Ukraine recently announced that it is upgrading about 300 T-72B tanks held in reserve. These will be refurbished and get new equipment that will make them similar to the Polish PT-91. The official reason for this is that Ukraine wants the T-72Bs to meet NATO requirements but the upgraded tanks would also improve the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Army forces fighting in eastern Ukraine. The upgrade idea came as a result of Ukrainian military officials being given an opportunity to test some PT-91s.
Such cooperation between Poland and Ukraine is nothing new because since 2011 defense firms in the two countries have worked together to develop guided 155mm artillery and 120mm mortar shells. Another cooperative effort enabled a Polish firm to develop a less expensive alternative to the Israeli SPIKE ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) that was based on the Ukrainian RK-3 Corsair ATGM.
Ukrainian troops fighting in Donbas are mostly using the T-64B tanks and these vehicles are suffering heavy losses because of inferior capabilities. Part of this was due to inexperienced and poorly trained crews. But another major problem was that the pro-Russian rebels had Russian tanks with superior thermal sights and fire control systems. Ukraine had a factory that built modern thermal sights but it was in the Donbas and seized by the pro-Russian rebels. Normally this is not a big problem because there are many other sources for such equipment. In this case the closest alternate source is in Poland, in the form of the modern thermal sights used in the PT-91. Moreover the PT-91 thermal sights and fire control system were recently upgraded. Thus Ukrainian T-72s upgraded to the PT-91 standard can fight at night on equal terms with the Russian T-72s used by the rebels. Upgrading the 300 T-72s also makes it possible to equip some National Guard units which need this kind of combat capability for the first time.
But what does Poland could get in return? Although Ukraine is now literally broke they still possess many interesting technologies which they inherited from the Soviet Union and have further developed. For example a Ukrainian firm upgraded the Mi-8 helicopters with a more powerful and efficient Ukrainian engine. Poland can use this kind of technology for the Polish made Mi-2. This is a Russian design which the Poles produced under license. The Poles also has developed an improved version and called it the W-3 Sokol. The Polish manufacturer of Mi-2 and W-3 Sokol is now part of Augusta Westland and the Ukrainian engines make export orders easier to obtain. Ukraine was already negotiating such a deal for the W-3 and the PT-91 upgrade would speed things up.
Poland was the sole Mi-2 producer between 1965 and 1998 and about 5,400 helicopters of the type were delivered to more than 20 customers worldwide. This creates business opportunities for upgrades and sales of new helicopters. Upgrades using the Ukrainian engines would benefit both Polish and Ukrainian firms. Unfortunately Augusta Westland is not keen on that idea because they don’t want another competitor to deal with. On the other hand other firms are quite enthusiastic about it. Ukraine proposes a joint deal where Poles would be responsible for digital systems as well as helicopter certification while Ukraine handles propulsion systems (engines and other related parts). This would produce helicopters that would be very competitive in the international market.
Another Ukrainian technology Polish firms would like access to is a new linear shaped charge design for ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) that is 30 to 60 percent more effective than current technology. The new design is 52 percent heavier but increased protection is worth it. Moreover that much additional weight is not a major factor when ERA is added to tanks. --- Przemyslaw Juraszek