Ukraine’s relations with Pakistan are almost completely about weapons.

Over the past few decades, Islamabad has been among the most enthusiastic clients of Ukraine’s arms industry, which offered much more attractive prices compared to Russia.

Pakistan is still a loyal customer in 2021 but business between the two countries is not even close to what it once was. From purchasing armadas of battle tanks, Pakistan has gradually shifted to more modest contracts to maintain and modernize its military hardware. It’s even paying more attention to Ukraine’s competitors.

Islamabad and Kyiv maintain pragmatic business relations in the defense sector and shower each other with compliments. And Ukraine offers a lot of its more advanced and sophisticated weapons that could be of great interest to Pakistan.


Nonetheless, this flirting between the two nations’ military industries doesn’t seem to be blossoming into a deeper relationship. Still, experts say Ukraine still has chances to win more major Pakistani contracts over China and Russia.

Sweet salvation

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) databases, since becoming independent in 1991, Ukraine by 2020 completed arms contracts with Pakistan with a total value of nearly $1.6 billion.

This made Islamabad one of Ukraine’s biggest customers ever, right next to Russia, China, India, and Thailand.

In the late 1990s, Islamabad literally rescued the Kharkiv Malyshev Tank Factory from bankruptcy with a $650 million contract to produce 320 T‑80UD tanks, which still form a large part of the Pakistani armored fleet.

Moreover, according to the media at the time, the Ukrainian manufacturer managed to offer a price nearly 40% lower than Russia’s.

And up to this very day, this old transfer keeps giving much-sought work to the struggling Ukrainian arms industry.

In 2021 alone, Pakistan signed an $85.6 million contract to repair its T‑80UD fleet in Ukraine. For the Malyshev Factory, this was again a gulp of fresh air — the once-grand enterprise, as of early 2021, was struggling with its Hr 1.8 billion ($67 million) debt.


Over the years, Ukraine has also produced scores of 6TD‑1 (used for T‑80s) and 6TD‑2 diesel engines, used extensively for the Chinese-Pakistani MBT‑2000 tank, more commonly known as Al-Khalid.

Tanks are Ukraine’s biggest money makers with Pakistan. According to UkrSpetsEksport, the Ukrainian foreign arms trade agency, Kyiv is currently working on 12 contracts valued at over $150 million.

In the same manner, Pakistan has recently enlivened Ukraine’s aircraft repairs industry, which is also hungry for work, by concluding two new contracts to repair its Ilyushin Il‑78 refueling tankers.

The Ukrainian authorities have not disclosed the contract price. The deal currently envisages repairing two Il‑78s, although the Ukrainian industry hopes to repair all four aircraft of this type operated by the Pakistani Air Force. For the Mykolaiv Aircraft Repairs Plant, this is also a chance to ease its own financial difficulties.

Islamabad has become a stable contract provider. Officials of UkrOboronProm, the Ukrainian state-run defense production giant, do not hesitate to call Pakistan “a strategic client” with which the country has a “traditionally high level of trust and mutual understanding.”


A lot to offer

For their part, Pakistani officials also send positive signals to Ukraine’s arms industry — teasing it with potential multimillion contacts involving things far more advanced (and profitable) than tank repairs.

In May, the Ukrainian defense community was encouraged by the official visit of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army’s Chief of Staff.

Given the dominant role of the military in the South Asian country, the arrival of one of Pakistan’s top officials coming to check out the Ukrainian arms market raised expectations.

And the Ukrainian officials did their very best. At military training grounds near Kharkiv, the Pakistani general was shown some of the best weapons Ukraine has to offer: from BTR‑4E armored personnel carriers to Korsar and Skif anti-tank guided missiles.

According to UkrOboronProm officials, the Pakistani general was most interested in the Oplot main battle tanks and the Skif missiles. This again fueled new speculation about Pakistani readiness to buy advanced Ukrainian tanks. But the visit ended without any new contracts being signed.

Instead, the Pakistani military is known to have recently purchased nearly a 100 Chinese-made VT‑4 tanks that are frequently mentioned as very strong competitors of Ukrainian Oplots in the global market.


This might effectively mean an end to Ukrainian hopes of winning a major contract in Pakistan.

But according to experts with Defense Express, the Kyiv-based think tank agency, not all is lost yet.

They believe that the Pakistan land forces currently operate nearly 2,000 tanks. But only some 700 of them are modern designs like the Ukrainian T‑80s, or the Chinese Type 85s.

So in the near future, Pakistan might still need to replace some 1,300 vehicles. And according to the experts, Ukrainian Oplots might still be its tank of choice.

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