“Milex-2019”: some observations

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The international exhibition of arms and military equipment “Milex-2019” took place in Minsk on May 15-18. The event turned out to be very ambitious and substantial in comparison with the previous one. Here we will focus on some conclusions from the last exhibition.

About Raman Halouchanka. The head of the State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus (SMIC) proved to be an active and capable leader. Since his getting the post last summer, the approaches to personnel work have seriously changed. The attraction of young specialists started. In addition, the influence of the Ministry of Defence on the SMIC and the military-industrial complex as a whole is significantly limited. Today we can say that the in terms of the status in the power vertical of Belarus SMIC is at least not inferior to the MoD. Thanks to Mr. Halouchanka, in some matters the lobbying potential of the military-industrial complex looks even bigger.

About the wheels. Transferring weapons to the wheelbase produced in Belarus is a long-term idea. But until recently, the achievements in this area were rather modest and limited to “BelGRAD” project. On the “Milex-2019” the options for deploying weapons systems of SAM “Osa” and the MLRS “Uragan” on the chassis of Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) were demonstrated. Which caused a certain surprise: it was expected that the chassis of a specialized manufacturer – Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MWTP) – would be chosen. Moreover, SMIC representatives openly called a number of models of this company as promising for the being used in weapon systems.

MAZ “won” due to the cost, which is twice lower than that of MWTP products with comparable technical characteristics. We will see in practice, whether the quality of the two manufacturers is comparable.

The need to replace the original chassis with the Belarusian one is explained by the fact that because of the age of “Osa” and “Uragan” the military faced difficulties in maintaining the technical serviceability of the original platforms. Obviously, from a certain moment these difficulties became insurmountable.

Goodbye, “Uragan”? The first weapons to be transferred to the MAZ chassis were MLRS “Uragan”, which were in storage. This was done for the purpose of their subsequent export. The first batch of units has already been transferred to the customer (one of the African countries), where it has been tested in combat. So far there have been no complaints about the MAZ chassis.

The export of “Uragans” may be associated with the prospects of their withdrawal from the Belarusian army. The most likely reason for such a decision could be the expiration of the storage of rockets for them and a decrease in the number of calibres in the Belarusian artillery. The latter will simplify logistics. Moreover, RUE “Precise Electromechanics Factory” mastered the production of missile for the “Grad” MLRS, which are comparable in range, although inferior to the “Uragan” in terms of the power of the warhead.      

Not M20. One of the main intrigues of the exhibition was the question of the further development of MLRS “Polonaise” in terms of integration into it the ballistic missile. At the exhibition in 2017 next to the launcher of the MLRS “Polonaise” the model of the M20 rocket produced by the PRC was placed. It was assumed that a localized version of this munition will replenish the line of means of fire destruction of “Polonaise”.

On the “Milex-2019” next to the launcher of the MLRS “Polonaise” one could once again see the model of the missile, outwardly repeating the one presented 2 years ago. As well as a transport and launch container for it. However, in fact, this model represents the Belarusian development of an operational-tactical missile with a launch range of up to 300 km. First of all, the product focuses on export markets. For the national army, the manufacturer is ready to create a rocket with a range of 500 km.

The missile has a warhead weighing 370 kg and a comprehensive guidance system, which, as stated, provides a circular probable deviation of 7 m compared to 30 m for the “Polonaise” (speaking about a distance of 300 km).

As far as can be judged, the missile is yet not finished, as there was no test launch. It is essentially a concept that the manufacturer is ready to produce in the event of an interested customer.

The missile is expected to include foreign-made blocks and components. However, the missile engine is produced by the Precise Electromechanics Factory. Obviously, the M20 rocket was the starting point.

Currently, the Ministry of Defence has not shown interest in the implementation of the project to create a ballistic missile, preferring to improve the MLRS “Polonaise”. The problem is not only in money. We will describe this issue in another material.

