Russia-NATO military cooperation (Part 3: defense industrial cooperation and future prospects)

Defense Industrial Cooperation (continued)

Italy: The Russian military has recently completed several deals with Italy. The most significant of these is the establishment of a joint venture to built IVECO’s M65 Lynx light multirole vehicles (LMVs). The deal, estimated to be worth around one billion euros, will allow Russia to assemble these Italian vehicles at the Kamaz plant in Tatarstan. The license will allow the manufacture of 1775 of these LMVs from 2011 to 2016. While initially the plant will simply do the final assembly, the goal is eventually use fifty percent Russian components in the manufacturing process. The Russian military has also expressed an interest in purchasing Freccia armored vehicles and Centauro wheeled tanks. Two of each type of vehicle are likely to be transferred to Russia sometime this year for testing purposes.

The deal to build Italian LMVs in Russia generated significant opposition among segments of the Russian military and also in its defense industry, which argued that it was taking business away from the Russian-designed GAZ Tigr. The military responded that the Tigr did not fully meet its requirements and would have to be significantly upgraded.

Israel: The Russian military has also concluded several deals to purchase Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. An initial $53 million deal was signed in 2009. Through this deal, Russia received two Bird Eye 400 systems worth 4 million dollars, eight I View MK150 tactical UAVs worth 37 million dollars, and two Searcher Mk II multi-mission UAVs worth 12 million dollars. In July 2010, the two sides agreed to a deal for an additional 36 Israeli UAVs, worth $100 million. In October 2010, Russia’s Oboronprom and Israel Aerospace Industries agreed to a three-year, $400 million contract that will allow the Russian company to assemble UAVs from Israeli components. As part of the deals, Israel has begun training 50 Russian UAV pilots at an Israeli base. Russian and Israeli negotiators are currently discussing the possibility of forming a joint venture to build more UAVs for the Russian military, which estimates it will need 100 or more UAVs to ensure effective battlefield reconnaissance.

Reports published by Wikileaks indicate that Russia had initially sought to purchase more advanced Israeli UAVs, including the Heron 1, in a deal worth a total of $1 billion dollars. Israeli defense officials eventually rejected this deal because of concerns that the technology may end up in Chinese hands.

Russia has focused on acquiring Israeli UAV technology because of the demonstrated inability of its domestic defense industry to overcome problems with domestic UAVs. For example, the Tipchak system is reported to have a low maximum altitude and a distinct acoustic signature that is audible from long distances, which together combine to make it extremely vulnerable to attack from the ground. A new generation system will not be available for at least three years. Furthermore, Russian defense industry has had particular problems producing miniaturized and lightweight components, which are necessary in UAV payloads, and reliable electronics, which are needed for UAV navigation and targeting. After repeated failures of domestic UAVs, the Russian military has decided that foreign assistance was essential for further progress in developing domestic UAV production capabilities.

Sales and joint projects: Until recently, Russian military sales to NATO countries have been largely limited to the maintenance and modernization of armaments owned by former Warsaw Pact states that have become NATO members over the last decade. In addition, some of these countries have received Russian military hardware in exchange for the forgiveness of Soviet-era debt. In this context, Hungary received fighter airplanes and armored personnel carriers, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic received various aircraft and helicopters. Greece is the only NATO state that regularly buys Russian military equipment. In recent years, this has included various types of missiles, guided munitions, and small landing ships, as well as S-300 air defense systems originally intended for Cyprus. Other NATO states have made occasional deals in recent years, including the purchase of 800 Kornet anti-tank missiles by Turkey, Igla portable surface-to-air missiles by Slovakia, Slovenia and the UK, and Mi-17 helicopters by Poland and Latvia. In addition, NATO states have joined together since 2006 to lease up to 6 An-124 transport aircraft on a charter basis. Finally, the United States and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years bought a total of 35 Mi-17 transport helicopters for transfer to Afghanistan, including 21 bought by the U.S. in April 2011 for $370 million.

Russia has just begun some joint research and development projects with Western defense industrial companies, including plans for naval cooperation with Thales and general defense cooperation with EADS and DCN. One possibility for cooperation with NATO is the development of a heavy tactical transport helicopter, using the existing Russian Mi-26 helicopter as a base. For the moment, none of these potential cooperative ventures have advanced beyond the discussion stage.

Future Prospects

NATO-Russia cooperation is gradually returning to a trajectory of broadening and deepening, which it was on prior to the deep freeze brought on by the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Cooperation is accelerating in all three major areas: training, operations, and procurement. Ventures thought impossible just a year ago, such as a joint European missile defense system, joint operations in Afghanistan, and joint development of military hardware, are all on the horizon. As with past efforts at cooperation, the current rapprochement is still fragile and could be easily derailed by changes in the political atmosphere in Russia or the United States. But for now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in almost a decade.