As China builds its military, it is also boosting its profile as an arms exporter. China continues to fund and develop its homegrown military technology, and domestic arms dealers say it's now better than that of its former military mentor, Russia.
China’s state-owned North Industries Corporation, known as Norinco, has taken aim at Uralvagonzavod, the Russian heavy machinery company behind the T-14 Armata, the country’s new main battle tank that's been touted as revolutionary by some arms experts. Posting on Norinco’s official social media account on popular texting platform WeChat, the Beijing company offered a review of the T-14 Armata and Norinco’s own VT-4 tank and a comparison of the two.
“The T-14’s transmission is not well-developed, as we saw through a malfunction taking place during a rehearsal before the May 9 parade,” the Norinco post said, accompanied with a promotional montage video of its own. “The VT-4 has never encountered such problems so far. Our tanks also have world-class fire-control systems, which the Russians are still trying to catch up with.”
The post goes on to explain that when it comes to buying a tank, the go-to markets are generally in China and Russia, but it declares China the clear winner between the two: “China product lines have low-end products like the VT-2, and high-end like the VT-4, covering almost all the customer’s needs.” Additionally, Norinco says it is able to offer vehicles at much lower prices than its Russian counterparts.
The criticism of Russian tank technology comes after multiple allegations that China copied and rebranded Soviet fighter jet technology. Not so long ago China actually relied on Russian technology and military imports for things it wasn’t able to make itself. For example, in 1992, Russia inked its largest military jet sale to China, for $1 billion worth of Su-27 fighter jets. However, according to the Diplomat, the deal fell apart after about half of the Su-27s were sent to China and Moscow accused Chinese manufacturers of replicating the jet under the names J-11 and J11-B. Similarly, Russia believes China’s J-15 fighter jet is also a copy of the Russian Su-33.
Regardless, it seems China’s military development, aided by a greater government focus on funding and development, has quickly exceeded Russia’s. China’s push to become a global leader in tank sales, particularly in Asian and African markets, coincides with its rise as a significant exporter of military weapons and equipment in recent years. Figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that Chinese arms sales rose by 143 percent over the past five years, beating out Germany to become the world’s third-largest arms trader. According to experts, China has ramped up not only the quantity of its exports but also the quality.
“The equipment you get nowadays from China is much better than 10-15 years ago,” Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the institute, said, according to the Wall Street Journal. But without putting the two head-to-head, there are still doubts about China’s original designs. “Over the years, China has struggled to design and produce effective engines for combat and transport vehicles,” the Sipri report said. “It continued to import large numbers of engines from Russia and Ukraine in 2010-14 for indigenously designed combat, advanced trainer and transport aircraft, and for naval ships.”