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Tajikistan Bought So Many Chinese Armored Vehicles

June 10, 2022
VN3 armored trucks supplied to Tajikistan. Via Tajikistan media.

In the last decade sufficient evidence has surfaced proving that China has the clout and resources to outshine any “Great Power” vying for influence over Central Asia. An inarguable metric to assess this transition are arms sales and transfers of military kit. By comparison, after its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 the US is no longer obligated to help protect vulnerable countries in the region; it’s no biggie, since China can fill the void and appears to be doing so. This doesn’t involve excessive and wasteful spending, which is how the US propped up a feeble government in Kabul for twenty years, but has a focus on covering the equipment shortages in small neighboring militaries.

As the first year anniversary of Taliban rule looms the situation is very precarious in Tajikistan, burdened as it is with a long unprotected border with Afghanistan, so it’s once again signalling its military strength. In May the reclusive Pres. Emomali Rahmon did another publicity tour of bases and outposts to rally the troops. The activity is now more urgent since the Taliban, besides their near-permanent status as global pariahs, are sitting on a large stockpile of conventional weapons. It turns out Dushanbe has used its meager resources to equip a sizable army and border guard and their readiness is maintained by a fleet of Chinese-made vehicles.

The most basic parts of the fleet are Maxus and Foton double cab pickup trucks used by the internal ministry and law enforcement. The next better protected model is the ubiquitous Dongfeng EQ2050, which China has used as a diplomatic tool for countries it wants to help, and its variant equipped with an 82mm mortar–a copy of the Soviet 2B9 Vasilek–supplied by the conglomerate Norinco is also used. On the heavier end the army and border guards possess the Norinco VP11 MRAP, which is modified to carry a small turret on its roof armed with a KPV heavy machine gun, the Norinco VN3 (pictured above), and the Baoji Tiger and the ZFB05. All the latter models are best described as “ambush protected” vehicles for internal security. These armored trucks supplied by China are complemented by a few donated US-made Humvees and scores of Soviet vintage BRDM-2 scout cars.

The numbers of EQ2050, VP11, and VN3 trucks in Tajikistan appear to be in the low hundreds as they are kept across different locations. The VN3 in particular, armed with a W85 heavy machine gun in a partially enclosed turret, seems like a favorite as these are used for defending the capital Dushanbe and are found with the border forces. The VN3 is one of the least popular Chinese-made tactical vehicles and isn’t in service with the PLA and its branches. Another known foreign operator is Belarus who received a few, including Dongfeng EQ2050’s, as official security assistance. Cost is the likeliest factor that explains why Tajikistan maintains hundreds of EQ2050s and VN3’s. By comparison, to equip its military with protected 4×4’s Kazakhstan launched a joint venture with South Africa’s Paramount Group for local assembly of Marauder MRAPs. When oil and gas-rich Turkmenistan diversified its armored vehicle fleet for the same purpose it had a clear preference for Turkish and US-made 4×4’s but cast a very wide net by acquiring many different truck models.

What’s interesting about Tajikistan’s reliance on Chinese-made military equipment is it extends to many different types of small arms. This is further proof their cost is the single most important reason why they are purchased in bulk. Most conscripts are issued a Type 56 assault rifle, either with a sidefolding or an underfolding stock, and a rare Kalashnikov-pattern rifle with black furniture. This is similar in appearance to the Norinco Type 84S-3 chambered for 5.56x45mm ammunition that has a shiny black stock and furniture. The few that have been spotted in Tajikistan are traditional Chinese-made AKs but with the distinct black furniture. Other small arms purchased from China include the Type 69 RPG, Type 67 light machine gun, and heavy machine guns such as the Type 77, Type 85/W85, and the Type 89.

Below is a partial tabulation of Chinese-made military vehicles found in Tajikistan:

Baoji SVMTigertactical truck
ZFB054×4 APC
DongfengEQ2050tactical truck/Humvee
EQ2182medium truck
NorincoCS/VN3tactical truck

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