January 14, 2010: China announced that its domestically developed and manufactured HQ-9 anti-aircraft system had successfully shot down a ballistic missile. No details were released, indicating this was an intercept most anti-aircraft missiles of this type are capable of. In other words, a short range missile like a SCUD. It's unclear why China is doing this, although the fact that they could is probably the most likely one.
Although China continues to buy Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, most of their air defense systems are home made. The best of these are the HQ-9. Roughly equivalent to the U.S. Patriot, the Russian built S-300 was known as the SA-10 to NATO, when the system first appeared in the early 1980s. The latest version is called the SA-20. The S-300 missiles weigh 1.8 tons each and are 26 feet long and about 20 inches in diameter. The missiles have a range of some 200 kilometers and can hit targets as high as 100,000 feet. The missile has a 320 pound warhead. About 30 percent of Chinese long range antiaircraft systems are S-300. But 70 percent are the Chinese designed and manufactured HQ-9.
A decade ago, China began introducing the HQ-9. Over a decade of development was believed to have benefitted from data stolen from similar American and Russian systems. The HQ-9 missile is similar to the U.S. "Patriot," and is deployed in ships as well. The radar apparently derived much technology from that used in the Russian S-300 system.
The HQ-9 missile has a max range of about 100 kilometers, weighs 1.3 tons and has a passive (no broadcasting) seeker in the missile. China is now offering its HQ-9 anti-aircraft missile system for export, as the FD-2000.
Most of the systems used by the army are mobile. Army HQ-9 brigades have a brigade headquarters (with a command vehicle, and four trucks for communications and maintenance), six battalions (each with a missile control vehicle, a targeting radar vehicle, a search radar vehicle and eight missile launch vehicles, each carrying four missiles in containers).
Russia and the United States are debating how to deal with the growing Chinese use of stolen technology, especially for weapons systems that are exported and compete against the systems they are copied from.
Neither the S-300 or HQ-9 have been tested in combat. Most earlier Russian designed air defense systems performed poorly in combat. Even the Russian SA-6 missile systems, that Egypt used in 1973, which were initially a surprise to the Israelis, were soon countered, and did not stop the Israelis from getting through. While the best sales technique is to push the products' track record, you have to do just the opposite with Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Thus the Russians, and now the Chinese with their FD-2000, emphasize low price, impressive specifications, test results and potential.