21 August 2018

How the defence industries from some allied countries cover Ukraine’s military technique deficit

Cristian Eremia

To cover some military technique deficits, which are necessary for the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) developed in the Donbass region, Ukraine has turned to armored and artillery military technique imports from European states, members of NATO. This business opportunity was already valorized by the defence industries in Poland and Czech Republic, able to deliver Ukraine, from their own national stocks, certain types of old military equipment - soviet models, quickly repaired and upgraded to reach the European standards.

Image source: Mediafax

As follows, in order to remake the armored vehicle and artillery pieces fleet, Ukraine recently acquired from Czech Republic BMP-1AK fight vehicles for infantry (an armored vehicle, amphibious, an upgraded version of the soviet model, the BMP-1), and the 2S1 amphibious self-propelled howitzers. The Czech company “Excalibur Army”[1], which assured the foreign capitalization of the mentioned weapons, is a part of the Czechoslovak industrial holding “Czechoslovak Group S.A.”. The modernization, the (re)establishment of the fighting capacity and preparation for export works of these weapons were carried out in cooperation with “Wtorplast” company from Poland, the polish company having also the foreign trade license of these weapons. “Wtorplast” company is certified also in series production and commercialization of 2S1 systems.

Both acquisitions were controversial and criticized by Ukrainian media, firstly because the acquisitions involved the import of old soviet military technique and secondly because the Ukrainian defence industry could not establish their own production line for this type of weapons. However, the import would have been urgently necessary to complete the existing deficit in JFO’s combat military unit’s endowment.

The acquisition of 2S1 “Gvozdika” 122 mm howitzer – a short study case

[1] „Excalibur company” is specialized in repairing, upgrading or modernization works of weaponry based on ground military platforms which come from soviet projections, existent in NATO’s members states from East Europe. The company’s activities focus especially in valorizing on an external plan the old military technique, out of exploitation, or in excessive amount.

The Czech company, “Excalibur Army” ended in June this year the works to restore the technical state of operability to 33 self-propelled amphibious howitzers 2S1 “Gvozdika”. The delivery to Ukraine of the entire lot was completed on July 29 through the Polish company “Wtorplast”. The howitzers come from a polish production, but they were in Czech’s property and army service. The delivery would have been made to the Ukrainian Shepetovsky Repair Factory, wherefrom come some speculations that the delivered technique would still require some additional technical works or homologation ones.

The 2S1” Gvozdika” is a 122mm self-propelled amphibious howitzers (also known as amphibious self-propelled artillery installation), based on armored chassis vehicle. The upgraded model received a SW680T diesel engine, a new hydrodynamic system for water movement, as well as modern fire-fighting assisting equipment. This system is especially designed to destroy enemy land forces and resources (for example, the personnel and the artillery batteries), to destroy enemy landscaping infrastructure (bunkers, military facilities), but also for complex military missions which involve crossing some minefields or special terrestrial obstacles.

The system is known as being very reliable and easy to technically maintain it under the conditions of a theater of operations. In addition, there are specialized Ukrainian military personnel who are able to training the new military personnel for the use this system, without supplementary costs. That is exactly what is necessary for the military confrontations with the Donbass’s separatists, as some connoisseurs of the general tactical picture of East Ukrainian’s battlefield said. This would explain also the reasons why the Ukrainian army troops opted for the faster import of this type of armament.

But there is also something more to add. Paradoxical or not, in 2013, the Ukrainian politico-military administration of the ex-president Ianukovici, decided to get this howitzer out of the exploitation. The reason is well-known in Europe: a classical war on the Ukrainian territory was no longer foreseeable. After the beginning of the russsian-ukrainian confrontations in 2014, the “Military Balance” magazine was saying that, from the 312 2S1 installations held by Ukraine, 12 were totally destroyed during the hostilities in Crimea, and 156 were deposited in inadequate conditions, which generated serious supplementary works to reestablish the fighting technique capacity (in the media space in Ukraine the inadequate conditions they put these weaponries in are still criticized and illustrated). At the beginning of the war in East, the Ukrainian forces had 141 2S1 installations, from which, ulterior, 10 were destroyed in fights, and 12 were captured by separatists. Considering some Ukrainian calculations, the ground forces would still need around 30-40 pieces.[1]

Why did the Ukrainian defence industry appealed to imports?

