A HIGH-POWERED delegation of military officers led by Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) Air Vice Marshall Biltim Chingono was in Pakistan this month to inspect modern aircraft and armaments during a defence exhibition where deals worth millions of United States dollars were sealed, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Chingono, alongside an elite group of AFZ and Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) officers, were in Karachi between November 15 and November 18, 2022, for the world-acclaimed International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (Ideas).
Over 30 contracts were signed during the exhibition held in the Asian country.
The top global military exhibition, which showcases an array of advanced armaments “provides a perfect interactive platform to defence forces and governments to access the best products and technology to meet their security and defence-related needs,” its website states.
Organised by the Pakistan Defence Export Promotion Organisation, the global arms exhibition has evolved since its inception to be regarded as “an established rendezvous for convergence of international defence exhibitors, delegates, security analysts and top-level policy planners”.
Relating to the Zimbabwean crew which attended the premier global military exhibition, Chingono was accompanied by Air Commodore Pio Maketo among other Air Force officers as evidence gleaned by the Independent shows.
The presence of the Zimbabwean high-level delegation in nuclear-armed Pakistan which neighbours India comes a year after Mnangagwa’s official helicopter crash-landed due to a technical problem while some of the military unit’s aircrafts have been involved in accidents.
Broadly, the accidents have been triggered by hostile weather, technical faults and in some cases human error.
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Zimbabwe’s Air Force, widely regarded as one of the best in the region had some of its aircraft damaged and destroyed during the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) war from 1998-2002.
Zimbabwe’s costly intervention in the war as part of Operation Sovereign Legitimacy (Osleg) primarily meant to keep at bay Western-sponsored rebels angling to topple the resource-rich country's leader Laurent Kabila.
During the Karachi defense exhibition, which was attended by 524 arms manufacturers from 44 countries, which also included China, Russia and Belarus, the Chingono-led team inspected a fleet of JF-17 aircraft and drones, among other armaments that were on display raising expectations that Zimbabwe would soon place orders.
Security and defense sources told the Independent last week that Zimbabwe’s presence at the Ideas expo, which returned after a four year Covid-19 induced hiatus indicated that “Harare’s short-term and long-term plans to steadily improve its aircraft and armaments are in line with modern technological advancements”.
During the highly subscribed military exhibition, the Zimbabwean team also held meetings with the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
As first revealed by this publication in 2020, Zimbabwe, reeling from Western-imposed sanctions is now predominantly procuring its armaments from Eastern Europe and countries in Asia including Pakistan.
The United States (US) and European Union (EU) have since 2001 maintained sanctions on the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), the country’s arms manufacturer.
To understand whether the Southern African country placed orders to buy armaments from the exhibiting manufacturers and the primary objective of the team’s visit, questions sent to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Public Relations director Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mutes were referred to the Air Force.
Air Force Wing Commander Donovan Muroyiwa said he was “consulting” when the Independent asked him the same questions.
Questions related to the same subject posed to Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri primarily meant to understand whether Zimbabwe was considering strengthening its fleet of aircraft and armaments by acquisitions were not addressed before going to press.
Questions sent to organisers of the Ideas exhibition in Pakistan also drew blanks.
Leveraging on its motto “Alæ Præsidio Patriæ” which translates to: “Our wings are the fortress of the nation," Zimbabwe’s Air Force has scored major victories in various missions including Mozambique and DRC. Within Zimbabwe’s borders, it has been deployed to carry out life-saving evacuation operations.
The Pakistan exhibition showcased a wide array of military hardware which was classified in nine (9) distinct groups which included (i) weapons, ammunition, turret, (ii) vehicles, aircraft and drones, (iii)battlefield management, (iv)training and simulation, (v)special equipment and engineering services, (vi) industrial and logistic support, (vii)naval ships and submarines, (vii)industry sectors, (ix) services.
Under the arms, weapons and turrets category, exhibiting firms displayed air defence systems, anti-tank wall breaching systems and close defence weapons while the vehicles, aircraft and drone category showcased main battle tank variants, light armoured and un armoured vehicles and vehicle engines and transmission systems.
In 2019, while on an official visit to Belarus where Zimbabwe reportedly finalised deals worth US$350 million spanning across various sectors, Mnangagwa toured the Volat plant, also known as OJSC MZKT, that manufactures a range of military hardware and directly falls under the State Military Industrial Committee.
At that time, Volat indicated that the President was exposed to a wide spectrum of military hardware.
In October this year, the government took delivery of a specialised medical helicopter and ambulance from Russia, in a diplomatic gesture that demonstrated Harare and Moscow’s solid bilateral ties.
The 2020 Sipri report, which offered a rare glimpse into how Zimbabwe has bolstered its arsenal, highlighted that the southern African country shelled US$647 million from 1980 to 2020 in declared arms purchases.
Strikingly, Sipri’s report shows that the US has not exported weapons to Zimbabwe since the country’s independence in 1980.
The security think-tank’s report indicates that in 2000, Harare took delivery of a fleet of six MI-24P combat helicopter gunships from Russia for US$22 million.
Before 2000, when Zimbabwe still enjoyed relatively cordial relations with the West, Sipri’s report shows that the country purchased six (6) SF.260 jet aircraft from Italy in 1998 and 23 units of Almat APC (armoured personnel carriers) from France in 1996 at a cumulative cost of US$15 million.