Armor: Skif, Cosar And Donbas

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November 2, 2017: Since the 1990s Ukraine has been trying to develop new ATGMs (Anti-tank guided missile) and recently began shipping the Skif ATGM. The Russian invasion in 2014 accelerated the need for locally developed weapons because Russian threats prevented Ukraine from receiving new weapons from the West. Before 2014 these new Ukrainian weapons were intended mainly for the export market but now most of the new stuff is only for Ukrainian troops, at least until the war with Russia in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) is over.

Skif is based on work done with neighboring Belarus to develop the Shershen ATGM. The two countries differed on design of the joint project and each went their own way with Ukraine developing the Skif. The Ukrainian ATGM is a 29.5 kg (65 pound) missile stored and fired from an 8.5 kg (18.7 pound) container that is mounted on 32 kg (70 pound) control unit. Max range of the laser guided missile is 5,500 meters. The control unit contains a thermal sight and allows the operator to manually guide the missile to a moving target or designate a stationary target in “fire and forget” mode.

The firing unit can be detached from the tripod and operated up to 50 meters away from the rest of the system. Skif has two types of armor piercing warheads (130mm and 152mm), one capable of penetrating 1.1 meters of reactive and composite armor. There is also a fragmentation warhead that is useful against structures. Skif is touted by the manufacturer as being comparable to the Israeli Spike-LR but as a practical matter the Spike uses more advanced technology and the main advantage Skif has is lower price. Shelf life of the missiles (in their sealed containers) is 10 years but few of those produced over the next year or so are expected to remain on the shelf long.

Ukraine has a long history with development of ATGMs, For example iIn 2013 Ukraine tried to interest buyers in its new Corsar ATGM, which appears to be a scaled down Skif. The 105mm (diameter) Cosar missile and its storage/launch container weigh 18 kg (40 pounds). The missile is laser homing, with a range of 2,500 meters, and its tandem warhead can penetrate 550mm of armor that is behind reactive (explosive panels) armor. At the time Poland expressed some interest, even though Poland has been using the Israeli Spike LR for several years. But Corsar is cheaper than Spike and uses laser guidance rather than the more expensive “fire and forget” system Israeli missiles employ. The Spike LR, along with the sealed storage/launch canister, weighs 13 kg (28.6 pounds). The canister is mounted on a 13 kg fire control system (10 kg without the tripod) for aiming and firing. The missile in its canister has a shelf life of twenty years and a range of 4,000 meters. The Spike uses a fiber-optic cable so that the operator can literally drive the missile to the target, although the missile can also be used in "fire and forget" mode. Israel is apparently flexible on what they charge for the Spike LR, saying only that it's cheaper than the similar U.S. Javelin. So the Ukrainians found that the export market was more crowded and competitive than they expected. The larger, lingered ranged and cheaper (than Spike LR) Skif may not have been the answer but if it does well in Donbas, that will be a powerful assist for sales efforts.

Ukraine has a lot of other potential new weapons and has made some progress in finding customers. Before the Cold War ended in 1991, many Soviet weapons design and production operations were in Ukraine. These were inherited by the newly independent Ukraine after 1991. But most of these organizations went out of business because there was no more Soviet Armed Forces placing large orders each year. Most of the foreign sales disappeared as well. Ukraine salvaged some weapons and design capability by selling off its large Cold War stocks of Soviet weapons at low prices and developing a willingness to sell to anyone who could pay. Ukraine now has a lot of customers in Africa and Asia and noted a demand for ATGMs. These weapons are popular not just for their ability to destroy or disable most tanks but as highly portable and accurate artillery against all sorts of targets. Corsar and Skif are old technology but the Ukrainians still know how to produce it cheaply and reliably enough to attract some customers.

 


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