Procurement: Cold War Surplus, Part II

May 26, 2006: A second wave of Cold War weapons are reaching the market. This time around, it's the heavy stuff, like tanks, artillery and aircraft. This is not rusty junk, but gear that former communist nations had kept in good repair for their own use. Most former members of the Soviet bloc have been retiring their old Russian equipment in favor of better western stuff. As a result, they often find themselves with stockpiles of surplus Soviet equipment, spare parts, and ammunition, not to mention expertise. Several of them have found profitable outlets for this stuff in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the new national armies rely primarily on old Soviet equipment. Thus we have T-72 tanks from former Warsaw Pact nations in Iraq and 122-mm howitzer shells from Mongolia in Afghanistan. This trade is actually good for both sides, as the sellers (or in many cases donors) get rid of equipment they no longer need (possibly at some profit), while the recipients acquire materiel that is perfectly suited to their needs.

The nations providing the equipment, are also willing to supply skilled technicians and instructors, as well as upgrades. The old Russian weapons were robust, but often lacked the electronic add-ons that made similar Western gear superior. Russia, and other nations, now supply these upgrades.

The first wave of Cold War surplus from the old Soviet empire was mostly in the form of cheap (often stolen, with help from corrupt officials) light weapons. This put millions of cheap AK-47s, RPGs, machine-guns and mortars in the hands of irregular forces all over Africa and Asia. That was a disaster, and led to the deaths of over a million people, mostly civilians caught in the cross fire.

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