Vietnam’s efforts to modernize its armed forces face numerous political, historical and financial barriers. Many are of Vietnam’s own making — its go-slow policy on human rights issues and democratization, and the Communist Party’s reluctance to share power, even though it has embraced foreign investment and capitalism.
Still, growing problems with China are forcing Hanoi to ask hard questions about its future military needs. Since the collapse of the US-backed South Vietnamese government in April 1975, Hanoi has relied on Russian/Soviet-built equipment and support for a wide array of anti-ship missiles, fighter aircraft, tanks and more recently, six Russian Kilo-class submarines.
“Vietnam has a huge military, but most of it is still outfitted with weaponry from the 1970s and 1980s, especially the Army,” said Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow and coordinator of the Military Transformations Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. Vietnam’s armed forces must now invest steadily in acquisitions for the next decade or two “if it wants to fully recapitalize its military,” he said.