Amid the hustle and bustle at AAD 2018 is a small stand for Jotov & Son Ltd, a Bulgarian arms dealer.
The pictures on the walls might look a little familiar to old soldiers. There’s the amphibious BTR-60PB, a T-55 battle tank, the feared Mi-24 attack helicopter and other Cold War relics like the SU-25 fighter aircraft.
Unlike almost every other exhibitor at the biennial arms fair at Waterkloof Airforce Base, plying their cutting edge defence 4.0 wares, Jotov & Son is so retro, in any other setting it might be regarded as hipster.
As Slavi Tonev, the company’s trade and marketing regional manager explains, the equipment might be pre-owned – in this case by the Bulgarian military – but it’s all battle proven, much of it in African conflicts, especially Angola in the 1980s, and thoroughly reconditioned.
It’s also been going down a treat among African delegates and potential buyers – Jotov & Son’s key market. The company, which was established under licence by the Bulgarian government in 1991 in the thaw of the Cold War and the unbundling of the erstwhile Warsaw Pact.
Tonev says the company is involved in two African countries; Uganda and another he prefers not to name.
This is the first time Jotov & Son has been to AAD, last year they exhibited in Bahrain and later Kuwait.
“In my opinion,” says Tonev,” the main market for the company is Africa. We have met many delegations, there has been a lot of interest.”
“Our equipment is cheaper and effective,” he says. “The machines might have been made many years ago but they have been thoroughly overhauled and upgraded with the addition of optical devices in many cases, navigation aids, even the BTR has better tyres now, resilient to sniper fire.”
The company offers a complete package; training of troops and aircrew, maintenance and spare parts.
But it’s not just armoured vehicles, which can be repurposed into ‘mass disturbance fighting vehicles’ that are on offer; there are T-62 and T-72 tanks, BMP-1, -23 and -30, BRDMs, RPG7s and a smorgasbord of ammunition too from mines to pyrotechnics and artillery shells with everything else in between.
There are also refurbished Bulgarian AK47s, now with folding butts and polymer 30 round magazines, with picatinny rails for mounting sights above or grenade launchers below.
The heavy machinery comes with its own catalogues specifying how many hours they have been in use and, in the case of tanks how many rounds fired through the main gun. The last column is for when they were last in service – in the case of the Mi24, there four for sale, the oldest of which last flew in 1993 and the youngest in 2003. Likewise, some of the battalion’s worth of T-55 main battle tanks have done so little mileage, with no rounds through the barrel that they appear to be in showroom condition.
They’ve also been thoroughly overhauled with the main gun now being stabilised on two planes rather than just the vertical plane as of old and payload increased from 34 rounds on board to 43, with improved fire control.
The tanks can also be sold with their own fuel bowsers and recovery vehicles, as well as tank transporters to get them to and from the battlefield.
But that’s not all, Jotov & Son offers a full year’s training by 12 Bulgarian army instructors to train up the armoured battalion from the leader group to the drivers and the mechanics on simulators and then on the actual training ground, at night and during the day.
There’s a similar programme for aircrew, crew chiefs and technicians an SU-25 squadron.
“This is lifetime support,” says Tonev.