Skip to content

Why Is The Tajikistan Army Using Chinese-made Weapons?

June 11, 2015

Tajikistan Army Soldiers Type 81 rifles

Photos were published in mid-2014 by China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) of the annual anti-terror Peace Mission exercises involving Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members. During last year’s installment 7,000 soldiers from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan cross-trained in Inner Mongolia, which is a northern territory of China recognized as an autonomous region.

Peace Mission 2014 spanned six days, from August 24 to 29, and was publicized by state-owned news agency Xinhua in a press release later shared by the MND. A series of photographs were included and two showed soldiers from the Tajik National Army equipped with Chinese-made small arms, specifically the 7.62x39mm Type 81 assault rifle.

The second photograph captured Tajik soldiers boarding a wheeled APC from a rear door; an uncommon feature among Soviet-era BTR-series APCs. This is likely a Chinese-made APC.

The Type 81 used to be the battle rifle of the vast PLA from the early 1980s until the mid-1990s when it was replaced by the bullpup 5.8mm QBZ-95. Today it’s used in small numbers by some PLA units and police forces. The Type 81 enjoyed limited export success, with Bangladesh the only country that manufactures it under license.

A product of circumstance at a time when China’s state-owned factories struggled with technological backwardness, the Type 81 was a peculiar innovation. Rather than develop a modern automatic rifle from scratch, a barrel assembly similar to the SKS was combined with a lower receiver patterned after the Dragunov SVD. Other features were borrowed from the AK-47, several clones of which are mass-produced by China as the “Type 56.”

Tajikistan Army soldiers APC

The new rifle sought to improve on their Soviet origins with a larger rear sight, an elongated muzzle brake to launch grenades, and a steel side folding stock with a bakelite grip. The resulting Type 81 formed the basis for a light machine gun similar to the RPK-74 and is still being modified.

Why a unit of the Tajik army is equipped with the Type 81 is unclear. Since the exercises were held in China there’s a possibility the Tajik contingent were using borrowed rifles instead of their familiar Kalashnikovs. This can be done to familiarize visiting troops with the host country’s equipment. But switching to alternate rifles suggests the Tajik military is poorer than it is. Like its Central Asian neighbors Tajikistan inherited large quantities of the former Soviet army’s weaponry. These were subsequently used in a civil war from 1992-1997 that left an estimated 50,000 people dead. According to the Security Assistance Monitor, a think tank that tracks US military aid, since the 2000s Central Asian militaries have received token amounts of Chinese equipment for bilateral reasons.

A second photograph of Tajik soldiers published from Peace Mission 2014 by the MND suggests China is lending more than just gear to its allies. It shows Tajik soldiers armed with Type 81 rifles boarding an APC. One of them is turned away from the camera, exposing a Camelbak hydration pack. The shape of the APC’s door and the propellers underneath it indicate a WZ-551 6×6 APC, a ubiquitous armored transport manufactured by Norinco. The WZ-551, also known as the Type 92, is a robust wheeled APC that’s fully amphibious and carries up to eight soldiers inside its hull.

First deployed in 1986, the WZ-551 resembles the German Fuchs APC and enjoys widespread use by the PLA, who have converted it into an IFV, an ambulance, a self-propelled mortar, a tank destroyer, and a mobile SAM launcher. The WZ-551 has also been exported to South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. The export variant of the WZ-551 is favored by different African armies and licensed assembly has been transferred to Ethiopia and Sudan.