Ethiopia comes clean on purchase of armored tanks

A relaxed, witty Meles Zenawi admits Ethiopia’s purchase of 200 armored tanks

 Tsedale Lemma

July 06, 2011 - Briefing the House of People’s Representatives on Tuesday July 05, 2011, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi candidly admitted Ethiopia’s purchase of 200 armored tanks. Although he failed to have mentioned the origins of the tanks, earlier media reports revealed Ukrspecexport SC, Ukraine’s state controlled arms export, signed a contract worth $ 100 million with Ethiopia’s Defense Ministry in the first week of June 2011.

 The House unanimously endorsed close to 118 billion birr budget for 2011/2012 fiscal year of which 1.2 percent is allocated as defense budget, which is “a low level by any measure” and one that will have “no impact on the national economy,” according to PM Meles.

Responding to questions raised from few members of the parliament, PM Meles humored the packed parliamentarians when he likened the age of Ethiopia’s old armored tanks, which he said were above the “age of the majority of you MPs here.”  But he stopped short of telling how much the deal had cost Ethiopia, whose 3.2 million people are in need of emergency food aid. 

Most of the armored tanks currently in Ethiopia are T-54 and T-55 he said referring to the period they were first manufactured. “They can’t drive more than 200 kms at a time,” he said, not to mention the challenges to find the right spare parts as the companies that have produced them do not exist anymore.  

The alternative to buy new ones is “too expensive” he said, “so we bought secondhand T-70s instead.” PM Meles hoped to buy new ones or at least those that are used for only five to 10 years when the economy grows.

For now, the 200 tanks that will be delivered to Ethiopia will be modernized with a new engine, guided weapons and reactive armor, according to defense analysts.  

However, a recent Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment said Ethiopia already operates the T-72 main battle tanks, 60 of which were bought from Yemen in 2003. Owing to Ethiopia’s tradition of military secrecy, Addis Standard could not verify this claim. 

Ethiopia is facing an erratic but disturbing armed rebellion by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the oil rich Ogaden region near the border with Somalia.

A 1998 -2000 border war with archrival Eritrea claimed an estimated 70, 000 lives from both sides and has not been peacefully settled as both continued accusing each other of sponsoring insurgents who enter their territory or are operating from Somalia.

The T-72 armored battle tanks are a follow up of the earlier T-64 generation armored battle tanks.  It was first manufactured in 1972 in the Soviet Union and is said to be the “Soviet Army’s most numerous tank until the collapse of the Soviet Union.”  That means T=72 tanks were also exported in large numbers to Warsaw Pact countries and Asia, but also to the Middle East and many countries in Africa. According to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, currently more than 40 countries worldwide are operating an estimated 50, 000 T-72. 

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