IMPLICATIONS: The demands of Kazakhstan’s existing military reform priorities, which highlight in particular the airmobile forces, peace support and antiterrorist capabilities, place additional demands within the system to increase troop mobility and react at speed to any potential crisis situation. Traditionally, the armed forces have been heavily reliant on its declining stock of Soviet and Russian hardware and weapons systems. Achieving NATO interoperability within its key formations will entail looking beyond Russia to procure the equipment its armed forces will need. That is why within the framework of the five-year plan of military cooperation with the U.S., Kazakhstan has been successfully working on equipping the airmobile forces with HMMWVs. Kazakhstan has already received more than 30 vehicles. During the visit of U.S. military representatives to Almaty in early February 2006, the issue of obtaining 17 or 18 additional vehicles was discussed. Unlike most other states that use HMMWVs, Kazakhstan has created its own “HMMWV-Asia Center” to maintain those vehicles, which has been operational since September 2005. At the end of 2006, Kazakhstan is expected to receive the first Huey helicopters for its airmobile forces and it is also discussing with the U.S. the possibility of receiving C-130 transport aircraft. Such airframes and the accompanying supporting packages will result in the Kazakhstani MoD planning repair and maintenance arrangements; reflecting the arrangements with the HMMWVs. With the next rotation in Iraq of the Kazakhstani peacekeeping component of KAZBAT, Astana is planning to deploy a small number of armored HMMWVs. The idea is in its early stages, but it reveals the commitment of the Kazakhstani government to the promotion of its peace support capabilities, from which it has gained a great deal of positive publicity owing to the presence of KAZBAT in Iraq. Also on February 10, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev held a series of meetings with U.S. ambassador John Ordway, Russian ambassador Vladimir Babichev and Indian ambassador Ashok Mukherjee in Astana. Predictably, the Kazakhstani Foreign ministry said Tokayev “discussed expanding bilateral contacts in various areas of cooperation, and looked at a wide range of international and regional issues of mutual interest.” Yet, Mukherjee presented Tokayev with an invitation to visit India on an official visit later this year, showing New Delhi’s interest in forging stronger ties with Kazakhstan and increasing Indian interests in Central Asia. An Indian dimension is therefore central to the hopes of increased sales output from Kazakhstan’s defense industries. In fact a Kazakhstani delegation recently participated in an international exhibition of land and naval weapons, Defexpo India 2006, in New Delhi. Consequently the Indian government expressed interest in holding talks on procuring torpedoes and mines for the Indian Navy. “The major result for Kazakhstan, which took part in such an exhibition for the first time, is that the Indian Ministry of Defense has expressed an interest in cooperation with our defense companies. In the future, talks can be conducted on selling Kazakh torpedoes and naval mines to India,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense confirmed.
CONCLUSIONS: Domestically, the defense industries, although lacking in transparency, often provide a glimpse of how and where the Kazakhstani government is procuring weapons for its armed forces. Nazarbayev’s commitment to developing a Naval security component to the armed forces, as his country’s contribution towards Caspian security, and his drive to reform the armed forces may be measured in how domestic defense industries supply the needs of the military. Military reform and the foreign security initiatives that facilitate the development of the program in a constructive manner, compel complimentary domestic supporting plans, such as the creation of Kazakhstani centers capable of carrying out repair and maintenance on key military assets. In this area, the leadership of the Kazakhstani MoD will be crucial, raising the importance of having suitably qualified personnel carrying out detailed and systemic work in the armaments department, avoiding the pitfalls overbearing political interference.
AUTHORS’ BIO: Roger N. McDermott is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent at Canterbury (UK) and a Senior Fellow in Eurasian Military Studies, Jamestown Foundation, Washington, D.C. Col. Igor M. Mukhamedov is a senior officer serving in the Kazakhstani MoD, with a Master’s Degree in National Security from the Naval Post-Graduate School, Monterey, California. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of any official body.