Vietnam News

Vietnam turns away from Russia

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Vietnam has held its first ever defence trade show as it seeks to diversify the sources of its defence acquisitions and showcase its domestic defence industry.

The Vietnam International Defence Expo (VIDEX) 2022 took place 8-10 December at Gia Lam Airport in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, with 170 local and foreign exhibitors taking part. 

Overseas participants included Lockheed-Martin, India’s Brahmos Aerospace and Japan’s Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA). 

The intention to move away from Russia as Vietnam’s principal supplier of weapons was a recurring theme at the show, with the country’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh openly saying as much at the opening day when he said a key objective of holding VIDEX was to “diversify defence equipment procurement sources”.

Vietnam’s efforts to acquire defence materiel from non-Russia sources has already been underway for several years, with the Southeast Asian country buying C295 tactical airlifters from Airbus, ships from the Netherlands’ Damen and Spyder surface-to-air missile systems from Israel’s Rafael Systems in recent years.

The trend is set to continue particularly in the light of sanctions and capacity issues with Russia’s defence industry in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. The next few years will see Vietnam take delivery of Aero-Vodochody L-39NG trainers from the Czech Republic and Textron T-6 Texan II turboprop trainer aircraft.

China threat 

Vietnam sees its giant neighbour China as its main security threat, with both countries having a history of clashes and border wars as well as ongoing territorial disputes.  

Both are among the six claimants to all or part of the Spratly and Paracel groups of islands in the South China Sea and has been one of the more vocal countries in opposing China’s assertiveness in the dispute and its reclamation and building of structures on some of the islands and features. 

Vietnam has also been undertaking its own reclamation and construction projects on the islands and reefs it occupies, although these have been nowhere near the scale of China’s.

Both countries’ militaries openly clashed over the potentially resource-rich islands in 1988 and fought a brief border war in 1979, following Vietnam’s invasion of neighbouring Cambodia. 

As a result, China’s ongoing military modernisation has seen Vietnam keen to carry out its own program to modernise its military, with many of the equipment in its inventory still dating back decades to the early part of the Cold War.

Russian systems still prominent

The ageing equipment is almost wholly Soviet/Russian in origin, with the static display at VIDEX underscoring this fact. 

Vehicles such as the BRDM-2 scout car (first introduced in 1962), 4K44 Redut-M coastal defence anti-ship missile (1966), S-125 Pechora surface-to-air missile (1961), and SS-1 Scud short-range ballistic missile (1964) were present at the show, making it a rare occasion to see such systems on public display in this region.

Even many of the domestically developed communications, electronic warfare, and radar systems were mounted on Russian Kamaz trucks. The close military relationship between Vietnam and Russia goes back a long way to the 1950s, when the Soviet Union helped arm and train then-North Vietnam’s military in the fight against the US and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War. 

Beyond a desire for diversification of its weapons imports, Vietnam’s move away from Russia as a weapons supplier is likely driven by a perception that Western equipment is superior, and discomfort with Russian rapprochement with China. 

At the same time, Vietnam is (understandably) likely to be leery of being too reliant on the United States given its history and given it was under an American arms embargo from the end of the Vietnam War until 2016, and Western equipment free of ITAR restrictions is likely to appeal to it. 

Domestic industry 

VIDEX was also an opportunity for Vietnam’s indigenous defence industry to showcase its efforts, with several indigenous and locally upgraded systems on display, with efforts to upgrade existing systems becoming increasingly important for Vietnam to keep them relevant in the current threat environment.

Among the former was the AJAS-1000 family of truck-mounted electronic warfare systems, which have multiple subvariants for detecting, identifying and jamming different frequency bands including HF, UHF and VHF. 

State-owned Viettel also displayed its short- and medium-range 3D S-band air defence radar which it says is being trialled by the Vietnamese military. The former is tripod mounted and has a detection range of up to 100km, while the latter is mounted on a Kamaz 6560 8×8 truck and comes with integrated IFF and a detection range of 360km.  

An upgraded ZSU-23-4M tracked self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was also on display, featuring an electro-optical system fitted with a laser rangefinder as well as daylight and thermal cameras capable of automatic target tracking in lieu of its turret mounted RPK-2 “Tobol” (NATO designation “Gun Dish) fire-control radar for its quadruple 23mm autocannons.

The tracking system is linked to a new digital fire-control system made by state-owned defence company Viettel, which says enables the tracking of aircraft up to a range of 20km and allows the engagement of low-altitude targets.

It is also fitted with four Russian-made Igla short-range surface-to-air missiles, increasing the engagement range from 2,500 to 5,500 meters (8,200 to 18,040 feet) and at target altitudes of up to 3,500m (11,480 ft), up from 1,500m (4,920 ft).

The upgraded system is in service with Vietnam’s military, although the Vietnamese People’s Army has not put all of its ZSU-23-4Ms through the upgrade.

By Mike Yeo – Australia Defence Magazine – December 15, 2022 

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