Leadership: China Rearms Bangladesh On The Cheap


November 25, 2011: As part of a major effort to modernize the armed forces of Bangladesh, China will deliver 16 F-7BGI jet fighters next year. Bangladesh already has 40 older F-7s (a clone of the Russian MiG-21), plus ten MiG-29s, which form the core of their air combat force. China is providing the aircraft at bargain prices, and doing the same with lots of other military equipment.

Earlier this year Bangladesh has bought seven 250 ton patrol boats from China. Two will be built in China, and five in Bangladesh. The 30 meter (93 foot) vessels are part of a two year old effort to rebuild the Bangladeshi Navy.

Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard donated 16 Defender-class patrol boats. These nine meter (26.5 foot) boats are powered by twin outboard engines, have a top speed of 85 kilometers an hour (and cruise at 65 kilometers an hour). The Defenders carry a crew of four, are armed with two machine-guns and can carry six passengers (or prisoners). They are excellent for patrolling the many river delta waterways on the Bangladeshi coast. The newly created Bangladesh Special Operations Force has adopted the Defender as their primary seaborne transport. Bangladesh has also bought two Castle class patrol boats from Britain, for $2 million each. These 75 meter (246 foot), 1,400 ton ships are armed with a 30mm autocannon and four machine guns. Bangladesh needs all these patrol vessels to deal with smugglers. Neighboring Myanmar is the source of opium smuggling, some which is often carried out by Islamic radical groups, to provide cash for terrorist operations.

Bangladesh has also bought 44 MBT-2000 tanks, plus three recovery vehicles, from China, for about $5 million each. This is a major upgrade, as Bangladesh currently has a force of some 500 heavy tanks, about 60 percent of them the Chinese Type 59 (a copy of the Russian T-54), with the rest being Type 69 (copies of the Russian T-55). Both are 1950s technology, with some upgrades. The MBT 2000 is an export version of the Chinese Type 98/99, although they also look similar to the Type 90/Al Khalid (a Type 90 variant developed by China and Pakistan for Pakistani service).

The Type 98/99/90/MBT-2000 vehicles are all "improved T-72s." Lots of improvements, though, many of them similar to what's found in the Russian T-80UM2. The workmanship on these vehicles is a little better than on the T-80UM2, but the Chinese don't have as much experience building tanks. This has shown itself in the numerous technical glitches that have shown up. The basic T-72 design has been around for over 30 years and has proved reliable, although not particularly effective on the battlefield. That was mostly due to poor crews. The Chinese moved to volunteer crews and more intensive training, which makes any tank more effective.

China has long supplied Moslem Bangladesh with weapons, partly to annoy India. Bangladesh and India often have strained relations, usually over illegal migrants from Bangladesh crossing the poorly guarded border and establishing communities in remote border areas. Bangladesh is a very poor nation, and without the cheap credit, and weapons, from China, would have much less capable armed forces.


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