Member of the Academy of Sciences Horbulin Speaks about Emphasis on Ukraine’s Defence Technologies

In the recent year, and especially in the past six months of 2021, we have been observing two strongly pronounced trends, immediately related with the national defence capabilities.

First of all, the national defence industry sector is booming and demonstrates an unprecedented level of the offered high-tech solutions for the art of war, ranging from designs to off-the-shelf systems. The quantity and quality of advanced projects well surpasses everything that has been produced and presented to the judgment of the public over all the previous history of our independent state.

Secondly, our military-political leadership steadily adheres to the policy of imports of arms and military equipment for the defence forces – I suggest that this year, not less than a third of the annual budget allocated for rearmament will go to foreign manufacturers. We buy from abroad unmanned combat aerial vehicles and their jammers, communications equipment, missile boats, corvettes, helicopters, antitank weapons, self-propelled artillery systems, sniper rifles and even combat vehicles, mortars and trucks. To tell the truth, we could produce a good third of all this for the defence forces by ourselves. Meanwhile, the plans of our top brass reach large-scale projects, such as procurement of combat aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems.

Indeed, the defence forces really need most of such systems. However, given our scanty budget, imports have reached the scale, dangerous for the future of the national defence industry. Can the symbiosis of foreign and national weapon systems in the defence forces be found in the present situation? I am sure it can. Exactly this road is to be taken at the present stage of development of our defence capabilities.

Why does Ukraine need defence technologies of its own?

I will start from the point that has been rightfully stressed many times: confrontation with Putin’s Russia only gains pace. Ukraine remains a strikingly vulnerable target. The present situation is unconsoling: Ukraine is in a state of a permanent threat of war, and it will be so until its large-scale rearmament. However, Ukraine will not be able to buy a few hundred combat fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, at least in the decade ahead, and they are not badly needed. It can withstand a military confrontation with the aggressor country not in a linear war but at the expense of employment and development of an asymmetric strategy. Given the present technological stagnation of Russia, Ukraine’s chances have improved significantly.

A warning shot and a signal of the technological collapse of the Russian state came from an explosion of a liquid-fuel rocket engine during tests of the new Burevestnik missile in August, 2019, killing seven. Experts argue that a forced and hastily arranged trial of the missile resulted in the damage to its compact nuclear reactor. As early as in 2020, they in the Russian Federation began to speak seriously about technological problems with high-profile projects of the fifth generation – Su-57 aircraft and Т-14 Armata tank. This was followed by straight talk of experts about Russia’s lag in the field of development of attack UAVs. After public announcement of the terrifying plans to build strategic unmanned combat aerial vehicles (S-70 Okhotnik, Altius-U and Orion), none of the three Russian mega projects has been accomplished. The Russian military transport aviation went into an irreversible dive: by mid-2020, Russia has admitted that something went wrong with the advertised Il-112V airplane, being designed for 19 years now. The hook of sanctions has stopped the run of the smart project of Superjet 100 (nearly 80% of parts for which comes from the West). Although the Russian Federation is immensely proud of its missiles, shortcoming in this area became obvious, too. For instance, the much-vaunted theatre ballistic missile systems Iskander-М supplied to Armenia just missed the targets in the conditions of massive employment of advanced electronic warfare systems. Moscow repeatedly claims progress in the development of hypersonic weapons. However, in mid-2020, Russian scientists themselves criticised allegations of officials and propagandist media about all-mighty missiles developed by the Russian defence industry. They included Ph.D. in military science Konstantin Sivkov and futurologist Maksim Kalashnikov, who stress that the Russian Armed Forced did not have sufficient technical capabilities for targeting their advanced hypersonic Zircon missiles and for precision guidance of the Kalibr and Kinzhal systems. The Russian super weapons were termed blind.


Nevertheless, one cannot rule out transformation of the Russian war against Ukraine into a large-scale, global one in the future. Meanwhile, the modern world is so interrelated that one should rather expect from Moscow a selective, cellular nature of warfare and employment of troops – such as pinpoint subversive actions, surgical fire strikes and covert attacks on infrastructure facilities and information systems. The war will most probably have a wave-like local character and will be waged not against Ukraine as a whole (with its defence forces and planned national resistance) but against political leaders, some public figures or groups of the population. This means that the primary targets of the future attacks may include not only the Armed Forces but also the civilian infrastructure, banks and communication systems, specific groups of the population – including by means of well-executed employment of media resources and subversive activities in the social networks.

If we look at the employment of purely military tools, not only the Ukrainian realities but also other military conflicts of the recent years reveal the success of wide use of relatively inexpensive hi-tech weapon systems. That said, the most probable features of modern comprehensive warfare will include disappearance of the very notion of the «frontline», as well as massive use of tactical (operational, strategic) strike elements and autonomous units. This raises the risk of local subversive acts or operations for Ukraine, such as penetration of subversive reconnaissance groups through the Belarusian border and naval assault units from the sea.

As an example, I can mention that Saudi Arabia, attacked in the fall of 2019 by a dozen of killer drones, was not helped by the modern US-made F-15SA (F-15S) and European Eurofighter Typhoons, or by ballistic missiles. Its national air defence forces (12 batteries of American towed Patriot РАС-2 SAMs – 96 launchers in total), even united in a single system with the USA, also stayed out of the game, and the procurement of the US-made THAAD ABM system worth USD 15 billion proved to be of no use, while the attackers have fully accomplished their goal.

The recent refusal of Germany to supply arms to Ukraine became another demonstrative argument. By the way, it was not the first sobering flick – and, probably, not the last one. If Ukraine fails to develop technologies domestically, it risks lagging behind hopelessly and falling into indefinite dependence on foreign partners.

Ukraine with its scanty rearmament budget – under USD 1 billion – can hardly hope to procure foreign aircraft or powerful missile defence systems. Meanwhile, Ukraine does have the technologies that can make the basis of asymmetric deterrence capabilities.

Developments aimed at a big leap in the field of technological rearmament should not fall out of the general framework of the struggle. I described such a modern framework in more detail in the book «How to defeat Russia in a Future War» (2020). In a couple of words, it involves combination of both non-military and purely forcible means, namely – mature diplomacy, strong intelligence and well-trained counterintelligence, an extensive and legislatively calibrated territorial defence system, a professional hi-tech army. Within this framework of the struggle, technological superiority may become the trump card of the Ukrainian asymmetric struggle with foreign aggression.