New Missiles, Old Trains: The Future of Warfare in the Former Soviet Union
Jeremy Hainsworth via AP
New Missiles, Old Trains: The Future of Warfare in the Former Soviet Union
Jeremy Hainsworth via AP
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In the near future, Ukraine plans to conduct test launches of domestically produced ballistic missiles built without the involvement of foreign companies, said National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchinov in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine news agency. According to Turchinov, resuscitating the domestic missile industry is a priority for Ukrainian authorities. "We need to develop as a space-faring nation, producing high-tech spacecraft, but we also need to restore the necessary production line of combat missiles that will protect the country," added the secretary. "We will soon carry out test launches of missiles of indigenous production, created by exclusively Ukrainian enterprises."

Turchinov noted that the domestic rocket industry has struggled since the loss of close cooperation with Russian enterprises after 2014. Turchinov would not specify the missile types, citing the interests of strategic partners, but he stressed that Ukraine has strengthened its defense without violating any of its international obligations. This development follows plans laid out in 2014 by the newly elected pro-Western Ukrainian President Poroshenko -- his "Strategy 2020" plan called for major overhaul of the nation's armed forces, a plan that involved increasing domestic development of the armaments industry and decreasing reliance on certain exporters, such as Russia, which drove domestic military production without leaving much for Ukrainian forces.

In Soviet times, Ukraine produced numerous rockets, satellites, and missiles, most notably at its Yuzhmash factory, which Kiev inherited after 1991 and which sold much of its production line to Moscow until Russia's actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Back to the Future

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry is once again considering reviving a century-old military concept - the use of armored trains. Last year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu decided to overturn an order by his predecessor, Anatoly Serdyukov, to eliminate the four armored trains still in country's service. During Russian military operations in the North Caucasus and Chechnya from 2002 to 2009, the Russian military created an entire group of armored trains. However, once military operations in Chechnya wound down, the Defense Ministry has decided that a modern army no longer needed such trains.

According to Russian daily Izvestia, the decision to save these special armored trains was made personally by Minister Shoigu. When Serdyukov unexpectedly resigned in late 2012, many of his orders on the reorganization of various units of the Ministry of Defense were not fulfilled, explains Izvestia. After Shoigu audited all military assets, he overruled his predecessor's orders on the reduction of military educational institutions, refused to disband mobile and airborne units, and decided to keep armored trains in the nation's Southern Military District. "When he was the head of the Emergencies Ministry (the Russian equivalent of FEMA), Shoigu, while in Chechnya during the counter-terrorist operation, saw these special trains working and found them useful for the Armed Forces," Izvestia explains.

Russian military officers emphasized that these armored trains proved themselves ably in Chechnya, where it was necessary to protect military cargo and personnel transported via rail from Chechen insurgents. Such armored trains were also essential to protect combat engineers who cleared the railway tracks of improvised explosive devices. Each of the trains included repair teams capable of restoring damaged tracks within hours. The four trains, built in the middle of the last century, were on duty in the Soviet Far East until the 1980s -- there they guarded bridges and railways along the Soviet-Chinese border.

Such armored trains have near-legendary status in Russia. When mobility and concentrated firepower were scarce during the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Civil War that raged across long stretches of today's Russia and Ukraine between 1917 and 1921, trains equipped with cannon and other weapons allowed Bolshevik forces to gain an upper hand over their opponents, at times deploying more than a dozen such trains in a single battle. By the end of the conflict, the newly formed Russian Red Army had 121 such trains in service, which were also used in World War Two and were immortalized on propaganda posters and numerous Soviet and Russian films. However, in the following decades, advances in artillery, missile guidance, aviation, and other technologies made such trains easy targets and therefore virtually irrelevant in large-scale military operations.

Today, Russian military experts have differing opinions on using such old technology for future operations. According to retired Col. Victor Litovkin, a military expert, it is still too early to retire such trains. "Of course, during a modern war with NATO, such armored trains don't carry any defensive or offensive advantage. However, in local conflicts -- such as the ones in the North Caucasus -- armored trains proved indispensable." According to Litovkin, the armored trains were ideal for the destruction of militant formations that operated near railways, as well as for the evacuation of the wounded and during demining operations. In addition, special trains housed modern Russian offensive weapons, such as the MSTA long-range howitzer or Tornado multiple launch rocket systems. However, Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Studies, considers it archaic to use World War One-era technology in a modern military: "Now, in the 21st century, an armored train is a relic of the past, which is useless in modern warfare."

Whether right or wrong, the experts may be debating the use of old military technology in modern warfare for a long time: For instance, the American B-52 strategic bomber may fly for up to 100 years after its initial use in the early 1950s, given its versatility as a diverse platform for a variety of weapons and the absence of a viable replacement for at least two more decades.

(AP photo)