Ukraine has the possibility to do major technical revision works and capital technical repairs on the 2S1 howitzers at the Shepetovsky Repair Factory. It is still uncertain if they can make upgrades here too. The capacities of this manufacture are limited, especially when the army asks for reparations for other types of armored vehicles and artillery pieces too, which are necessary in Donbass in an emergency regime.

We have to add that Ukraine had the series production line license of this type of howitzers (the production started at the Harkov Tractor Manufacture in 1971), the fabrication line being closed in 1991. The howitzer was produced in series by Poland with fabrication license (from 1971) and by Bulgaria (from 1979). Posterior, only Poland and Russia developed production lines for upgraded versions of 2S1 howitzers. At the moment, Russia gave up this model, passing the 2S1 howitzer fleet to conservation for the war reserve.

In these circumstances, Ukraine has only the option to acquire new upgraded versions from Poland (the most expensive ones), to acquire old reconditioned installations from states which have too much of these, or to acquire disassembled 2S1 installations, to be reused in their own defence industry. It is obvious that any acquisition from Russia is excluded. This is the context in which the technical-military cooperation between Ukraine, Poland and Czech Republic has developed.

There are information saying that it is almost impossible for the Ukrainian defence industry to pass to the rapid construction of a fleet of such weapons. Accordingly, it was demanded a technique-military cooperation with western states. In this context we must remark that, after a long period of time when Ukraine’s industrial military complex had to deal with some serios reforming and reconsolidating issues, now seems to have passed over the critical moments, getting to develop new weaponries, as the “Dnipro” anti-aerial missiles system, and “Neptune” anti-warship missiles.

One conclusion cannot be avoided: it is a favorable prerequisite to maintain flexible and agile manufacturing capabilities of the defence industry for any circumstance of the national security environment. Unfortunately, this becomes obvious to strategic planners only when it comes to difficult, complex or even exceptional situation to defend the territorial integrity of a state.

About the accomplishment in building an agile and competitive defence industry

The military materials deliveries to Ukraine, discussed above, cannot be seen as extraordinary considering the business number (according to the Czechoslovak industrial group, these are estimated to hundreds of millions of euros), but these accentuate some other important aspects. First of all, we must underline and remark the method of defence industry’s development on new allied states from Central and East Europe. 

Czech Republic and Slovakia are successful in the field, by building together a strong industrial holding” Czechoslovak Group S.A.- CSG”, in order to resume and develop a part of the industrial and research-development common traditions from the civil and defence area. The group is part of the Czech and Slovak defence industry and holds companies in both states. It is specialized - and certified accordingly, in manufacturing of military equipment for land and air forces, for the purpose of carrying out foreign trade in arms and military equipment, respectively for the modernization and repair of military equipment existing in the endowment of the two states.

It should be noted that this group has commercial, production and related services activities, in the heavy auto-vehicles industry domain, railway material, aviation and radio-electronics industry. In this way the dependence on state orders on the defense and security line is avoided in a way as profitable as possible, the financing of the development of technologies and the diversification of the technological and production research capacities are ensured. Therefore, the economic outcomes are multiplied comparing to the development situation in the national formula of the defence industries, or comparing to the situation if a strict limit for the military production would have been existed. What it is obvious is that the numbers which describe the industrial power, the businesses performances, the competitiveness level on external market (on almost all continents), or the hired personnel are growing steadily from year to year.

On the other hand, the close military-technical collaboration between the defence industries of the allied member states in Visegrad format (V4) is remarkable. The defence industries from Czech Republic and Poland have the ability to easily identify the business opportunities not only for the benefit of the defence of the respective states, but also to trade the surplus ah the old military equipment on the foreign market, in crisis or conflict areas. As is the case with the deliveries to Ukraine. Important to mention the fact that Ukraine has continuously responded to the cooperation invitation in defence and security area with the V4 states, hence the good knowledge of this potential customer.  

[1] 2S1 "Gvozdika " of the Armed Forces of Ukraine during the war on the Donbass (2014-2015), Mikhail Zhirokhov, ttps://www.ukrmilitary.com/ 2016/01/2s1-gvozdika-in-Donbas-war.html