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Iraq gets first of 420 Ukrainian APCs

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (UPI) May 16, 2011
Iraq has taken delivery of the first 26 of 420 BTR-4 armored personnel carriers from Ukraine, part of a $2.5 billion contract that includes six Antonov tactical transport aircraft and makes the former Soviet republic one of Iraq's main arms suppliers.

Most of the weapons systems and equipment for Iraq's new-age armed forces will come from the United States, which has trained and funded the forces in recent years.

In late 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense proposed selling Baghdad arms worth at least $4.2 billion, including 18 Lockheed Martin F-16 strike aircraft, Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs and reconnaissance equipment.

But the Iraqi Defense Ministry has cast its procurement net much wider to include arms from Russia, Serbia, France and Ukraine.

The Ukrainians inherited Russian arms factories when the Soviet Union broke up two decades ago, including BTR manufacturing plants. Redesigned BTR variants have proved to be popular export items.

The BTR-4, which has amphibious capabilities, is a variant of the Russian BTR-80 wheeled APC built in Ukraine during the Cold War. It carries a three-man crew and eight soldiers.

The 4-ton 8X8 vehicle, reputedly immune to rocket-propelled grenades, carries a 30mm autocannon, a 7.62mm machine gun and a 30mm grenade launcher, or two anti-tank missiles.

Delivery of the APCs, built by the Khariv Morozov Design Bureau of Khariv, is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. The bureau produced the war-winning T-34 main battle tank for the Soviet army during World War II.

The Iraqi deal provides Ukraine's arm industry with a significant boost in exports.

During the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Soviet Union, and later Russia, was the leading supplier of weapons for Iraq.

U.S. military analyst D.J. Elliott, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer who compiles the Iraqi Security Forces Order of Battle Web site, says the BTR-4s, which accommodate a wide range of weapons fits, may be assigned to Iraqi Special Operations Forces strike units.

He noted a recent shift toward training these forces on older Soviet-designed BTR-80s, and that the number of BTR-4s ordered is about enough to equip the ISOF strike teams as they are currently constituted.

The army's main mechanized infantry units are to be equipped with second-hand U.S. Army APCs, including 1,000 refurbished M-113 tracked vehicles.

The 12-ton M-113 was for decades the backbone of the U.S. infantry after it was fielded in 1960 and made its mark during the Vietnam War. It was built by United Defense, which was taken over by BAE in 2005.

More than 80,000 M-11s were built and more than one-third of them remain in service with 50 nations. The United States has retired thousands of them and refurbishes them for resale.

The first shipment of BTR-4s by UkrSpetsExport, Ukraine's state arms exporter, included four command APCs and two medical variants. The next shipment of 62 vehicles is scheduled for September.

Ukraine also hopes to sell Iraq an undetermined number of advanced T-84 Oplot main battle tanks but as far as is known to deal has been finalized.

Meantime, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported in February that Antonov State Enterprises in Kiev is ready to deliver the first two AN-32 light transport aircraft.

But it isn't clear whether the twin-engine turboprop aircraft, built by the Aviant State Aircraft Plant at Kiev have been shipped to Iraq. The other four transports are expected in Iraq by the end of the year.

There are unconfirmed reports that Baghdad could eventually buy another four AN-32s to bolster the transport command of the fledgling Iraqi air force which currently has U.S.-built King Air 350 light transports and several Lockheed Martin C-130EJ Hercules heavy tactical transports.

The Iraqis have used Antonovs for decades.

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