Procurement: Comrade, Can You Spare A Stolen Component


July 17, 2011: In far eastern Russia, prosecutors charged a Chinese citizen with trying to smuggle MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft components to China. This happens quite frequently, and China is not the only customer for (usually stolen) spare parts for Russian weapons. Most in demand are spares for missiles and combat aircraft. The destination is usually nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union, Arab countries, Iran and China. For several years, there was a gang stealing components for S-75 (a fifty year old system), S-125, S-200 and S-300 (a 1990s design) anti-aircraft missile systems, and smuggling them to nations still using these systems, and willing to purchase cut rate spares, no questions asked. Then there was the case of a group of naval officers (including at least two admirals) who were caught trying to smuggle 30 anti-submarine missiles and 200 bombs to China. The shipment itself was caught at the Tajikistan border, mislabeled as older, obsolete, weapons. The shipment was actually new models, and the plot was apparently meant to enable China to reverse-engineer the weapons and produce their own versions. The smugglers were apparently being paid $18 million for the shipment. The Russian admirals had arranged for the weapons to be classified as obsolete and eligible for disposal, but word of the scheme leaked out.

This theft and smuggling has been going on for over two decades, and became more rampant after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The theft and smuggling was even more rampant in other former communist countries, leading to a flood of AK-47s, machine-guns and RPGs onto the black market. In Africa, this sudden appearance of cheap weapons eventually fueled fighting that killed millions of people. These days, the theft is more often of high tech, or rare, components, and weapons technology.



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