American Defense Firms Take Aim at Kazakhstan Market

Central Eurasia

Kazakhstan held the third iteration of its biennial defense expo, KADEX, from May 22 through 25 in the capital of Astana, and according to the organizers

,170 companies from 23 countries took part. While far outnumbered by their Russian, Turkish and Ukrainian counterparts, several American defense firms took part in the expo, and Kazakhstan's purchases of American military equipment seem poised to increase over the next few years.

Like all post-Soviet republics, Kazakhstan inherited Soviet military equipment upon gaining independence and still relies heavily on Soviet/Russian equipment. But as its state budget has increased (thanks to oil and gas revenues), so has the defense budget, from just over $1 billion in 2006 to a projected $

2.06 billion in 2014. And Kazakhstan has slowly tried to reduce its dependence on Russian military equipment by increasing cooperation with defense firms from elsewhere, notably Turkey and Europe.

Kazakhstan now operates small numbers of C-295 military transport aircraft and EC145 light utility helicopters, both produced by the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus (the latter in a joint production agreement with Kazakhstan's state defense company, Kazakhstan Engineering). It also produces Cobra armored vehicles in cooperation with Turkish firm Otokar.

From American firms, Kazakhstan operates a small number of UH-1H “Huey” light utility helicopters and Humvees. Kazakhstan received both in the form of aid (as opposed to outright purchasing them): the Hueys were acquired under Section 1206 and the Humvees under the Foreign Military Financing program. Negotiations went on for several years between the U.S. and Kazakhstan over C-130 military transportation aircraft, but a deal never materialized.


Judging by the attendance at KADEX, American defense companies believe that in the future there could be additional commercial prospects in Kazakhstan. General Atomics had a booth at the show promoting its Predator XP, a version of the drone that cannot be armed so as to make it easier to gain permission to export. Company officials said Kazakhstan was interested in leasing one Predator for a short term, to test it for possible use in monitoring borders and oil and gas facilities in the large, sparsely populated country. It was General Atomics' first appearance at KADEX (which also took place in 2010 and 2012). At the end of the show, Kazakhstan Engineering announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with General Atomics, but did not provide details on what the agreement entailed.


Sikorsky, an American company best known for its helicopters, also made its first appearance at the show. They were highlighting the M28, a small fixed-wing military and civilian transportation aircraft made in Poland by a Sikorsky subsidiary. Sikorsky's goals seemed to be longer-term: company representatives said that the M28 could give them a foothold to establish a relationship with defense officials and eventually market helicopters like the Black Hawk. “Maybe it will take seven or ten years for them to consider us 'one of the family,'” a company representative said. “This is year number one.”


A third American company, FLIR Systems, was showing various night-vision and other military optical systems. According to a representative, the company had already gotten licenses from the U.S. State Department to export several of its electro-optical sensors (like binoculars and gun sights) to Kazakhstan, including the Recon B2, Recon B9, Recon M24, MilSight T90 TaNS, MilSight T105 UNS, and MilSight S135 MUNS. The representative said that FLIR was competing against cheaper Russian equipment, but believed that it could gain a foothold among Kazakhstan’s relatively well-funded special operations forces. “It's like a Mercedes compared to a Lada,” he said.