Defense Industry’s Last Warning

Popovkin in a Suit

Last Friday’s NVO printed an interesting editorial that discussed arms exporter irritation with Deputy Defense Minister, Armaments Chief [former Commander of Space Troops and ex-General-Colonel] Vladimir Popovkin for publicly admitting the Defense Ministry’s dissatisfaction with many of the OPK’s products.  The exporters are obviously upset that Popovkin’s comments have, and will, cost them sales abroad.  But NVO concludes a greater danger would be trying to silence anyone–high-ranking defense official or independent defense analyst–who dares point out the OPK’s problems in the hope of remedying them.

NVO’s sub-title for the article is “The OPK’s systemic crisis threatens a breakdown in the supply of combat equipment to the Russian Army and a lack of export contracts.”

The Greeks have apparently called off a purchase of 420 BMP-3s for $1.5 billion (let’s call it $3.6 million per vehicle).  The deal had been 2 years in the making, and it wasn’t the state of the Greek economy that caused the halt.  According to NVO, the money was already in the defense budget.  Rather it was Popovkin’s specific criticism of the BMP-3 that folded the deal.

Popovkin is quoted:

“We very much need to protect our soldiers.  Today everyone rides on top of the BMP because no one wants to ride in this ‘coffin.’  We need to make a different vehicle.”

Greek journalists published his remarks, and opposition politicians turned them into a scandal:  how can you buy unsuitable equipment that even the country that makes it won’t buy?

Popovkin also complained about the T-90 that the Indians are buying, the tank support combat vehicle (BMPT) that Rosoboroneksport recently demonstrated at an arms show in Kuala Lumpur, and other equipment which the army won’t buy for one reason or another, but which is put forth for export and actively advertised there.

According to NVO, the arms exporters are terribly offended because the [ex-] general cost them several lucrative contracts.  But, in NVO’s estimation, his speech is very necessary.  It says:

“. . . the truth about the condition of the Russian defense-industrial complex, about those processes occurring there, about the systemic crisis in it and the inability of its various directors, including even the government’s Military-Industrial Commission [VPK], to correct the existing situation, is not a secret at all.  It’s been talked about more than once.  On the most varied levels.  Including even presidential.”

NVO says this truth is very important; it could help the powers-that-be uncover the problem areas, fix them, and produce the modern equipment needed for the defense of the country’s interests.  Without an honest discussion, the deficiencies can’t be fixed.  But the Kremlin, government, the legislature, executive organs, or the regions won’t undertake any serious measures against negligent managers.  Despite constant talk of state arms programs, federal programs of technical reequipping of defense enterprises, in reality, with the exception of aviation and air defense firms, nothing is really happening.  It’s moving at a snail’s pace.  Or is it?

Foreign buyers send in 33 warranty claims for every 100 Russian weapons systems exported.  And the scandal with the Algerian MiGs didn’t teach the OPK anything.

It would be possible to silence critics and protect military-technical cooperation with foreign countries and keep the profits coming to the budget and the manufacturers.  But won’t the low quality of these systems, their inability to meet the demands of modern war, really be a negative advertisement?  Does someone really think if they quiet the generals, together with the Moscow media, military analysts and experts then they can sell some kind of half-finished military goods to a serious buyer?  Naive views worked out for illiterate dilettantes.

NVO figures there are two ways out:  either give up, lose export orders, and accept the situation or sharply improve the quality and effectiveness of Russian weapons, reduce prices and defects, and strive to be on the leading edge of technology.  In other words, saving defense industry is in the hands of defense industry itself.  And no one else.  

When it comes to combat vehicles, sniper rifles, UAVs, assault ships, night sights, and armor, the international division of labor in defense industry isn’t such a bad thing after all.  It brings Russia closer to the ‘probable enemies’ of the recent past.  But when it comes to nuclear-powered submarines and strategic missiles we still don’t know how to do them ourselves and no one’s going to sell us those.  And [unless Russia remembers how and gets its OPK in order] it will remember national security the same way it remembers the long forgotten past. 

This is NVO’s way of telling the Putin-Medvedev regime it would be foolish to shut down this feedback channel that tells it what needs fixing in the OPK.

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One response to “Defense Industry’s Last Warning

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