Air Defense: Low Cost, Slightly Legal, Missile Protection


April 3, 2010:  China recently received the last of 15 battalions of S-300MPU anti-aircraft missile systems bought from Russia. Increasingly, however, China is using its own, locally designed and built, HQ-9 systems. These are also being pushed aggressively to export customers as well. Unlike the S-300, China can upgrade the HQ-9 and sell it to anyone. Thus, earlier this year, an HQ-9 anti-aircraft system successfully shot down a ballistic missile. This capability is important to many potential export customers. China offers HQ-9 for export as the FD-2000. The HQ-9 is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Patriot.  While about 30 percent of Chinese long range antiaircraft systems are S-300, 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 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. The Patriot missile weighs a ton (for the 70 kilometer range version) and a third of a ton for the 20 kilometer range anti-missile only version. The S-300 missiles weigh 1.8 tons and have a range of 200 kilometers. 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. No one has a solution, and China denies all accusations.

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).

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.





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