What Next? Ak 47 Weed Whackers?Patricia Kranz
Painfully, Russia's arms makers are learning how to convert their products and technologies to civilian uses. A research institute that provided satellite reconnaissance to the military now sells weather data to the government and news organizations.
Many heavy defense manufacturers are showing versatility at entering the world of commerce. UralAz, a factory in the Ural Mountains, has converted its huge all-terrain trucks that used to tote mobile SS-9 nukes into carriers of pipelines and timber. Aviatica, which makes Sukhoi-27 jet fighters outside Moscow, also now builds lightweight sports planes. And on Moscow's central Tverskaya Street, vendors sell ice cream from metal kiosks that once were missile nose cones. Electron, a former antenna maker in Chelyabinsk, is now making microwave ovens in partnership with a nearby "secret" missile factory.
But there have been major disappointments, notably quality problems among those seeking to turn sophisticated electronics gear into relatively simple consumer gadgets. The Tantal defense plant in Saratov shut down its video recorder assembly line in June, unable to compete with spiffier Asian models. The Kirov Factory in St. Petersburg, where T-80 tanks were made, has designed an energy-efficient jeep for consumers. But it has suffered from imports of Chevy Blazers and Jeep Grand Cherokees.
FAREWELL TO ARMS Russian Military Consumer Company Product Product AVIATICA Jet fighters Sports planes ELECTRON Antennas Microwave ovens URALAZ Missile carriers Heavy trucks DATA: BUSINESS WEEK