June 10, 2004

Fighter jets ordered from China


Zimbabwe has placed an order for fighter jets and military vehicles from China, bypassing its own state procurement board. It is not yet wholly clear where the funds for the acquisitions will come from, as the army's budget allocation is only Z$815bn of which 69% is for pay and the rest for operations. According to defence ministry permanent secretary Trust Maphosa, six of the jets could arrive in Zimbabwe this week. Reports say the aircraft include the FC-1 (Fighter China 1), developed recently to replace the Chengdu F-7, widely criticised by military experts for its inefficiency. With the acquisition, Zimbabwe joins Pakistan as one of China's biggest customers for the FC-1. Apart from the 12 jets, Zimbabwe has ordered 100 military vehicles. Defence and home affairs parliamentary portfolio committee chairman Saviour Kasukuwere has asked why the purchase of military equipment had bypassed the board. He said this lack of accountability could result in the army buying expensive equipment with a short life span. Maphosa said the purchase of Chinese military hardware was necessitated by the arms embargo imposed on Zimbabwe by European and North American countries.

Zimbabwe's European-made fleet of military planes and vehicles has been crippled by a critical shortage of spares due to the sanctions. The army and the police have begun to phase out vehicles, planes, and other arms manufactured mostly in Europe. Faced with the stark reality of equipment shortage in the army, Kasukuwere's committee toured defence installations and military barracks last December. After the tour he said Zimbabwe needed to look "elsewhere" for military equipment. Apart from the effects of sanctions, Zimbabwe's arsenal was heavily depleted after its Democratic Republic of Congo military adventure, in which it helped prop the governments of assassinated former president Laurent Kabila and his son and successor Joseph between 1998 and 2002. It was also bogged down in the Mozambican civil war, fighting alongside the Maputo government. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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