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Although sounding rhetorical, the question highlights one of the current weaknesses
Although sounding rhetorical, the question highlights one of the current weaknesses of Russia's defense industry.

In mid-June, General of the Army Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of Russia, speaking at the Eurosatory-2008 defense exhibition in Paris, said "starting in 2011 we will begin formulating a new armament program through 2020." The program, he said, "should coordinate the development of all Russian weapons and equipment."

Makarov defined his mission at the Paris exhibition as "watching the direction of the world, minimizing possible mistakes and following the trends of the 2020s and 2030s."

The world, Europe in particular, is moving toward international cooperation, and abandoning the practice of each state developing and manufacturing its own weapon systems. The Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) has served this purpose for almost ten years in Europe.

This cooperation has enabled a united Europe, early in the millennium, to expand to a new purchasing system. For example, a contract to buy 196 A-400M military transport planes for eight countries signed in Brussels in December 2001 was completed between Airbus Military and OCCAR, rather than between the manufacturer and each separate country.

Space is another arena for cooperation. The European Space Agency (ESA) coordinates the space efforts of all European nations involved in the program.

It is no secret that Russia's defense industry relies heavily on production facilities in Ukraine. Engines for strategic and converted launch vehicles are produced, for example, in Dneprepetrovsk, and there have been few complaints about their performance.

But NATO-dominated European military cooperation is one thing, and cooperation between Russian and Ukrainian defense plants is another thing. Today's reality is that most of Russia's defense products are manufactured abroad.

In mid-June, Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, strongly urged an end to dependence on Ukrainian production of aero and rocket engines. He said he wanted engines for the Kh-35, Kh-55 and Kh-59M strategic air-launched cruise missiles currently produced in Ukraine to be manufactured in Russia.

His motives are easy to understand. Ukraine's uncertain policy, its possible NATO membership, and its anti-Russian rhetoric force Russian leadership to seek other options.

But does Russia need to hurry? The companies fulfilling Russian orders are located in eastern Ukraine, a territory whose population is set firmly against NATO membership. Without backing from this industrialized region, Ukraine is unlikely to join NATO any time soon.

Self-reliance on armaments is a good thing, but partnership is necessary, too. Should we sever industrial cooperation on cruise missiles, we might lose contracts for the production of components for RS-20 Satan strategic intercontinental missiles as well - the linchpin of Russia's nuclear deterrence. Russian-Ukrainian Sea Launch space cooperation and much else could suffer.

Forget for a moment that we need to produce a full range of weapons in specific quantities and of specific quality. Is Russia's defense industry ready to take such a step?

In June, Mikhail Babich, deputy chairman of the State Duma's defense committee, said: "One-third of our defense plants are in the red or are about to go bankrupt. Another third are barely making ends meet. And only one third are doing moderately well." Speaking of lead times, he said frankly that "production of modern fourth and fifth generation weapons and military equipment sometimes takes several years, and unless we solve these problems, any business planning, investment, or retooling is out of the question."

Babich was optimistic when he mentioned "several years." Pantsyr-S1 and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems designed to repel space attacks show that at least ten years might be needed. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov made a similar remark about the Pantsyr's lead-time. Speaking at the end of March in Tula, he said the developer, Tula's Instrument-Making Design Bureau, had repeatedly pushed back its deadlines. The reason, he said, was its failure "to establish sound relations with its suppliers and co-producers."

Maybe Russia should not hasten to sever relations with its Ukrainian manufacturers, especially since international experience shows us the advantages of multi-national cooperation in weapons production.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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