WITBANK, South Africa — Russia's KBP Instrument Design Bureau says it has started upgrading 360 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) for the Algerian Army in a follow-up order to more than 400 upgraded IFVs recently delivered to the North African country.
Military observers view the rapid modernization drive as part of a larger Algerian effort to improve its land forces as it faces increasing political instability and security threats in the region, making it Africa's top weapon buyer and among the world's top 10.
Russian new agency ITAR-TASS quoted Vladmir Popov, director of KBP subsidiary Shcheglovsky Val, saying major upgrades will include the installation of a Berezhok combat suite, which comprises four 9M133 Kornet-E anti-tank missiles, an AGS-30 30mm automatic grenade launcher system, a 30mm 2A42 main gun designed for the BMP-2 and a PKT 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.
"The Berezhok combat module demonstrated it is best in the environmental conditions of Algeria. This country successfully uses the upgraded BMP-1s. The cost-efficiency characteristics of the upgraded BMP-2 are very impressive and its combat potential is increased by several times, so a new-generation IFV can be obtained for a relatively insignificant price," Popov was quoted as saying.
There was no response to emails sent to the Algerian Defense Ministry and Army requesting comment.
The work is being done in the Algerian town of Blida, where Russian technicians are supervising the largely local workforce. The Russian company said it has so far upgraded and delivered more than 1,400 BMP IFV variants for the Algeria Army, which also operates an estimated 300 BMP-2s and at least 100 BMP-3s.
According to Francis Ghiles, a senior research fellow at CIDOB, a Barcelona-based think tank, Algeria's aggressive weapon procurement efforts are also informed by a desire to play a more active role in regional leadership.
"The weapons buying spree Algeria embarked on a decade ago was driven by changing regional circumstances. High income from oil and gas exports encouraged a fast build up, but what is new is that weapons do not only come from Russia but from countries which include Germany, Italy and the US. The Algerian Army is engaged in a three-pronged change which concerns the weapons it uses, the military doctrine it follows and its effects on its domestic politics and economics," Ghiles stated in a commentary published in March.
Further, he said changes in the regional security situation, Algeria's own experience with terrorism in the early 1990s and the recent advent of asymmetrical warfare in the Sahelian and Maghreb regions have forced the Algerian Army to modernize, become more professional and cooperate more with foreign countries.