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Why is China Buying MRAPs? (updated)

by John Reed on July 15, 2011

So, why is China buying MRAPs especially at a time when some in the U.S. defense establishment are calling for the U.S. to cut the the purchase of such gear after we leave Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can focus on buying high-end weapons to counter China with?

The picture above shows one of the PLA’s new MRAPs.

Apparently, the PLA inked a deal last fall with South African company, Mobile Land Systems (MLS), for 11 MRAPs and the design rights for the vehicles and the company’s chief executive thinks China may need more than 10,000 of the vehicles in the coming years:

MLS CE Dewald Hattingh says indications are that China may need as many as 10, 000 MRAP vehicles to cover their internal needs and equip peacekeeping missions. The PLA is the largest military in the world mustering some three million soldiers, sailors and airmen, of whom some 2.5 million are in full-time service. It is said to operate over 8500 main battle tanks but just over 1,000 infantry combat vehicles and 3,500 armoured personnel carrier of various designs – and none mine protected.

One has to wonder, what’s behind the PLA’s need for MRAPs, a staple Western COIN tool?

Maybe the “insurgency” in China’s Muslim west is heating up or maybe China expects to be conducting operations abroad that will require heavily armored COIN vehicles? Maybe they are for legit peacekeeping ops, or maybe the PLA is eyeing Iraq/Afghanistan-style regime change missions; who knows?

Or perhaps China see’s a cadre of MRAPs as part of a modern military’s arsenal, based in-part, on the U.S. equipping itself with the trucks for COIN ops. Teal Group defense analyst Steve Zaloga thinks this may be the most viable answer to the question, telling DT:

MRAPs are a “flavor of the month” in the armored vehicle industry due to the extensive use by US and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Russians have also used them in the Caucasus. China is undoubtedly interested in staying abreast of current technology trends regardless of whether they have internal requirements at the moment. Furthermore, Chinese industry is very export oriented, and they probably view acquisition of MRAPs as a means to stay current in the export market for armored vehicles.

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