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    Retro-Fit: Ukraine Wants to Create NATO-Standard Guns for Its Soviet-Era Tanks

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    Military & Intelligence
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    The Ukrainian government has instructed military designers to start work on a new 120mm NATO standard tank gun. The problem, says veteran military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky, is not only that this would cost billions of dollars, but that it is virtually impossible for the Ukrainian defense sector in its present state.

    On Wednesday, the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers approved what it called 'The main directions for the long-term development of arms and military equipment', a policy document discussing future plans for the development of the country's defense sector.

    A draft text of the document obtained by Ukrainian media states that the future development of Ukrainian weapons systems will be based on an evolutionary model, according to which global trends will be taken into account. This includes the creation and incorporation of modern reconnaissance, communication and information protection systems, as well as automation, robotics, autonomous and remote-controlled equipment.

    Platitudes aside, the document also offers hints on some specific projects. These include a new tactical missile system, a new generation of tanks featuring remote weapons and armored capsule technology, a plan to upgrade Ukraine's fleet of tactical aviation to generation 4+, the construction of light helicopters and small subs, and the development of a new small patrol aircraft design for the Navy.

    But perhaps the most intriguing proposal in the document is its discussion of plans to transition Ukrainian tank guns to NATO's 120mm standard, including the gun itself, a new automatic loader and rounds for the weapon.

    A Ukrainian T-80
    President of the Ukraine Press-Service
    A Ukrainian T-80

    Asked to comment on these plans, veteran Russian military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky told Russia's Vzglyad newspaper that hypothetically at least, they are feasible. "For example, Russia's military industry has demonstrated export versions of its tanks equipped with 120mm guns. And if we talk about the design of the gun itself, it can be executed according to the same design concept as the 125mm D-81 cannon equipped aboard tanks which were designed in the Soviet period."

    "The main problem," Murakhovsky stressed, "is that while [NATO's] 120mm tank rounds have a unitary structure…the Soviet 125mm caliber guns are designed using a separate loading [system] – that is, loading the projectile and the propellant charge separately."

    In other words, the military observer explained that for Ukraine to successfully switch to the NATO standard, "it will have to completely redesign the production of the corresponding tank ammunition, rearrange the tank's structure, the gun housing, [and] the ammunition stowage space. In this case, it will be necessary to create either a completely different automatic loading mechanism, or in general a tank with a different configuration…with all the corresponding costs that a new design entails." If Ukraine chooses the latter, that will also demand the creation of new production capacities, Murakhovsky said.

    "This will require very serious investment. If they simply take already existing Western equipment and the West hands them the technology, that's one sum of money; if they are going to develop everything from scratch and create the production machinery themselves, that's something else entirely, that's a completely different, much larger sum. In any case, we're talking billions of dollars."

    A Ukrainian T-64
    © Sputnik/ Stringer
    A Ukrainian T-64

    The 125-mm tank gun has been the standard for all Soviet and most post-Soviet Russian tank designs, starting with the T-64A in the early 1960s. Ukrainian designers have fitted their latest tank – the T-84 Oplot, with a 125 mm smoothbore KBA-3 cannon.

    As far as the NATO standard 120mm gun is concerned, Russian weapons engineers have already developed the M-393 and M-395 tank guns; these guns are compatible with NATO ammunition, and are listed as options for the modernization of T-62 and T-72 tanks.

    In Ukraine's case, Murakhovsky suggested that the country probably doesn't have the resources to create its own, fully functional 120mm NATO standard gun at the moment.

    "To want something is not harmful. To promise something does not mean you have to follow through. But in my opinion, it's pointless to talk about this today, because as I will remind you, Ukraine has not been able to fulfill a contract with Thailand for the supply of tanks equipped even with 125mm guns over the space of several years."

    Ukrainian Oplot (Stronghold) battle tanks are intended for delivery to Thailand in a workshop of the Malyshev Plant in Kharkiv on September 8, 2013
    © AFP 2017/ SERGEY BOBOK
    Ukrainian Oplot (Stronghold) battle tanks are intended for delivery to Thailand in a workshop of the Malyshev Plant in Kharkiv on September 8, 2013

    "If we are to talk about a transition to 120mm caliber guns, in the short term this is possible only if Western countries supply Ukraine with these weapons and the corresponding ammunition. But on their own? I do not see such possibilities for Ukrainian industry even in the foreseeable future," Murakhovsky concluded.

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    NATO standard, tank gun, expert commentary, NATO, Ukraine
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