Buk-MB3K. The new medium range air defence system developed in Belarus was in the centre of attention during the exhibition. According to the manufacturer, Buk-MB3K is essentially a new weapon system. And the name “Buk” was inherited for marketing purposes in order to create the appearance of continuity with the successful Soviet air defence system.

The main thing in this air defence system is a new 9M318 missile with a target range of up to 70 km and an active homing head. The missile has imported element base, Chinese rocket fuel and the engine of produced in Belarus.

So far, there were no practical missile launches – this is the next stage. But unlike the missile for the “Polonaise”, as far as can be judged, there is interest in the anti-aircraft missile. This allows us to count on the further development of the project to create a Belarusian medium-range air defence system. Completing it successfully Belarus will receive a serious system, which will significantly reduce external dependence on the supply of critical weapons systems.

In general, the fact that there are enough ambitious programs to create domestic missiles (ballistic and anti-aircraft missiles) should be welcomed. Countries that are able to produce weapons of this level can be counted on the fingers. Although the projects are not close to the completion, there is certain progress.

Combat UAVs. The project to create a national combat UAV is among the image ones for the Belarusian authorities. On the “Milex-2019” the following companies presented their projects:

— “Research and Production Center for Multifunctional Unmanned Systems” of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (Burevestnik-MB, Busel and Yastreb);

— Design Bureau “Display” (flying tubes);

— 558th Aviation Repair Plant (the concept of the kamikaze UAV “Sarych”);

— Precise Electromechanics Factory (multicopter “Grach”);

— “Unmanned Helicopters Design Bureau” (a helicopter-type UAV weighing 700 kg with a payload of 200 kg (exists in the form of a project).

However, none of them meets the requirements and expectations of the army. Which would like to get a UAV capable of hitting objects with high-precision armament, without entering the zone of action of military air defence (i.e., at distances of at least 20 km). The ideal would be the option of obtaining an unmanned system, which has already been tested by operation, if possible in combat conditions. At the moment, such products are offered on the market only by China, Israel and the USA. For political reasons, American and Israeli-made products are not available for Belarus.

In fact, the best option at the moment seems to be the assembly of a combat UAV of foreign development on the territory of Belarus. The existing potential of the domestic military industrial complex is still unable to satisfy the demands of the army.

It should be noted that at “Milex-2019” the Belarusian-Chinese joint venture Aviation Technologies and Complexes was presented on a separate booth. One of the founders of the company is the Chinese aircraft manufacturing corporation AVIC, which also produces combat UAVs.

The money issue. It is worth noting that a large number of new equipment presented at the “Milex-2019” were initiative developments that exist in the form of exhibition samples or in general — layouts. Which means that their technical characteristics are calculated and not confirmed by actual operation.

According to a number of representatives of the domestic military industrial complex, the situation is approximately as follows: “We can do better, more, faster, but there are not enough resources for the full cycle from drawing to serial production”. The state is ready to invest money only in those projects for which successful results are guaranteed. Moreover, a little money. But with the development of new and technically challenging products, a lot of things often go wrong, as planned: deadlines are shifting into the future, estimates are rising, the technical characteristics of the final product do not always correspond to what was planned in advance.

For some time, the authorities saw the solution of the problem in inviting the foreign investors to enter the capital of military-industrial complex enterprises of Belarus. However, the first experience was awful: foreigners, having gained control over one of the private defence enterprises, first of all began to take away the technologies abroad (it is necessary to note that Belarusian specialists worked for a decade and a half to obtain them), after which they began to take targeted actions that clearly led to bankruptcy of the enterprise.

In this regard, the scheme of creating a joint venture with foreign companies that already have a technological reserve interesting to Belarus (like in the case with AVIC) seems to be a much more promising solution.

New wheeled units. Among the four non-serial models of wheeled armoured vehicles (“Vitim” series from Minotor-Service, ASILAK from “BSVT-NT” on the GAZ chassis with spaced armour, “Defender” from the 140th repair plant on the MAZ chassis, and the universal combat platform from “OKB TSP” on the modified MAZ chassis) three are initiative developments that do not yet have customers. Only one has been developed under the requirements of a specific customer on the basis of a firm contract. After the “Milex-2019” and the installation of the weapon system the vehicles will be transferred to the client.

