Industries are Not Fuelled by Oligarchs

Since 2000 the overhaul of chassis of S-300V ADMS warfare means has taken place at Universalmash. Since 2012 the plant has begun serial production of upgraded self-propelled chassis. Evgeny Versen, Director of the plant, is talking about the goals the plant faces now:

– Evgeny Konstantinovich, how much are your chassis demanded in the domestic market?
– We build not only the so-called “military-purpose produce”. Our self-propelled tracked chassis are used as the basis for cross-country vehicles intended for severe service conditions: tundra, swamps, and virgin snows. In 2000–2005 we produced vehicles for oilfield workers and gas workers.

– Does the produce of Universalmash have any export future?
– Our self-propelled chassis are used as the basis for S-300 air defense missile systems and the latter are fast-moving goods in the export armaments market. Our customers now are the Third World countries. Though, we are not in the position to decide what to produce and for whom, the country leaders do this.

– Would you tell us about the plant’s prospects for the nearest year?
– First of all, the designers continue working. At present our chassis undergo upgrading, certain units and accessories are being installed onto it, which are to improve its driving performance and reliability. It is quite a durable process but as a result we are going to have a brand new vehicle.

– Can it be true that the chassis design has not become obsolete over a quarter of a century?
– As of today the vehicle is absolutely competitive, it has been designed with margins in store as far as its reliability, quality and all aspects of driving performance are concerned… The current upgrading is not related to its basic units and accessories, but after renewal of a certain range of parts it will help to produce the vehicles for the State Arms Program until 2020. I would like to emphasize that our vehicle had no defects claims whatsoever.

– Are there any difficulties with component parts?
– Some accessories were produced by Ukrainian plants in the past, but long before the notorious events in Ukraine we had found an adequate domestic replacement. The manufacture of basic units and accessories is effected at Universalmash Plant. So to say, we are the dominant company. Accordingly, the production complex of the plant ensures today a full cycle of product manufacture.

– Do you happen to have downtimes?
– In December we finished the work on the state order, now we are outputting the last vehicles for export. Certainly it is understood by everyone that the production process should not be stopped. The orders will come, though we have no formal orders yet. Such a situation is generally indicative for many enterprises of the military-industrial complex. We cannot work for future, and it is not a problem of money: one cannot procure materials, if there is no contract to deduct these expenditures to. We cannot carry out assembly of vehicles since the military representatives shall be present during all the stages, beginning from component parts procurement…

– What are other problems you have to face from time to time?
– I suppose that the difficulties are the same at all machine-building plants. It is depreciation of fixed assets and the problem of renewal thereof, and human resources. A problem of current assets replenishing became more acute due to sanctions, the prices change quicker, and all this as a whole brings about the so-called “cash shortages”.

– Do you encounter personnel problems?
– The experts now have no unprejudiced need to prepare substitution for themselves. Yes, we do support coaching in every respect, but we cannot resurrect a sense of tradition known by the Soviet times, so far.
Every department and every team has a couple of people being the mainstay of all. Should you take them away, and the whole department can be dissolved. Sometimes only one person remains and everything depends on him.
A problem with young people is aggravated by the fact that they need not only professional growth opportunities, but some social assistance too, let us say, regarding housing problems. Alas, there is nothing like this.

– The equipment in question can be referred to as dual-purpose produce. But then you manufacture the commercial produce too?
– During the last two years we have mastered production and already deliver escalators to the subway of Saint Petersburg. Their uniqueness consists in the fact that they are of narrow-balustrade type. In case of replacing escalators in a subway tunnel you can change three previous-design escalators to four our ones, which fact is of fundamental importance for station’s throughput capacity.
The second product that we produce in the order of importance, are elevators. The depreciation of lifting equipment is very high in metropolitan cities, and Saint Petersburg is not an exception here. We have entered the overhaul repair market, we have mastered the whole range of the service and have been included into the register of Saint Petersburg administration as the main provider of the overhauled lifting equipment. At the next stage we will approach the market of lifting equipment for new buildings.

– Now it is a kind of stylish fashion to speak about import substitution. Does this fashion cause any problems to you?
– Where is our machine-tool industry, for instance? It is very problematic to raise industry without your own machine-tool building. Not a single oligarch can help independently shoulder any branch of production in the country… If one looks at the Soviet history, the science-based industries have been built, as the saying goes, “by pooling resources”.
In simple words, it is very good that life compels us to do it.

– What are the main difficulties you are expecting to face on the way of import substitution?
– The problem is not only that it is necessary to invest funds but that one has to be patient and wait for results eagerly. At that, a result frequently does not correspond completely to what was planned, and there is no need to make claims that expectations were erroneous. It has happened to nuclear weapons, to aviation, and the rocket-building industry. One has to work in a responsible and eagerly manner and be able to wait patiently. Russian experience shows that these projects are fuelled by talented and inspired initiators of production.

Maxim Sterligov