American aid to Ukraine: farewell to weapons – hello business!
The Cold War epoch, the time of the long lasting standoff America vs. the USSR, brought to life a good joke telling about how the two opposing political systems help the so called "third world" countries. The Soviets grant them grain, while Americans send tractors. The grain is quickly eaten and they ask for more supplies of it, without any money paid. The tractors get broken and they have to pay for spare parts bought in America.
This wonderful pragmatic approach so much typical of the American nation has never stopped to exist and keeps surprising the world presently as well. Let's take, for instance, that much-talked-of H.R. 5094 Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, right before the presidential elections. The Republican majority in both houses of the Congress made the bulk of the lobbyists in favor of the lethal weapons to be supplied to Ukraine. The list of the provided by the Act means to support Ukraine, sort of boosting counteraction to the Russian information intervention and encouragement of the increased foreign investments in Ukraine, also contains the provision on the lethal defensive weapons. So, the Rubicon hasn't been passed yet but the crossing over it does exist already. There can't be any doubts about the position of the Senate on the Act. As for President Barack Obama who used to mention deliveries of weapons to Kiev as "the last chance" he is unlikely to argue against Capitol as well.
Pentagon also makes no try to disguise its interest in the context. For justice's sake there should be mentioned Ashton Carter, the United States Secretary of Defense, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who focused on exclusively political aspects, sort of "restraining" Russia, when speaking at the Senate hearing. But such statements, maybe sufficient for the Senate Armed Services Committee, provoke only laughter with the experts. The present status of the Russian Armed Forces and its missile defense makes it hardly possible for the USA to achieve a guaranteed victory (with the acceptable death toll figures) even if all the means and tools available with Pentagon are employed. Thus no supplies of weapons to Ukraine are able to drastically change the established balance of power in the region and have any impact on the Russian decision making involving conduction of some hypothetical operation based on use of force. On top of that, every American weaponry specimen supplied to Kiev will provoke Moscow's retaliation: it can easily deliver a dozen of its analogue systems to the Russian speaking separatists through the common open border. Then why is this aggravated confrontation needed at all? Devil is widely known to be in the detail. This is what we are going to discuss here, those details.
Naturally, the list of military hardware delivery is a piece of classified information with only senior military officials of both countries having access to it. The military just adore secrets, even though those are sort of Polichinelle open secrets. Any military analyst may describe the specified list of weapons the USA is set to deliver to Ukraine with the accuracy of up to 90%. For better perception of information let's arrange the description in the way to explore it item by item.
So, to begin with, huge numbers of small arms are to be included in the list. Apart from the licensing assembly of small quantities of expensive Israeli submachine gun Tavor (called Fort in Ukraine), destined for special units, Ukraine hasn't got any own production of small arms. The Ukrainian army is equipped with old Soviet AK-74s. Despite the legendary simplicity and reliability of AK-74, the Ukrainian military refer to the increasing malfunctions of this weapon in the field, to say nothing of the grouping pattern when shooting. But even this old Soviet weapon is scarce. According to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine is now running out of stock of these submachine guns. Subsequently, large consignments of one of the American assault rifle M16 modifications will go prior to other military supplies to Ukraine. It's unlikely to be one of the latest modifications. Much more probable those are going to be the M16 modification specimens stored in some warehouses as a dead load usually branded "strategic reserve". Amazingly, the American Army itself has been long displaying its interest to the foreign small arms (e.g. USSOCOM has already made its choice in favor of the Belgium rifle FN SCAR procurement, while USMC has preferred HK416, a reliable German submachine gun, manufactured by Heckler & Koch). Thus, the Armed Forces of Ukraine has little chances to noticeably improve the reliability of its small arms arsenal. But, as we've cleared it up, Ukraine hasn't got any other options actually.
Considering the future transfer of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to the American small arms yet another closely related to it problem should be mentioned here. It's the problem of ammunition. Matter of fact, the standard NATO caliber is 5.56×45 mm, while AK-74s in the Ukrainian Army are compatible with the Soviet 5.45×39 mm standard cartridge. The cartridges aren't interchangeable, which means that the USA is going to provide Ukraine with both the weapons and ammunition to them. And, given the ammunition expenditure rate in the hostilities based in South-East Ukraine presently, the shipments will be just enormous. The production of new ammunition in Ukraine poses a problem. Moreover, the only large cartridge factory located in Luhansk is now working to satisfy the needs of the local separatists. Do you remember that joke about the tractor and spare parts to it? It's just the case.
