Leading Arab military power eyes entry into a China-headed bloc

On May 22, Algeria took a significant step by applying to become a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO]. This status will allow Algeria to eventually pursue full membership after a period of serving as a dialogue partner and observer. 

If a T-72/T-90 tank runs from dust, it creates a big infrared trail
Photo credit: MWM

Founded in 2001 by China along with five other former Soviet states, the SCO has since expanded to include Pakistan, India, and Iran. Notably, since the late 2010s, member nations have engaged in increasingly coordinated joint military exercises. 

Cold War ties

China sells CH-5 UAVs armed with ATGM and guided bombs to Algeria
Photo credit: Defense Express

During the Cold War, Algeria was one of five Arab republics that closely aligned with the Soviet Union. After neighboring Egypt shifted allegiance to the Western Bloc in the 1970s and in light of Western military interventions in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, Algeria remains one of the few Arab states operating outside the Western sphere of influence.

In response to the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, the country has significantly boosted investments in its military capabilities, focusing especially on aerial warfare and air defense. Decades of underinvestment had left its armed forces weak compared to their peak in the 1980s. 

Today, the Algerian Armed Forces are regarded as the most capable in Africa and the Arab world. Among Muslim-majority nations, they are rivaled only by Pakistan and Iran, both members of the SCO. 

Algeria may give surplus MiG-29M fighter jets to Sudan for free
Photo credit: Reddit

China 1st, Russia 2nd

Although an increasing share of Algeria’s military hardware, including electronic warfare systems and cruise missiles, now comes from China, Russia remains its second-largest defense supplier after India.

The backbone of its armored units consists of approximately 700 T-90SA tanks. These vehicles form the core strength of their ground forces. On the aviation front, the fleet includes 72 Su-30MKA heavyweight fighters. These were chosen over the French Rafale in the mid-2000s for their more powerful sensor suite, greater endurance, and superior flight performance. 

New Chinese 120mm self-propelled mortar in service in Algeria
Photo credit: Twitter

Other notable equipment in their arsenal includes a variety of advanced systems. These range from S-300PMU-2 and reportedly S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Mi-28 attack helicopters. Additionally, they possess Iskander-M ballistic missile systems and TOS-1A thermobaric rocket artillery systems. 

Military exercises

The Algerian Armed Forces often conduct major military exercises to showcase their high level of combat readiness. This has gained particular significance in light of major U.S.-led military exercises in North Africa, which appear to simulate attacks on the country.

Leading Arab military power eyes entry into a China-headed bloc - Algeria China drone UAV
Photo credit: Reddit

Algeria has a long history of being a top-priority client for Russia’s cutting-edge military hardware. Notably, they were the first to acquire MiG-25 interceptors from the Soviet Union and even secured Pantsir-SM air defense systems before these systems were available to the Russian Armed Forces. 

Additionally, reports suggest that Algeria is poised to become the first buyer of Russia’s Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet. The surge in fossil fuel prices since 2022 has apparently boosted the country’s ability to invest more heavily in military acquisitions.

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