soon. It is unclear if the Oplot-M has been delivered for trials. However, there are no signs of Pakistan expanding this to other areas, notably aviation. Interestingly, in February 2016 the Ukrainian Ambassador to Pakistan Lakov Vladimir Ivanovich stated that Kiev was eager to cooperate with Pakistan in the area.[10] For Ukraine, securing traction for its Antonov-series transport aircraft, such as the An-132D and An-178, is likely the objective.

Although the PAF will continue flying its Lockheed Martin C-130B/Es (which are undergoing upgrades) for the foreseeable future, staging an incrementally-funded and long-term program for the Antonov An-70 ought to be considered. With a payload of 47 tons and ferry range of 3,000 km, the An-70 aims to compete in the same capability space as the Airbus A400M, i.e. a dual-strategic and tactical airlifter. Currently, the An-70 is powered by four D-27 propfan engines produced by Ukraine’s Motor Sich. In terms of design, the An-70 is not only an asset for lifting heavy cargo long distances, but it can also provide substantive lift in inaccessible operational areas. In its short take-off-and-landing configuration, the An-70 can lift 20 tons while having the ability to take-off and land on an unprepared airfield with a 600-800 m runway.[11] In terms of hot-and-high, the An-70 has the capability to operate elevated airfields of 3,000 m above sea level.[12] Skardu, one of the PAF’s forward operating theatres, has an airfield set at 2,230 m above sea level.

Thus, the An-70 has the potential of fulfilling – and improving –the PAF’s logistics requirements, albeit as the C-130B/Es further age. Through the An-70, Pakistan has the option for slotting a replacement well in advance, and in turn, use the extended lead-time to cooperate with Ukraine in ensuring that the platform fully meets Pakistan’s operational requirements, accesses the necessary subsystems (e.g. modern avionics to enable for computer-aided air-drop and other functions) and has a robust maintenance and after-sale support base in Pakistan to sustain it. Through an equity-sharing partnership (akin to Saudi Arabia and the An-132D), Pakistan can also attain sole rights to manufacturing a proportion of the aircraft for all orders.

Conclusion:

It would be erroneous to view Ukraine as a non-factor in Pakistan’s defence procurement efforts. Rather, the facts demonstrate that it is a factor, albeit a relatively unassuming one given the attention paid to the dealings with the US, China, Turkey and Russia. However, the optimal value in this relationship, be it for Pakistan or Ukraine, is not in arms trade but in joint-development and co-production. There are synergies owing from both countries’ interest in domestically sourcing munitions and seeking affordable avenues for long-term procurement, yet there has yet to be a concerted strategy for concrete outcomes. However, as Pakistan itself increasingly views its own industry as its securest avenue for defence procurement, then it will need to find supportive partners to resolve deficiencies, especially in the underlying industrial and development base and the resulting inputs for high-tech weapons. It would be surprising if Ukraine is not among those countries.

[1] “Ukraine launching program of army’s military-technical modernization.” Interfax Ukraine. 23 August 2017. URL: http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/444064.html (Last Accessed: 28 January 2018).

[2] Illia Ponomarenko. “Ukraine’s defense budget up by 28 percent in 2018.” Kyiv Post. 10 December 2017. URL: https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/ukraines-defense-budget-28-percent-2018.html (Last Accessed: 28 January 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard D. Fisher. “Military-Technical Sector Transformation.” China Military Modernization: Building for Regional and Global Reach. Stanford University Press. 2010. p.93.

[5] Pakistan Export-Import Registry: https://pak.eximtradeinfo.com/items/Motor%20Sich

[6] Promotional Material. MS400. Motor Sich. URL: http://www.motorsich.com/eng/products/aircraft/tde/ms400/

[7] William Graham. “Arianespace Vega rocket launches Mohammed VI-A.” NASA Space Flight. 07 November 2017. URL: https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2017/11/arianespace-vega-mohammed-vi-a-launch/ (Accessed: 20 December 2017).

[8] Press Release. “Malyshev Plant Goes to a New Cooperation Stage with Pakistan.” 03 August 2017. URL: http://www.malyshevplant.com/en/content/malyshev-plant-goes-new-cooperation-stage-pakistan (Last Accessed: 28 January 2018).

[9] Tatiana Omelchenko. Interview with Maj. Gen. (retired) Athar Abbas. Delovaya Stolitsa. 20 April 2017. URL: http://www.dsnews.ua/economics/posol-kashmirskiy-konflikt-mozhet-pererasti-v-voynu-za-vodu–19042017220000 (Last Accessed: 28 January 2018).

[10] “Ukraine ready to cooperate with Pakistan in defence sector: Envoy.” Associated Press of Pakistan. 07 February 2016. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20160208082142/http://www.app.com.pk/en_/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=386729&Itemid=1 (Last Accessed: 28 January 2018).

[11] Promotional Material. “AN-70 / Medium Military Transport STOL Aircraft.” Antonov. URL: http://www.antonov.com/aircraft/transport-aircraft/an-70

[12] Ibid.

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