Skeptics of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration have said much about an avalanche of problems that the Ukrainian defense industry will face because of it. The success stories of Polish and Czech defense cooperation with the Western European nations carry little conviction because Ukraine’s defense sector is incomparably larger than that of Poland or the Czech Republic. This, however, did not stop Poland from outstripping Ukraine in the international arms market with exports in 2003 reaching $800 million, which it accomplished, among other things, by embracing German defense technologies.
In the immediate future, however, Ukraine might find a compelling counterargument to refute the arguments of the opponents of NATO integration. Satisfied with the expertise of the Ukrainian rocket builders who contributed to the Sea Launch commercial project, the US is ready to award them a defense contract. According to a recent article in the US magazine Defense News, during President Yushchenko’s visit to the US George W. Bush persuaded him to work jointly in the sphere of missile defense and hold talks on extending this cooperation.
It’s common knowledge that when the Nunn-Lugar Program was launched in Ukraine, the US showed interest in the capabilities of Ukrainian rocket technology to build and upgrade intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Now the US is interested in using Ukrainian rocket technology to build the US Missile Defense System. This offers a dual benefit for Ukraine: Western orders for Ukrainian defense enterprises and better chances of joining NATO.
This past February the management of Pivdenne Design Bureau met with Pentagon officials to discuss opportunities for Ukraine’s possible involvement in the creation of the US Missile Defense System.
Indeed, the key developers and manufacturers of ICBMs in the Soviet period were based in Ukraine. Since independence Ukraine has built 70 carrier rockets that have put 150 satellites into orbit. Despite the fact that they do not have any orders from the army, both Pivdenne Design Bureau and the Pivdenmash missile plant have maintained their capabilities for developing and manufacturing missiles for defense purposes. Both facilities are servicing Russia’s strategic missile forces, and more. Ukrainian manufacturers have participated in recent arms exhibitions with catalogs offering short-range ballistic missile complexes with a target range of 300 kilometers. This is the maximum range that the Ukrainian manufacturers have been permitted under the international Missile Technology Control Regime. Experts believe, however, that Ukrainian developers of ICBMs can easily increase the range, if necessary. At the current stage the US is not opposed to Ukraine’s high ranking in the list of arms exporters. This sensitive business generates an annual half-billion US dollars in revenues for Ukraine. Incidentally, the US remains quite loyal in its recognition of Ukraine’s technological potential. Among the Americans’ latest high-tech acquisitions are Ukrainian-made Nizh explosive reactive armor systems for tanks.
Defense News experts believe that Pivdenne Design Bureau and the Pivdenmash missile plant can help the US test its Missile Defense System by sharing their unique technology that represents modern missile threats. US Department of Defense officials are looking forward to a promising partnership with Ukraine. It has not been ruled out that the Ukrainian-made missile Cyclone-3 will be instrumental in testing the US Missile Defense System. Naturally, such defense cooperation might open up vast prospects for Ukraine’s defense industry, especially considering that Europe is not marking time either. The project to build the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), the European system of land-based air defense, has already progressed to the implementation phase. It is expected that the European missile defense system will be able to bring down both aircraft and medium-range ballistic missiles with an effective range of up to 1,000 kilometers. Moreover, the German government has officially announced Germany’s participation in the MEADS defense project, expressing readiness to provide 886 million euros for the development of this system over the next eight years.
If the US finds the Ukrainian manufacturers’ experience useful, Ukrainian Cyclones might also find a demand in Europe. Notably, European Space Agency experts have shown an interest in equipping their Vega carrier rocket with the Ukrainian-made rocket engine RD- 861K, which Pivdenne Design Bureau is developing for its Cyclone-4 carrier rocket.
Thus, the prospects of Ukraine’s defense industry in NATO are not as gloomy as they would appear. With no contracts signed, it is still too early to trumpet success. But the sharp increase in the interest that our missiles are generating is proof that Ukraine’s NATO membership will not be a tragedy for the Ukrainian defense complex, nor will the spread of military technologies be a one-way process.