Quality Quandaries Surround China’s Military Exports to Developing Allies

Bolivian soldiers stand next to military vehicles received by Bolivian Armed Forces from the Chinese government in La Paz, Bolivia | Photo by Bolivian Information Agency/Handout via Reuters

China, a major player in the global arms trade, has been under growing scrutiny for the reliability and quality of its military exports. Based on international estimates from 2010 to 2020, China has exported a substantial number of conventional weapons, valued at 16.6 billion, to various countries across Asia and Africa. Reports suggest that among them, some countries have received malfunctioning and defective equipment. China has directed the majority of its conventional weapons sales since 2010, around 63.4%, to countries such as Pakistan, Myanmar, and some other Asian countries. Although China has a significant market share, there are concerns about the reliability of its military equipment. According to a report by global policy think tank RAND, China’s defense industry has been exporting military equipment that is prone to malfunctions and defects. This has resulted in security challenges and financial burdens for the countries that receive them. The RAND report titled ` Countries Buy Defective Chinese Military Equipment. Why?’ says China’s defense industry has exported malfunctioning and defective military equipment in recent years—leaving countries short of what’s needed for their security while also draining military budgets.

Nigeria’s military reported several technical problems with the Chinese-made F-7 aircraft delivered starting in 2009. A handful were lost in crashes or accidents. By 2020, of the nine remaining, seven had to be sent back to China for deep maintenance and repair.

The military junta ruling Myanmar found that the Chinese-made radar on its JF-17 aircraft has poor accuracy, and the aircraft itself lacks beyond-visual-range missile and airborne interception radar. Bangladesh reported problems with firing the ammunition loaded into its Chinese-built K-8W aircraft just shortly after their delivery.

Pakistan, the largest importer of Chinese military equipment, expressed dissatisfaction with Chinese-produced F-22P frigates, including technical issues, engine degradation, and poor overall performance. Pakistan also found that the onboard imaging device of the FM90 (N) missile system had a defective infrared sensor (IR17) system and SR-60 radars. As a result, the missile system was unable to lock onto targets. The IR17 sensors had to be discarded completely

China’s main focus for military equipment sales is on developing countries, especially in South Asia and Africa. The US Department of Defense (DoD) highlights the ongoing issue of quality deficiencies in certain exported equipment, which poses a challenge to China’s efforts to expand its export markets. Although Chinese arms come at a lower price, recipient nations have faced challenges with maintenance, repair, and compatibility due to their unreliability.

Several nations, such as Nigeria, Myanmar, and Pakistan, have encountered technical issues with military aircraft and weaponry manufactured in China. Nigeria’s military has encountered challenges with Chinese-made F-7 aircraft, resulting in multiple losses caused by crashes and accidents. Myanmar’s military has recently encountered significant issues with the JF-17 aircraft, resulting in the grounding of 11 planes that were deemed unsuitable for operations. These problems primarily revolve around structural and engine concerns.

In a similar vein, Pakistan, which happens to be the largest importer of Chinese military equipment, has expressed its discontent with the F-22P frigates. They have raised concerns about technical issues, engine degradation, and the overall poor performance of these frigates. Reports have emerged regarding service and performance issues with different Chinese military equipment, such as main battle tanks, artillery guns, and air defense systems, as stated by The Print India.

China’s arms deals have garnered attention for their minimal political conditions. In Africa, the focus on arms sales is mainly driven by profit, which raises concerns about the increasing presence of Chinese weapons in the possession of non-state actors. The potential risk of the transfer control system being compromised is a cause for concern, as it could result in unauthorized access to advanced and outdated weapons systems.

According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, there has been a 23% decrease in China’s arms exports between the four-year periods of 2013–2017 and 2018–2022. This decline can be attributed to concerns about the quality of China’s equipment, despite its continued presence as a major player in the global arms market. China’s ongoing export of arms to developing nations raises concerns about the lasting effects of its reputation for subpar quality on its position in the global arms market. While the affordability of Chinese arms remains appealing, there are ongoing concerns regarding the quality of the equipment.

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