Following the Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum held in Sochi in October 2019, the Russian Federation and the African states reached a new level of cooperation, characterized by increased economic interaction. First off, Russia decided to increase food exports to the African continent since food shortages for Africa are one of its main problems.
In addition to this, Africa has pressing security issues. Russia, in turn, is one of the world’s leading suppliers of weapons and military equipment, and Africa has already been established as one of the major destinations of Russian arms exports in the past decades. It is quite logical that issues of Russian-African military-technical cooperation were raised in Sochi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who presided over the summit, highlighted the importance of this topic. He reminded those present that the Russian-African military-technical cooperation started at the time of the establishment of independent African states and played a significant role in their battle against colonialism. Moreover, the Russian President expressed his joy at the continued successful development of the military-technical cooperation between Russia and Africa. Russia supplies weapons and military equipment to over 30 African countries. The main importers are Algeria, Egypt, Angola, Nigeria and Uganda. The representatives of the African Armed Forces take part in forums and exercises conducted by Russia, receive education and training in Russian military educational institutions. This enables them to glean knowledge from the Russian military, including the most recent experience received in battles with terrorist organizations in Syria.
An exhibition was held as part of the Russia–Africa Economic Forum, where Russian and African companies presented their products and services. Several Russian firms related to the defense industry and the sphere of security demonstrated their projects.
The VPK company, a leading manufacturer of armored vehicles, presented its latest car models. For example, the 14-ton armored car VPK-URAL, which is capable of carrying 12 people, and the 8-ton armored car Tiger. These cars are distinguished by their impressive cross-country capacities, ease of maintenance and a high level of protection against bullets and explosive devices.
The Remdiesel company introduced the car Typhoon K-53949, which protects passengers from bullets and mine explosions. Cars from the Typhoon family are regularly purchased by the Russian Ministry of Defense and have the most positive reviews from the military.
Another exhibitor was the concern Avtomatika. It deals with information security issues and creates secret communication systems and related equipment. Avtomatika achieved significant successes in the struggle against unmanned aerial vehicles.
The UralVagonZavod Research and Production Corporation presented mock-ups of its military vehicles: the T-72B3 tank (the most common and rigorously tested in the Russian Armed Forces), the T-90S tank (equipped with an automatic high-precision gun) and the Terminator tank support vehicle. As for the latter, military experts consider such vehicles game changers in military equipment and the art of war. They are set to alter the very tactics of tank usage on the battlefield.
One of the most popular Russian products exported to African countries are helicopters, both the civilian and military kind. According to the Russian Helicopters Holding Company (which unites companies engaged in engineering Russian helicopters) up to 40% of military helicopters and up to 25% of all helicopters in Africa are of Russian origin. This can already serve as a foundation for long-term intensive cooperation. After all, it isn’t enough to simply purchase a helicopter; sooner or later, the machine will require repairs from specialists who know its design and can select suitable spare parts. Thus, African owners of Russian helicopters must turn to their manufacturers. What’s more, African pilots who have learned how to operate Russian technology will find it difficult to switch to other types of vehicles. Therefore, to replace worn-out helicopters, African countries must buy new ones again in Russia.
Russian Helicopters also took part in the Sochi exhibition.
The firm presented the modernized transport and combat helicopter Mi-35P, an improved model of the Mi-35M, hundreds of which are currently being used in African countries. This versatile machine has already proven itself in combat. It can transport goods, land troops and evacuate the wounded, as well as provide fire support to ground forces and destroy enemy armored vehicles. The Mi-35P has new engines, state-of-the-art navigation and sighting systems and is more diversely armed than its predecessor. Its ability to operate in humid climates and highlands is vital for its operation in Africa.
Guests of the event were also able to see the civil multi-purpose light helicopter Ansat, which hit the international market in 2018. It can be used for transporting goods and passengers, as well as search and rescue operations and emergency medical assistance.
In addition, the mobile service center (MSC) was introduced. The MSC is a complete set of all necessary equipment and property for disassembling, overhauling and reassembling a helicopter in nearly any conditions. Since the MSC includes a diesel generator, repairs can be carried out even without electricity. The equipment is placed in containers which can be transported by any available means of transport. The MSC, which was presented in Sochi, is specifically designed for the repair of various modifications of the Mi-8 helicopter. According to Russian Helicopters, over 50% of Russian / Soviet-made helicopters in Africa belong to this family.
It has not yet been reported which of the exhibited products Russia’s African partners have decided to purchase, however, new agreements on military-technical cooperation were signed with 18 states as a result of the Russia–Africa Economic Forum. In any case, one thing is for certain: the October summit revealed many new opportunities for Russian-African military-technical cooperation, which began and developed rapidly in the Soviet era and remained intact throughout the whole post-Soviet period. And now it is bound to reach new heights.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”