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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 instalment, 7,000 soldiers from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan cross-trained in Inner Mongolia.

Inner Mongolia 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. 10 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.

The Type 81 used to be the main 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 semi-automatic rifle from scratch, the barrel assembly of 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.

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 is a remote possibility the Tajik contingent were using borrowed rifles. But this conclusion suggests the Tajik military is poorer than it is. Like its Central Asian neighbors, Tajikistan inherited large quantities of the former Soviet Red Army’s arsenal. 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.

Tajikistan Army soldiers APC

A second photograph of Tajik soldiers published from Peace Mission 2014 by the MND suggests China is exporting more than just gear. 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 WZ551 6×6, a ubiquitous transport manufactured by Norinco.

Chinese WZ-551 APC 6x6

The WZ551. Note the shape of the propellers, which match the SCO/MND photo from Peace Mission 2014. The number of the WZ551’s firing ports suggests seating for three passengers on either side of the vehicle, with a driver and gunner up front.

First deployed in 1986, the WZ551 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 WZ551 has also been exported to South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.

Just how many Type 81 rifles and WZ551 APCs are used by Tajikistan’s army is unknown.

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