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The Defensive

The Defensive

A model designer’s theoretical possible future Air Defence weapon for Ukraine, using a Ukrainian made BTR-4E married to a variant of the Skyshield modern air defence cannon. – image from the catalogue.


Much like the difficulty Russia had in defeating Ukraine’s defensive positions in 2022, Ukraine is now having to deal with similar problems being on offense. Like Ukraine, Russia is a military that spent much of the Soviet era practicing defensive positions after the German invasion during the Second World War. It should have been expected that in 2022 Ukraine would not have been easy to conquer as their entire military infrastructure, planning, and equipment was designed to be the first barrier to invasions from the West during the Cold War. Now that Ukraine has adopted an offensive posture, the difficulty in attacking Russian defensive positions has been met with great challenges. This may mean the war will drag on for some time, and a permanent and effective defense structure to modern threats should be top of mind for Ukraine and those assisting in their conflict.

One error that would make it very difficult for Ukraine’s allies to maintain their support for the defense of Ukraine is public sentiments within allied countries. It is extremely important not to diminish the needs of the local populations or put them in competition with aid policy in helping the war in Ukraine. It has been shown that allied populations are very willing to help Ukraine, even taking Ukrainians into their homes, breaking bread, and sharing their table among their family. What is a big error and is now apparent in my own city are that funds that were promised to compensate the city from their added Covid emergency spending is being intentionally stalled by the Federal Government while weekly announcements of military aid to help Ukraine are freely being promoted well over the amount promised for local safety, healthcare and basic needs. Putting citizen’s tax dollars in direct competition with foreign aid of any type is a horrible policy approach as it destroys good will and future aid projects for very noble causes.

A long term defensive plan must be tied to a cost efficient and effective defense. It has been demonstrated that using high cost and high tech missiles against low cost drones may be a strategy to bleed Ukraine of advanced weapons in the long term. Such missiles take a long time to produce and even longer to develop, and drone attacks are currently manipulating this situation. Anti-air systems like Gepard, that uses a dated radar system and two 35mm Oerlikon rapid fire cannons, has proven to be a Cold War solution to a modern problem. The cost effectiveness of using cannon shells against drones will enable a long term defense against such targets, and more such solutions need to be implemented if NATO seeks a long term victory for Ukraine.

The Shilka solution should become a major step in addressing the lack of a long term defense of Ukrainian civilians and military. The Gepard itself was the response to the Soviet 1960s era ZSU-23-4 Shilka, a radar based anti-air system using four 23mm cannons fixed in a special turret, married to a radar and tracking system. This systems was produced in very high numbers for most of the Cold War and it is likely the case that many are in storage, along with 23mm ammo, all over Eastern Europe and abroad.

The Shilka did have some variants upgraded with newer radar and tracking technology, as well as smaller anti-aircraft missiles. These projects were done by Ukraine and another independently by Poland in order to upgrade their military to more modern standards. This lower cost upgrade of the old system would be a project that could be applied to other Shilka units, along with new computers systems and radar upgrades. Shilkas would be greater in number than the Gepards and could defend many more locations from terror drones. Such projects could also be promoted by technical and engineering schools so that older technology radars could be used as a platform for new technology solutions, even perhaps making the radar and cannon used with AI as is used in many modern missile targeting systems. If no actions are to be taken to attack the drone manufacturing facilities, this might be the best option in the intermediate to long term.

A solution may also be possible with the assistance of diplomats and power politics. China does not want to seem like an overt threat as it would diminish trade with Western countries, and has recently been promoting itself as being a third party peace negotiator abroad. Current relations with China and the US are challenging, and a response by China has been to not openly support either Russia or Ukraine while seeking an image of mediator for conflicts well outside its own traditional realms of interest. China, like India, is in a unique position however as China is not being pressured to the same degree as smaller nations when dealing directly with Russia while under sanctions. China would serve itself well to either show it is not selling any equipment to Russia in its war, or tack in the other direction and offer weapons sales to both sides. Doing the latter should be done with regard to defensive weapons only. This would blunt heavy criticisms from Russia as those weapons would be used to save civilian lives and not cost Russian lives. Western criticism would be less effective as well as weapons sales would be benefitting Ukraine and its allies through low cost air defense implemented in rapid time.

China’s 2008 military parade demonstrated the new military strength of China, and some of that equipment had already been replaced by very modern systems. China’s newest anti-air cannon system, the PGZ09, is very closely related to the Gepard. Although a lot newer with a modern radar, it also carries two Oerlikon 35mm cannons and is active in the PLA. China would likely not sell active units of the PGZ09, but it would certain open an export market for future sales of the system if they decided to do so. An effective demonstration of the PGZ09 would likely displace many of Russia’s export sales of weapons as a bonus to China’s arms export industry. While this industry coped many Soviet systems in the past and exported them with great annoyance to Russia, China can now use their own designs with Western licensed technology to compete successfully in the weapons export market.

An older system that was presented in 2008 is the PGZ95, a modern system with a modern radar that uses four cannons like the Shilka, but also carries four smaller surface to air missiles as well. China replaced many of these fairly modern systems with their PGZ09, and considering the size of the PLA, there are likely many PGZ95 units available. PGZ95 would likely be obtained and put on the field to defend Ukraine a lot faster than even upgraded ZSU-23-4 Shilkas could be modernised to shoot down drones. If China wanted to sell weapons while putting on a neutral face, the sale of military equipment for defense would be an option with many sides taking interest. The PGZ95 would likely be a great drone killer and could be sold with armoured cars, helicopters, radars and other systems that could be used in a purely defensive manner.

Modern systems designed to detect and destroy drones are coming, but systems like Skyshield are still at great cost, limited in number, need time to be produced, and may be subject to export restrictions like the ammo for the Gepard. The economic costs to the public should be considered with every decision as they are the ones actually paying for weapons systems with no payment for their donations being returned back into their communities. Suggestions above would be implemented faster and save more lives, while creating a longer term defense strategy that does not alienate supporters in Western nations and is more cost effective. Everyone wants to save innocent lives and help defend Ukraine, but leaders need to always do this in concert with keeping their own country’s families safe, healthy and employed.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration