Why conflict is good for business in Ukraine, China looks back and we meet the UK’s defence attaché to Lithuania.
Ukraine’s conflict with separatists and Russian forces in the east of the country is grinding into its fourth year – and it’s proving good for business in Kiev. Artillery duels, tank attacks and infantry skirmishes regularly break ceasefires, and fighting has continued through the ferociously cold winter. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s official monitoring mission reported 125 explosions on 16 January alone, and that was far from an unusual day.
Through all of this Ukraine’s defence industry, under the Ukroboronprom umbrella, retrenched, continued development and actually grew in 2017, delivering record exports and fielding a range of new systems. Some of those systems, such as the btr-4mv1 and t-72amt armoured vehicle that are undergoing trials, were developed based on direct experience of the conflict, offering better protection and modernised internals. Others, such as the new Project Vil’kha precision missiles and 80k6t air defence-radar, are the result of developments that predate hostilities.
Ukroboronprom’s Antonov an-132d and Gorlytsa battlefield drone also made their maiden flights in 2017. The an-132 is of note as it’s the first Ukrainian aircraft with no Russian components.
A statement from Ukroboronprom earlier this year said that it had completed several major exports, including the delivery of Thailand’s Oplot and engine and transmission units for the Pakistani al-Khalid tanks in 2017, drawing in uah3bn (€87m) of much-needed revenue. That equates to 20 times the revenue of 2014, when the company was focusing on replacing attrition losses for the reeling Ukrainian army.
This is all the more impressive because of the industrial capability that Ukraine has lost in the past four years. In 2014 roughly 10 per cent of Ukroboronprom’s industry was based in Crimea and for strategic Soviet-era planning reasons, the Ukrainian defence industry has a significant footprint (including the plant responsible for the t-72amt) in the east of the country. As such, factories were attacked and changed hands early in the conflict.
Ukraine still faces numerous hurdles. But the international support that underpinned the an-132d development and the sanctions beginning to bite in Russia mean that Kiev’s defence industry is having a better war than Moscow’s.
The ag600, built by China’s state-owned Aviation Industry Corp, is the largest amphibious aircraft in the world: a four-propeller plane about the size of a Boeing 737. The ag600 was built for maritime rescue and fire-fighting, despite the fact that seaplanes have been largely replaced by helicopters and rendered redundant by increased availability of runways – including the ones that China has been expensively building in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
“Many western militaries have long since retired their amphibian aircraft,” says Euan Graham, director of international security at the Lowy Institute. “But Russia and China continue to operate military seaplanes.” Why? It likely comes down to the time-served wisdom that militaries are forever preparing to fight the previous war rather than the next one.
Brazil has formally approved the acquisition of the UK Royal Navy’s sole helicopter assault ship hms Ocean. The price is reportedly £84m (€95m), representing something of a bargain as she completed a £65m (€73m) refit in 2014.
Ocean was commissioned in 1998 as the first UK warship to be built to cost-saving commercial standards and is one of the navy’s most battle-hardened warships, having launched operations in Sierra Leone, assaulted Iraq’s Al Faw peninsula and attacked Gadaffi’s forces in Libya.
Brazil retired its only aircraft carrier in 2017 and while Ocean can’t handle jets, it will at least return a significant aviation capability to the nation’s navy.
Major Jane Witt was appointed UK defence attaché to Lithuania in 2017. The role was created as part of a wider expansion of such roles by the UK.
Why has the UK expanded its number of defence attachés?
We face a changing security environment that is complex and dangerous. This isn’t something we can face alone and therefore our strong alliances and partnerships are more important than ever.
Why is having a defence attaché in Lithuania important for the UK?
Following the Wales Nato Summit in 2014 and Nato’s decision to place forces in the Baltic states and Poland for deterrence, the UK uplifted its defence sections in the region. Having a resident defence attaché enables the UK to maintain close bilateral co-operation with Lithuania.
How are military personnel uniquely qualified for this diplomatic role?
Of course not every military person is suitable. It obviously requires a lot of tact and much of it is about building personal relationships. But we come with a can-do attitude and we’re good at fighting through bureaucracy.