China fulfils Nepal’s ever-increasing weapons requirements
Prasun K. Sengupta
Ver since India along with the US, UK and France stopped supplying military hard-ware to Nepal last February, Kathmandu is turning increasingly to the People’s Republic of China, Russia and Pakistan for meeting its urgent requirments for combating the ongoing Maoist insurgency. Within two months of Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing visiting Kathmandu, Beijing on May 26 sent a second envoy-Zhou Gang-to Nepal, thereby highlighting the deepening ties between the two neighbours. During this visit, Zhoumet the two deputies of King Gyanendra-Tulsi Giri and Kirtinidhi Bista as well as foreign minister Ramesh Nath Panday, following which Beijing agreed to sell two MA-60 regional turboprop transports and gift one for free. The three MA-60s will be jointly operated by state-owned Royal Nepal Airlines and the Royal Nepal Army’s (RNA) 11th Air Brigade.
Beijing has been providing Nepal with economic aid since 1956. With the figure totalling US$2 billion to date. The last known major military transaction etween the two countries had taken place in 1988, under which Nepal imported about 2014.5 mm anti-aircraft guns from China. On June 17, Beijing delivered the final five of 12 WZ-551 6×6 armoured personnel carriers (APC) each equipped with 30mm turret-mounted cannons. These APCs, though, were part of a deal struck with Beijing in mid-2003 when Nepal placed on order to buy 12 such vehicles for use by RNA soldiers deployed as part of UN peacekeeping force contingents. China had delivered the first seven WZ-551s last year. And last October, China pledged military assistance worth US$989,000 after a week-long visit to Beijing by Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa, Chief of the RNA. The latest supply of small arms and ammunition were delivered by Beijing in two tranches-the first comprising 12 truckloads that entered Nepal via the Kodari Highway on November 22, while another convoy of six trucks entered from Khasa in Tibet a day later. Both convoys were escorted by China’s People’s Liberation Army, with the consignment being handed over to RNA personnel dressed in plainclothes, who subsequently transferred the consignments to RNA-chartered civilian trucks.
In Nepal’s budget for the current financial year defence spending has been hiked to Nepali Rs 8 billion from the earlier Rs 7.17 billion. On June 18 this year, an RNA advertisement in the state-run ‘Rising Nepal’ newspaper asked for various military and civil goods.’ The RNA said that it was looking for various types of arms, ammunition and explosives, armoured personnel carriers light tanks, transport aircraft, helicopter gunships, communications equipment and night vision devices. It is believed that suppliers form China (especially its Xinshidai trading company), Pakistan and Russia have since been short-listed for supplying such hardware. Till the time of going to the press the RNA was close the inking a contract for procuring up to five pre-owned but refurbished Mi-171 utility helicopters from Russia’s Ulan Ude Aviation Plant. The Pakistan Machine Tools Factory and Pakistan Ordance Factories, on the other hand, are negotiating a deal to supply RPG-7 rocket launchers and related 40mm HEAT rounds.
International military assistance to the RNA has been crucial, particularly since 2001, when its strength rose from 45,000 men and women to more than 80,000 today. Thus far, the UK has supplied bomb disposal equipment to neutralize the improvised explosive devices planted by Maoist insurgents. The US has dispatched non-lethal supplies like communications radios and a US Army team to train soldiers in international human rights laws. It also inked a US$ 12 million deal signed in January 2003 for supplying 3,000 M-16A2 assault rifles and 5,500 Minimi M-249 general-purpose machine guns, but supplies of such hardware is now on hold.
However, it has been India that has thus far been the major supplies of weapons to Nepal since 2001, when New Delhi began providing weapons and training support worth around US$35 million for the RNA and the paramilitary Armed Police Force, with India subsidizing the bill by 70 per cent while Nepal is required to pay only 30 per cent of the cost. The Indian Army has also been training RNA soldiers in jungle and guerrilla warfare at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare Scholl (CIJWS) at Wairangte in Mizoram. The first batch of 1,000 5.56mm INSAS assault rifles produced by the state-owned Ordance Factories Board’s (OFB) West Bengal-based Ishapore Rifle Factory (IRF) was delivered to the RNA in December 2001 and as of last February about 26,000 such rifles had been supplied in April 2002, India sent 11 trucks full of small arms and ammunition, bullet-proof jackets, helmets and hand-grenades, plus night vision devices, ELTA of Israel’s licence built EL/M-2140NG ground surveillance radars, as well as two HAL-built SA.315B Lancer light helicopter gunships and related ammunition worth US$6 million to add to the four SA.316B Chetak helicopters supplied earlier. The Lancers were modified to have enhanced ballistic protection, and armed with one 12.7mm machine gunpod and three 70mm rockets. This was followed by two HAL built Dhruv utility helicopters being delivered in June 2004.
During the visit of the then Nepalese Prime Minister Shamsher Bahadur Deuba to New Delhi in September 2004, India had agreed to supply the RNA two additional Dhruvs, 10,000 more INSAS rifles, 15,000 7.62mm IFR-built self-loading rifles, 5,000 OFB-built 7.62mm and 12.7mm light/medium machine guns, 800 trucks and four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles, 90 Cassipir mine-protected vehicles (MPV), 36 Rakshak MPVs co-developed by Mahindrea Defence and Israel’s Plasan Sasa (to add to the 50 such vehicles supplied earlier) and bullet-proof jackets. The Indian Army had acquired 166 of the 11-tonne Cassipir MPVs, seating 14 armed personnel, in April 1999 for US$12 million from South Africa’s Reumech OMC. All these vehicles have since been withdrawn from service as the army is now taking delivery of the OFB-built Medak MPV, which is equipped with a multi-purpose remote control weapon station equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun-um-AGS-30 automatic grenade launcher, and developed by RAFAEL of Israel.