Saturday, December 27, 2008

China's fighter jets undercut Sukhoi in African markets

China's weapon exports are increasingly more sophisticated.

China's fighters undercut Sukhoi in African markets


HONG KONG (UPI) -- China's J-10A air superiority combat fighter aircraft falls into the same category as the U.S.-made F-16 Block 40, but it costs at least one-third less.

The People's Republic of China has already started to manufacture a next-version J-11B, based on the Russian Sukhoi Su-27SK.

China denies that its aircraft is an imitation of the famous and highly regarded Russian fighter, as its measurements are smaller. Therefore China does not consider the J-11B to be subject to the Sukhoi Su-27SK licensing agreement or its export restrictions. The J-11B is also likely to be fitted with Chinese WS10A engines and sold in Africa.

In general, the price of Chinese weapons is still about one-third lower than comparable Russian weapons. More importantly, what China wants from Africa is resources, especially crude oil, and it has already exported substantial numbers of weapons in exchange for oil. In dealing with oil-producing countries China has an advantage over Russia, which as a major world oil producer has no need to trade weapons for oil.

For instance, China sold 15 J-7 fighters to oil-rich Nigeria in 2005. Nigeria is another country that has purchased most of its military hardware from Russia in the past. It has a fleet of Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MF fighters, and the Nigerian army is equipped with 100 Russian T55 main battle tanks.

The one African country where Chinese arms purchases have completely replaced those from Russia is Egypt. Since tilting toward the U.S.-led Western camp in 1979, Egypt has continued to import Chinese arms. With technological support from China, Egypt has assembled 80 K-8 trainers and is assembling another 40, for a total of 120 K-8 trainers in the Egyptian air force. This makes it China's top customer for this item.

Egypt still has weapon systems from the Soviet Union, including at least 800 T54/55 MBTs, 200 sealed BMP-1 IFVs and about 60 MiG-21s for training purposes. But because of an insufficient supply of parts, Egypt decided to switch to Chinese aircraft and purchased 53 J-7 fighters from China.

Other African countries that have acquired China's K-8 trainers include Zambia with eight aircraft, Namibia with four, Zimbabwe with 12, Ghana with four and Sudan with 12. China also has had contacts with these countries concerning its FC-1 fighters.

All these countries have traditionally been Russia's weapons clients. The Namibian army has T54/55 tanks and its air force is equipped with Russian An-26 transport aircraft. Meanwhile, Namibia has also purchased two Y-12 transport aircraft from China.

Zambia uses both Chinese and Russian arms. The Zambian army is equipped with both T44s and Chinese T59 MBTs, which are now undergoing an upgrade with help from China. The Zambian air force also uses both MiG-21 and J-6 fighters.

China has exported to Zimbabwe T59 and T69 MBTs, and most of its ground forces' equipment is from China. Of course Russian SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles are still in service here. The Zimbabwean air force has six MiG-23 fighters and nine J-7 fighters.


(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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