April 19, 2016:
Senegal recently (April 4th) held a parade that featured many recently imported weapons. There were a dozen of the Chinese WMA301 6x6 wheeled 105mm assault gun, which confirms that at least four African countries have bought some of these vehicles. Yet most of the new weapons seen in this parade were Israeli. There were two dozen Israeli RAM Mk 3 4x4 armored trucks. These have been popular in Africa and other areas dealing with occasional uprisings because they are sturdy, maneuverable off roads and cheap to operate and maintain. RAM Mk 3 is a 6.5 ton vehicle armored to protect against rifle and machine-gun bullets as well as grenade and shell fragments. Payload is 1.2 tons and there is room for the driver and seven armed passengers (and even more unarmed ones). There are two roof hatches (one behind the driver and the other at the rear) each with a machine-gun mount next to it. Max road speed is 96 kilometers an hour and range on roads with internal fuel is 800 kilometers. There are two bullet proof windows on each side and a large armored door as well. The vehicles cost about $250,000 each and nearly 500 have been sold so far with a fifth of these going to African customers. The RAM line of vehicles was introduced in the mid-1970s and the latest version (Mk 3) has been in service for nearly a decade. Senegal also buys assault rifles and military electronics from Israel and these were on display at the parade as well.
But the most striking vehicle at the parade was the WMA301. A growing number of African countries have been buying Chinese armored vehicles. Chinese equipment is seen as more like the Russian vehicles that were widely used in Africa during the Cold War. The Russian gear acquired a reputation for being sturdy but not as durable in the long run as Western, especially Israeli, combat vehicles. In the 1990s China began offering their own versions of Russian vehicles but at cheaper prices. Since 2000 China has been offering Chinese designs based on earlier Russian vehicles but with more attention to quality and durability. Thus several African countries have imported the WMA301 vehicle.
WMA301 is an older (1990s) design that is cheap and found to be quite useful as mobile, direct fire (shooting at what the crew can see) artillery. In 2015 Djibouti showed off some of these and both Cameroon and Chad had some of them operating in Nigeria during late 2015. Since vehicles like the WMA301 are used occasionally, not regularly like the RAM Mk3. Thus the WMA301 is durable enough for short campaigns and users have so far been satisfied.
The WMA301 had its origins in the mid-1990s when China introduced the 18 ton, 6x6 WMZ551A armored personnel carrier. This vehicle has a crew of three and can carry nine more troops and was armed with a small turret containing a 25mm autocannon. In 2001 a version with a larger turret containing a 105mm gun appeared as the WMA301. In Africa there is a lot of demand for local peacekeepers who have to fight rebels and Islamic terrorists who will often stand and fight. In such situations a mobile 105mm howitzer is extremely useful. The Germans pioneered the use of such “assault guns” during World War II (1939-45) and the Russians were quick to copy the German concept (of turret-less tanks with large caliber direct fire cannon). Many of these Soviet assault guns were given to China after World War II and eventually China began designing and building their own. The Chinese noted that wheeled armored vehicles are cheaper and easier to maintain and operate. Assault guns are an adequate substitute for air and artillery support and African military leaders are finding China able to supply inexpensive and adequate vehicles.