In general, it is necessary to dwell on the “Defender”. On July 13, 2014 Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited the 103rd brigade of the Special Operations Forces. Among other things, he saw the “Fox” armoured vehicle (a localized version of the Russian “Tiger”). Then Lukashenka leaned on it and said: “We need such vehicles”. But was he thinking about the “Fox”? The point is, that at the same time the poster behind the back of the Belarusian ruler depicted a MRAP armoured vehicle from MWTP. It can fit 10-12 SOF soldiers. Obviously, in the absence of a commercial perspective, MWTP abandoned that idea and concentrated on V-1 project. We will see, whether the 140th plant be more successful.

The international cooperation. Traditionally, attention is paid to news about the military-technical cooperation of Belarus and Russia. But there are few of them. The important are the following:

— the transfer of the next batch of upgraded T-72B3 tanks (obviously, we are talking about a company set of 10 units) to the Belarusian army in the near future was announced;

— Russia has begun to execute the contract for the supply of the Su-30SM squadron. While what exactly is meant by the execution of the contract is unclear, since the reservation was immediately made that the planes themselves would be delivered only after receiving advance payments. Therefore, the Belarus has not made such payments;

— the total bilateral turnover of military products (including services) is about USD 500-600 million per year, of which 2/3 is Belarusian exports to Russia.

There were no loud statements about the joint development of products or the creation of joint ventures. As well as the nothing was said about the possibility of Russia’s entering into the capital of those Belarusian military-industrial enterprises, which Russia had previously been interested in. A limiting factor is the demand of the Russians to get controlling stakes in companies, many of which have important technologies. Belarus quite soberly sees the threat in this, that’s why Minsk said a firm and unequivocal “no!”.

In general, Belarusian-Russian cooperation is developing ambiguously. On the one hand, there are plenty of examples of positive and responsible interaction. On the other hand, Russian suppliers of products and components used by the Belarusian defence industry, very often demonstrate bad faith and carelessness in the performance of their contractual obligations. A special issue is the rise in prices for the products of monopolistic Russian military-industrial enterprises, which simply goes beyond any reasonable framework.

But there is a new trend. Production of national defence is becoming increasingly technically complex. And often, Russian subcontractors are no longer able to produce the necessary components for the products of Belarusian enterprises.

Rising prices, bad faith and the inability of the Russian companies to meet the growing demands of the Belarusian counterparties force our military industrial enterprises to master the production of components for their own consumption, thus increasing the localization of production. But this requires huge investments in production facilities, updating of the machine park, the purchase of equipment, which often exists in a few copies in the world. Such efforts are only possible for large companies. But the Belarusian military industrial complex is represented mainly by medium-sized enterprises. This is a new challenge: to create a system that would give the companies of the domestic military-industrial complex of the second division a “bait” for catching a larger “fish”. In the meantime, everyone survives in his own way.

The products of the military-industrial complex of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Serbia were presented at Milex-2019. Thus, the prospects for military-technical cooperation are tightened under the existing level of political interaction between our countries.

Will “Belintersat-2” happen. Previously, several times at a high level they discussed the information that the issue of launching the second communications satellite of the “Belintersat” system is being studied in Belarus. However, in recent years, the economic situation has changed: due to increased competition in the space communications market, the rates for these services have seriously decreased. The commercial viability of expanding the satellite constellation is questionable.

Milex-2019 demonstrated that despite a number of objective difficulties, the defence industry does not complain. They are used to working in the conditions of tough competition (often unfair) in the global market and rely only on their own hands and head. New developments are being conducted, the production of innovative, often unique, products is being mastered, capacities are being updated, new competencies are being acquired, and markets are expanding. Maybe not as fast and as high-scale as we would like. But the domestic military industrial complex is not stagnating, but is moving forward.

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