As for some other weapons, Ukraine may well count on deliveries of the man-portable ATGM launchers FGM-148 Javelin. It should be noted that obtaining this weapon has been sort of idée fixe both with the military and political leadership of Ukraine, and Ukrainian patriotically thinking public as well. What kind of Wunderwaffe is it? This is actually a joint creation of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, owing its birth to their intellectual symbiosis. Among the special features of this American ATGM launcher there is its relatively small weight (soldiers don't have to carry a heavy mounting available with the majority of modern ATGM launchers) and homing head, making it possible for the operator not to employ the dangerous method of laser-beam riding of the target till it is struck by missile. In other words, it allows enjoying the so called "fire-and-forget" experience by the operator. As a rule, you literally have to pay for such achievements. The procurement cost of the "disposable element" (the missile in the disposable launch tube assembly) for the U.S. Army was (in the price terms of 2013) about $100,000, while the price of the Command Launch Unit itself is about $130,000. Thus Javelin turns out to be the most expensive ATGM launcher in the world now. This is rather a meaningful thing for us to focus at and keep it in the memory so that to refer to it below in the article.
The next product the Ukrainian military may get is some artillery piece, a self-propelled one more likely. It's worth mentioning that during the two years of military action to subdue the separatists these were the artillery units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces that proved themselves the best. Nevertheless, they face the same challenge the infantry units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces do, and that is the strong wear-and-tear of weapon systems accompanied by acute shortage of ammunition amid absence of the own production. This makes introduction of self-propelled howitzers of M109 type in Ukraine highly probable. It's unlikely to be the latest M109A6 Paladin modification. Among the trophies gained by the separatists after their seizure of Debaltseve there were American artillery radars in particular, and now Americans are least inclined to let their automatic fire control system with the integrated encrypted digital communication component also go right into the Russian hand. They are rather to supply some older modifications to Ukraine. And here again the problem of ammunition emerges. The principal caliber of the Ukrainian (Soviet) self-propelled guns is 152 mm, while NATO howitzers are only compatible with the 155 mm standard caliber. And so again in the air there are gigantic supplies of ammunition and broad smiles of satisfaction on the faces of the Americans, representatives of the United States military-industrial complex. There's one more thing to add: the upgraded Soviet artillery systems and even some modern Russian ones are available in the artillery arsenal of the separatists. Subsequently, the Ukrainian side will need not just some relatively cheap quantity ammunition but high precision munitions rather. For information of not so much sophisticated readers: the cost of the NATO newest guided artillery shell Excalibur is over $100,000 apiece. Take note, please.
As for making prognosis for the aviation sphere, the situation may be seen in two ways. On one hand, it appears quite obvious that Ukrainians are unlikely to get any modern American jets of F-22 or F-35 type for 10 years minimum. And it's also highly doubtful that Ukraine will be able to follow the Poland's example. Poland is known to have got the latest modification of the legendary F-16 veteran jet, as well as the heavy financial maintenance burden that only an economically powerful state can afford. On the other hand, the U.S. Congress may well reconsider its previous decision on preserving in the USAF fleet physically and morally obsolete A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane (the cost of its annual exploitation is about $600 million). Still, this is also unable to substantially affect the situation, for Russians have stuffed the rebellious territories with their new air defense systems.
Now, it's the right moment to come back to the above mentioned question. Where from can Ukraine get the money to pay for this huge pile of deadly hardware? I mean the Ukraine, that is knee deep in unpaid credits, the Ukraine sliding closer and closer to the financial and economic abyss. Yes, the United States is set to give Iraq a loan of about $3 billion to be paid off during the 8.5 year term – Iraq needs the money to make purchases of the American weapons. And Iraq, a major oil producer, is in the position to pay the bill. As for Ukraine, it has been importing energy resources while exporting....weapons....it's now in the acute need of. Nowadays Ukraine has practically one sole source of currency earnings – IMF. At present time, this current year, Kiev expects to get as much as $5.8 billion from the IMF coffers. Those expectations appear to become reality now. There's some opinion that the United States (playing a key role in IMF) may help it to have a blind eye on the improper spending of the funds in Ukraine. All in all, in 2015, Ukraine became the recipient of the IMF loans only after the American leading GMO producers Monsanto and DuPont got their carte blanche. Then why not let IMF money go right into the deep mouths of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in 2016-2017 then?