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Turkey Defence Week:Ukraine Wants Western Military Tech

November 25, 2015

Ukraine Aivazovsky seascape

One of the fascinating characters who participated during the recent Turkey Defence Week (November 10-12) in Ankara was Denis Gurak. He was a guest speaker representing Ukroboronprom, a vast holding company for Ukraine’s hundreds of defense contractors, and his role in Ankara was to promote cooperation between Turkish and Ukrainian shipyards.

This is why on November 12, the last day of the conference, Gurak delivered a presentation titled Joint Development of Marine Industry to Provide Security and Protection in the Black Sea Waters. Although Ukraine enjoys a robust defense sector the ongoing war with Russia disrupted its supply chain and caused irreplaceable material losses, including the annexation of facilities in Crimea.

But Gurak, whose position within Ukroboronprom is that of Deputy Director General responsible for Foreign Economic Activity, is just one actor in a grander design that could save Ukraine’s armed forces. This is to lay the groundwork for a defense sector reliant on NATO milspec equipment and technology rather than the usual quantities of Soviet-era surplus that had little value during the fighting in Donbass.

This drive toward hybridization isn’t as novel as it seems. India has successfully combined Western and Eastern Bloc technology in its defense sector. Closer to home, Ukraine’s neighbors like Romania, Poland, Serbia, and the Czech Republic have streamlined their own arms industries to adopt NATO compliant products.

Ukraine has actually been heading down the same path even before its troubles with Russia. Being among the world’s top 10 arms exporters–the largest in Eastern Europe–Ukrainian firms began adapting local equipment to Western standards as far back as the 1990s. At the turn of the century the Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building plant developed a T-72 with a 120mm main gun called the Yatagan.

Ukraine’s defense contractors build small arms and ammunition, wheeled and tracked armored vehicles, missiles, ordnance, and spare parts for aircraft and ships. In 2014 the Donbass War led to Ukraine becoming a recipient of financial and material aid from NATO. Ukroboronprom was also reorganized with new management who are now responsible for contracts worth $1 billion and are committed to partnering with “world-class,” i.e. Western, companies.

But when it comes to naval technology Ukraine is lagging behind even with its enormous Soviet-era facilities. This is understandable since its only maritime preoccupation is the Black Sea. Recent events, however, proved that the Ukrainian Navy in its current form is inadequate and encumbered by obsolete ships. No wonder Gurak, in his own small way, spoke about naval cooperation with Turkey, whose domestic maritime industry is thriving.

Small episodes like Ukroboronprom’s activities in Turkey illuminate an even bigger shift. There may soon no longer be an “East” or “West” in the global arms industry. Everything is a combination of everything else.