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China makes big inroads into African defence market

A Chinese WMA301 in Djibouti.China is making increasing inroads into the African defence market with up to two-thirds of militaries on the continent now using its equipment.

According to data in the latest annual edition of The Military Balance, produced by the London based International Institute of Security Studies (IISS), and a report this week from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a rapid rise in Chinese military transfers to the continent has been underway since 2005.

The value of Chinese defence transfers to Africa rose by over 63 percent in real terms from the total of the years 2006-2010 to 2011-2015, according to data released earlier this week by SIPRI.

Recent Chinese defence exports to Africa include naval vessels, combat aircraft, infantry fighting vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

China’s share of the defence imports of sub-Saharan countries almost doubled from 12.1 percent of total transfers to the region in 2006-2010 to 22.3 percent in 2011-2015, according to SIPRI. Data on China’s share of arms exports to the continent as a whole (North and Sub-Saharan Africa) grew from 9.1 percent over the 2006-2010 period to 12.5 percent in 2011-2015. For North Africa, China’s share slightly dropped from 6.2 percent to 5.8 percent from the second half of last decade to the first half of this decade.

With a 12.5 percent market share, China was the third largest arms supplier to the continent during the 2011-2015 period. In this period Russia accounted for 34 percent of arms exports to Africa, France for 13 percent, and the US for 11 percent, according to SIPRI. The five biggest arms exporters to Africa in 2011-2015 were the US, Russia, China, France, and Germany, which accounted for 74 percent of the total.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 41 percent of the continent’s arms imports, with Uganda making up 15 percent, Sudan, 12 percent, and Nigeria 11 percent. According to SIPRI, Russia accounted for 27 percent of arms exports to sub-Saharan Africa and China 22 percent.

The African defence market is of some significance for China and took up 16.9 percent of its global military exports over the past five year period, down slightly on the nearly 19.6 percent in the previous five year period. The lower share of China’s total military exports destined for Africa is due to its surge in the country’s defence exports, mainly to Asia, which takes up more than 75 percent of the total. China is a large weapons supplier to Pakistan and Indonesia,

Joseph Dempsey, a Research Analyst who works on The Military Balance, says about two thirds of African countries now operate equipment of Chinese origin, and at least ten new operators have emerged over the past decade.

Chinese military equipment is becoming far more sophisticated and is no longer based on copies of Russian weapons systems. It is likely that due to large economies of scale, Chinese weapons systems can be delivered at lower prices and far more quickly than that from other suppliers. Much of the Chinese equipment in service with African countries is likely to be designed for export and may lack the full capability of its domestic variants in service in China, says Dempsey. Price competitiveness and quality mean that China is making inroads into other suppliers’ traditional markets and African militaries no longer need to rely as heavily on donations of second-hand equipment from the West.

The types of financing and sales terms that lie behind Chinese defence product transfers are unclear. Researchers consider it likely that many of these are part of wider government to government agreements that probably involve project finance, development aid, and possibly commodity deals.

Both the IISS and SIPRI only monitor major weapons transfers, and exclude small arms and trucks. Chinese manufactured AK-47s are used by a large number of African forces. Neither report has exact numbers of each type of weapon system that have been delivered to African countries.

China’s key export successes include sales of the K-8 Karakorum combat capable jet trainer, similar in some respects to the BAE Systems Hawk, produced by the Hongdu company. According to The Military Balance this aircraft is in service with the air forces of Egypt, Ghana, Namibia, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Type-92 armoured fighting vehicle in its Armoured Personnel Carrier and Infantry Fighting Vehicle versions have been exported to Burundi, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and Tanzania. The PTL-2 anti-tank derivative, which has a 105 mm main gun turret, is in service with Cameroon, Chad, and Djibouti.

China’s military transfers to Tanzania have more than tripled between the two five year periods, according to SIPRI. The country has Chinese made combat capable jet trainers, infantry fighting vehicles, anti-tank weapons, artillery systems, and patrol vessels.

Significant customers include Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana. Algeria has received artillery systems as well as naval vessels, while Nigeria has acquired combat aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, armoured fighting vehicles, and patrol vessels, and Ghana has received combat aircraft.

As part of its campaign against Boko Haram, Nigeria has recently purchased armed CH-3 unmanned aerial vehicles from China.

China is also selling an increasing number of naval vessels to African countries. Last year China delivered two Offshore Patrol Vessels to the Nigerian Navy, NNS Centenary, and NNS Prosperity, as well as a 38 metre patrol craft, NNS Sagbana, which is also believed to be from China. One Nigerian Navy Centenary class ship was built at Wuchang Shipyard in China and completed at Port Harcourt Shipyard in Nigeria.

According to the IISS, Cameroon has also ordered a Chinese built patrol craft. Last year’s Military Balance pointed to 25 Chinese built naval vessels in service with African countries. Algeria, Angola, Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea Namibia, Tanzania, the Seychelles have Chinese built naval vessels.

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