ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — In a rare setting, for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, both Russian and Ukrainian companies are exhibiting their weapons in close proximity to each other at the IDEX and NAVDEX exhibitions.
Russia, whose arms industry is a key target of Western sanctions, had a larger presence than anticipated at the 2023 edition, not even listed as an official exhibiting country on the conference website. The companies’ footprint here shows how Russian firms and government officials seek to intensify ties with countries outside of Europe, where the regime of President Vladimir Putin stands isolated over its brutal assault of Ukraine.
Located in a separate pavilion, the Russian presence featured over 7 different manufacturers, each showcasing a wide range of military products. Among these was the Zala KYB loitering munition, in its export variant, manufactured by the Zala Group, a subdivision of the Kalashnikov Group that was exhibiting it for the first time at the show.
Moscow’s forces have used missiles and loitering munitions, dubbed “kamikaze” drones, against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, adding to a raft of tactics that Western leader have labeled war crimes.
Samuel Bendett, research analyst at the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analyses, points out that Russian forces have used the KYB more sparingly than the more prominent Lancet drone. “Of the two loitering munitions, it is the Lancet that has practically dominated Russian headlines and is discussed in large numbers as a key Russian capability — not the KYB,” he said.
Bendett explains that early on in the war, footage of the KYB in action often showed the system falling in residential areas without detonating, or missing targets.
When asked on the reasons why this model was chosen over the Lancet system for showcasing, a representative of Kalashnikov Group would only tell Defense News that it was in part due to the fact that the Lancet variants are much larger in size, thus more difficult to ship over for a short duration.
The CEO of Russias’s Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev, declared in a press release that the company “is [currently] implementing many projects in the field of military-technical cooperation in the region, working actively on proposals for the most relevant forms of partnership for Middle Eastern states.” He emphasized that these will primarily be related to transfer of technologies, joint developments and the use of offset programs.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian drone maker Ukrspecsystems showcased its RAM-II loitering munition, which is based on the Leleka-100 drone in use with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The system is specifically designed to destroy tanks as well as air defense systems and was first unveiled in 2021. It has seen battlefield action throughout the last year in Ukraine, in one instance captured on video being used against a target alleged to be a Russian Osa Sam system. Several of these drones have been bought in Ukraine through civilian crowdfunding.
The central role loitering munitions have played in Ukraine have greatly increased their visibility and proliferation from Western users, with several European nations announcing their decision to purchase some or to field their own.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.