ThumbnailGuns are sexy. It's a known fact that linking firearms (as well as many other odd things) to sex increases sales. That's what keeps good-looking models, both male and female, working.

However, as anyone who has dealt with any kind of military force understands, there is a very great deal of other, non-firearm equipment out there, and most of it can only be sexualized in the grossest of manners. As a result, the 'zhush' tends to get lost in the shuffle.

What do I mean by 'zhush'? The "other stuff": uniforms and boots, personal load-bearing gear, helmets, gas masks, tools, computers, desks, engineering short, virtually everything you could find in all of an office complex, a clothing outlet, and a construction company, you will find in the organizational table of a light infantry or military police battalion.

Container ship Tan Cang 15 in the Saigon river in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2014. (Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The problem for supply officers around the world, especially those serving in armies below the top tier, is how to get at that gear and equipment on a razor-thin budget. Psychologically speaking, it is humiliating for a formally-organized armed force -- which relies on the concepts of duty, honor and pride -- to accept hand-me-downs from wealthier states, except in the most dire of circumstances; the Free French and other remnant European armies that escaped to Britain after the evacuation at Dunkirk, France, in 1940 come to mind. At the same time, there may well be no real domestic industrial base for an army to draw upon in a small country. Doubly damaging for a small state's force, is the idea of buying second- (or even third-) hand surplus, and having to mark over the originating nation's identifying marks from the gear.


Nyunzu, Katanga, DR Congo: A peacekeeper stands guard on the ground as a MONUSCO helicopter takes off for an air patrol. Photo MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh

For decades, this was the conundrum - small armies had to either swallow their pride and accept handouts, or look like a street gang until either domestic production came online, or money was let from their (often horrifyingly corrupt) governments to contract out production to foreign companies to produce basic equipment to their specifications.

Globalization and the rise of the Internet, however, has changed revolutionized small-state military supply...and leading that charge is the Chinese clearinghouse known as the Alibaba Group.

While shopping sites such as Amazon cater to the individual buyer, Alibaba has a far more extensive wholesale section, where buyers can take advantage of the mass production capacities of several dozen Chinese companies, giving them access to top-level military equipment, as well as expendable supplies and tools that would have been prohibitively expensive for a small army to purchase before about 1999.

The only items not available via Alibaba are actual firearms, ammunition, explosives and drugs. While a disadvantage for the military buyer, the ability to equip everything else more than makes up for the lack of military-grade weapons on the site.

ThumbnailThis is an advantage that cannot be overstated. While a rifle, three magazines, a cheap water bottle and a box of breakfast cereal might seem like a workable equipping plan, especially if a force is bereft of money, it is not. The ability to equip a relatively capable military force for comparative peanuts leaves no excuses for anyone with pretensions of competence - if you have access to the internet and a credit card, there is no excuse for sticking with the abysmal state of the past.

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