Why Doesn’t Kiev Divert the Tanks for Its Own Use?
Given that Ukrainian armor was driven back from the Eastern tip of the country, one would think Kiev would have a pretty good excuse to claim the Oplot tanks for its own military needs.
However, in a 2015 statement by Sergey Pinkas, the deputy general director of Ukraine Defense Manufacturing, he explained that the reasoning behind the Oplots sale to Thailand is financial: each Oplot sells for $5 million dollars, money which could then be used to upgrade ten T-64 tanks to the more effective BULAT standard.
Cynical commentators have seen this as evidence that Kiev is simply chasing the surest profit, at the expense of the survivability of its tank crews.
A more charitable interpretation is that this marks an effort by Ukraine to revive its defense procurement in a sustainable, financially solvent manner. For its short-term military needs, the Ukrainian military may benefit more by upgrading and repairing its large stock of older T-64s to get them back in fight condition, rather than paying the full cost and production time for brand new machines. The upgraded T-64 BULAT, for examples, incorporates new reactive armor and an upgraded gun.
Reading these tankish-tea leaves, the cash-strapped Ukrainian government seems set to attempt to stabilize its finances and modernize its armed forces at a slow yet steady rate, aiming to redress its military needs over the course of years, rather than prepare for some imminent—and unlikely—operational comeback.
Ukraine is already looking ahead to more ambitious designs, including a TIREX program to produce a T-64BV with an unmanned turret. There are also plans to procure 50 Oplot-Ms after the Thai order is completed.
Given that the separatists in Eastern Ukraine have proven able to count on seemingly bottomless Russian support to reverse Ukrainian military progress, it seems wiser for Kiev to allow both the political situation and its own military capabilities to mature for the time being.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
Image: T-84 Oplot guided onto a tank transporter. Wikimedia Commons/Victor Dashkiyeff