China’s Defense Industry Unveiled: The Fault in ‘Made in China’
A little boy’s new and swanky remote-controlled car gifted by his favourite uncle broke down abruptly. As he cried bitterly, his parents consoled him saying that it was bound to happen – after all the car was ‘Made in China’.
China’s rapid rise in present century comes has flooded world markets with China-made products. Known for being fast and cheap, China has been a leader in producing affordable equipment unlike major competitors like Japan, Germany and India. However, while quality is negotiable for regular goods and products, is it acceptable in military hardware? Can buyers afford a compromise on quality and durability?
‘Made In China’ Is Affordable But Is It Desirable?
Question 1- Who’s buying from China?
China’s defense clientele includes many developing countries and those countries who have diplomatic/political differences with US. Most of these are South Asian countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc, and some countries in Africa, Middle East and Latin America
Question 2- Why are they buying from China?
“It also has the ability to upgrade a little bit and at the same time to proffer at a lower price, so it makes the Chinese weapons attractive to many, many countries”, said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, a U.S. Department of Defense institute
Arms exports is a lucrative industry. And the Chinese have done well in appealing to their audience’s need for cheap prices. By the time the hapless customers realise the trap of ‘throw away’ prices, the equipment is ready to be actually ‘throw away’ owing to its poor quality.
Here Are Some Instances of Newly Purchased Chinese Products That Have Now Become Major Liabilities For Buyer Nations.
A glaring example of sub-standard military hardware are Chinese-made warships.
Going by the experience of Pakistan, who is a staunch supporter of China and Chinese technology even after learning otherwise the hard way, the multi-role frigates brought from China is plagued with multiple issues. The combat capability of these ships has taken a serious hit as they failed to fire missiles and when they finally did – they were ineffective at hitting the target!
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The frequent failures of the machineries of these ships have also not gone un-noticed despite censoring and restricting release of complete information. These vessels were brought with an aim to boost air defence, interdiction of hostile combatants, commerce raiding and patrolling off EEZ. For a country with massive financial burden and international loans, the actually cost of these defective warships is much more than the whopping $750 million for initial construction.
The next disgruntled client of China’s military industry is Bangladesh. This country has been hit the hardest amongst all of China’s clients – The Bangladesh Army’s purchase of tank ammunition from China North Industries Coorporation (NORINCO) and purchase of defective transport vehicles and missiles, including the engine, communication systems and infra-red guidance systems from China Precision Machinery Import Export Company (CPMIEC), have severely impacted the future plans of the service. Additionally, there have been constant complains from Bangladesh Navy about the mediocre quality of radars that were supplied by the China Shipbuilding and offshore International.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The failure of CH4, with the drones falling from the skies, is well-known.
Chinese Air Force’s CH4 UAV, hyped as a competitor to the US MQ 1 Predator, has been a major export offering recently. However, its success story is not as glorious as China claims. Owing to frequent failures, the popularity that the UAV had gained is now fading away. The Royal Jordanian Air Force had put up six Chinese-made CH-4B Pterosaur drones up for resale in 2020. In early 2023, it was reliably learnt that the entire CH4 UAV fleet of Pakistan was in disarray. This was because the Chinese company Aerospace Long-March International Co Ltd (ALIT) was unable to manage the defects including frequent cracks and broken parts. It was therefore no surprise that despite their close relationship, Pakistan switched loyalties to acquire the Turkish Bayraktar Akinci UCAVs.
If all was well with the Made-in-China UAV then why resell and why change partners mid-way?
Effects of ‘Made in China’ have not only been faced by defence importers, but also PLA itself.
The Central Military Commission (CMC) recognised that military reform would require advanced weaponry to achieve party’s strategic objectives. However, the intentions of CMC and on ground situation has not gone hand-in-hand.
The frequent failures of hardware, unsuccessful missiles, ships with faulty machinery, aircrafts that are only flying machines and not war waging combat platforms, are some of the dilemmas and realities that PLA is living with. But thanks to China’s restrictive media, most failures remain a state guarded secret, even from Chinese citizens.
Recent statistics released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reveal that China’s arms exports in the 2018-22 period dropped by 23% compared to 2013-17. And the country’s overall share of global arms exports dropped from 6.3% to 5.2% in the last 10 years.
While some view this decline as a sign of possible stock piling at home, there is ample evidence that Chinese weapons, despite their low cost, are fast losing their ‘edge’ due to serious quality concerns. What is more alarming than the poor quality, is that import of China-made defence equipment and weapons are accompanied with monstrous loans and debts on the buyers. The loyal clientele of China’s Defence hardware, are now unfortunately realising this the hard way.