“Caveat Emptor! – Buyer, beware. Countries around the world leap at the chance to obtain high-tech, low-cost defensive capabilities, only to see their significant investments crumble and rust in their hands.”
Bangladesh’s Chinese-made K8-W Trainer Aircraft, Crashes, Pilots Killed.
China is making significant headway in terms of international arms sales, with the country having surged into fifth place globally and now trailing only the USA, Russia, France and Germany respectively.
The London based think-tank International Institute for Strategic Studies reportedly said seven state-owned Chinese defence firms each had more than $5 billion in revenue in 2016. These seven companies were among the top 20 defence companies of the world by revenue.
However, there are numerous signs that the quality of Chinese military products is still lacking. Be it the problems with JF-17 which China is jointly producing with Pakistan or with the newly procured K-8W.
Bangladesh Air Force and K-8W aircrafts
Bangladesh Air Force had initially procured nine K-8W in 2014-15 and followed up with additional order of seven of these aircrafts after the tragic loss of one K-8W near Jassore airport in July 2018. Out of these fresh batch of seven K-8W’s, two had developed problems in the initial stages itself post their delivery in October 2020. Repeated requests to the Chinese National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), elicited vague responses. However, what is more concerning is that there are also problems in firing of the ammunition loaded on these aircrafts. The K-8W aircraft is variant of the original Chinese Hongdu-8 which has undergone many transformations over a period of 30 years.
Hence not providing quality aircrafts indicates either lack of genuine intent or capability or both.
The much touted China- Pakistan joint venture of JF-17 program is an example of the state of affairs of Chinese military hardware. It is riddled with problems ranging from its RD-93 engine to problems of aircraft refuelling and the weapon systems.
Defects in Chinese Short Range Air Defence Systems
Bangladesh had procured the FM-90 (Chinese HQ-7A) system under Chinese financial offer at a cost RMB 3 million. The system is important for BAF plans of setting up an Integrated Air Defence system. However, there are already defects in the system and BAF is now planning to procure additional spares and items. This, in spite of the fact that the systems are hardly three years old.
Misconduct of Chinese with BAF Trainees?
Bangladesh sends many of its armed forces personnel to China for training in various PLA institutes. There were reports of a batch of Bangladeshi Air Force officers who were undergoing training in the Aviation University of Changchun being mistreated by a Chinese senior officer. The issue, though quickly buried, indicates the general Chinese attitude towards Bangladesh.
Problems from other Chinese supplied military equipment like the two Ming class submarines, which cost USD200 Million or the Chinese venture in development of Pekua base are other examples of Bangladesh being at the receiving end of the somewhat dubious and aggressive Chinese military diplomacy. The Bangladesh Government and the Navy are now burdened with cost of repairs, import duties and various other issues.
Bangladesh is one of the growing economies and it would be in its interests to ensure that lure of cheap military products or lucrative financing are not the foundation for its security.
To quote R. Clarke Cooper, erstwhile Assistant Secretary of State in the US “Through a combination of cut-price systems, predatory financing mechanisms and sometimes outright bribery, China is using arms transfers as a means of getting its foot in the door – a door that, once opened, China quickly exploits both to exert influence and to gather intelligence”