South Asian countries should beware!

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Lately, China has been raising security concerns in the Indian Ocean region with strategic military sales such as submarines to Bangladesh and Pakistan. China claims to be a major defense exporter to many Asian and Southeast Asian countries in India’s neighborhood.

Many of these countries, which are unable to acquire expensive military technology from other reliable sources, buy seemingly cheap weapons and systems from the Chinese market.

To this end, the Bangladeshi military has imported two Type 035G submarines from the 1970s and Type 053H frigates from China, with its import dependence on Chinese equipment reaching almost 85%.

Myanmar, after the 2021 military coup and Western sanctions, turned to China for the majority of its military hardware.

Pakistan is shifting its reliance on cheap Chinese hardware with its acquisition of Yuan-class submarines, J-10/JF-17 fighter jets and Type-054 stealth warships.

Sri Lanka recently received warships and military aircraft (Harbins, J-7). Nepal has also been aggressively sued by China in recent years for purchasing Chinese military equipment with a NPR 2.5 billion subsidy for the Nepalese army.

China’s development of overseas bases in the region is also bothering Indian military planners. The commissioning of the military base in Djibouti in 2017, the development of the port of Gwadar in Pakistan and the takeover of the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka give them a credible infrastructure to position military assets in the region.

The new entrant in this club is the port of Pekua in Bangladesh. China plans to develop this port and offer it for the docking and maintenance of submarines donated to Bangladesh. However, its real intention may be to establish a staging base for its nuclear submarines, which will likely increase their incursions into the Indian Ocean region in the future. Therefore, if we envisage a conflict with China or our neighboring countries, we can foresee that the position of these countries will be largely motivated by Chinese interest in the region.

However, all is not as rosy for customers in Beijing as it seems. However, at their own risk, they disregard the life cycle costs and reliability factors of Chinese products.

The poor quality and workmanship of these Chinese weapons and military systems have proven to plague its customers.

Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Nepal have found this out the hard way.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha threatened April 4 to cancel a deal to buy Chinese S26T Yuan-class submarines unless Beijing included the German-made MTU 396 engine.

Beijing reportedly requested a contract amendment to replace the German engines with Chinese MWM 620 engines.

Given the bad reputation attached to anything Chinese-made, the Thais seem unwilling to make the deal unless their demands are met.

Earlier in January, Nepal Airlines grounded six Chinese-made planes, saying it was proving unaffordable to fly them. These substandard aircraft offered extremely poor service rates and required heavy maintenance.

China’s loan of these aircraft, however, continued to haunt airlines. Contributions worth $35.1 million, at a high interest rate as well as service charges and management fees, are still pending.

Beijing had offered two 1970s Ming-class Type-035G submarines to Bangladesh worth $100 million each in 2017. These were later reintroduced by the Bangladesh Navy as BNS Nobojatra and BNS Joyjatra.

However, both platforms remained inactive due to technical issues and could not be used as intended. The year 2020 saw China donate two Chinese 053H3 frigates – BNS Umar Farooq and BNS Abu Ubaidah – to Dhaka.

According to sources, the Type-053H3 frigates offered to the Bangladesh Navy have flaws in the fire control system as well as the helicopter refueling and draining system.

Faults were also discovered in the gyrocompass. The frigates were supplied by Poly Technologies Inc. Poly Technologies is a subsidiary of China Poly Group Corporation, a trading company headquartered in Beijing, which deals in missiles and other military equipment.

Regarding the naval platforms built by China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co. Limited, the problems that have emerged are poor metallurgy, lack of spare parts support, machinery breakdown, faulty radars and armaments mediocre.

Faults have also been detected in the Bangladesh Air Force’s basic trainer and K-8 aircraft and the Bangladesh Army’s short-range air defense system.

Pakistan, despite being closest to Beijing, has also faced similar issues. Pakistan’s armed forces, traditionally accustomed to superior Western-made products, have had to deal with faulty military equipment supplied by China.

The WL II UCAVs supplied by China were grounded days after their introduction into the PAF due to serious defects. A similar story emerged with the joint production of JF-17 fighters.

According to reports, around 40 aircraft are unairworthy due to a shortage of spare parts and the RD-93 engine suffered frequent cracks in guide vanes, exhaust nozzles and flame stabilizers. .

The Chinese are desperately trying to replace the existing engine with the Chinese-made WS-13 engines. However, when these will be made available to Pakistan remains the debatable question. The same applies to the SAM system of the Zulfiqar-class frigate, obtained thanks to a loan of several million dollars from the Chinese bank EXIM.

The system, itself a clone of the French Crotale system, was plagued with maintenance problems which led the Pakistan Navy to turn to European suppliers for future inductions.

Other cases of supplying low-quality drones, armored personnel carriers, missiles and even warships around the world are well documented.

In some cases, loss of life due to faulty equipment has also been reported. The lack of quality of military equipment from China is increasingly analyzed and has highlighted sub-standard capabilities being sold to economically weaker countries under the guise of supporting them.

Around the world, the reliability and quality of defense equipment is recognized as the true hallmark of a country’s technology, manufacturing capability and maintenance practices.

One might have expected Chinese defense manufacturers to have baked this in as a tamper-proof fundamental. If the open-source accounts are to be believed, here too China seems to have completely missed the mark, opting for quantity and speed of delivery over quality. Buyers beware!

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