For the first time, China has exported it’s topline MANPADS (Man portable Air Defense System), the QW-18. The customer was Uzbekistan, This may indicate that the next new Chinese MANPADS, the QW-19, is in service or about to be. China usually does not export the latest version of a weapon until the next version enters service.
The QW-18 has been around since 2013 and an improved version, the QW-19, was known to be in development in 2014. The QW-19 may already be in service because it looks like the QW-18 but has improved heat seeker as well as its ability to detect and ignore countermeasures (like flares).
The QW series was the Chinese effort to keep pace with Russian MANPADS designs and eventually catch up and surpass the U.S. Stinger. The QW-1 entered service in the early 1990s and a major upgrade, the QW-11 appeared in 2002. This missile underwent major upgrades and the result was the QW-18.
There are still a lot of older QW-1 and QW-2s on the black market. For example, in 2011 a naturalized American citizen, Yi Qing Chen was sentenced to 25 years in prison for smuggling drugs, cigarettes, and Chinese QW-2 MANPADS into the United States. In this case, the missiles never made it out of China because Chen was arrested before that part of the deal could be completed. There was convincing evidence that Chen had the right connections in China to get the missiles. Chen was also the first person prosecuted (and given the mandatory 25 year sentence) under a 2004 law dealing with attempting to smuggle such missiles into the United States.
Chen offered to get 200 of the QW-2 missiles, for $91,500 each, and deliver them to anywhere in southern California. Chen also described how he would bribe customs inspectors in the United States and arrange for phony purchase orders from the armed forces of another country, so the missiles could be bought and shipped from China, where he had contacts with the manufacturer who would go along with deals like this. The key element here was knowing who to bribe and the ability to obtain convincing false documents.
The QW-2 is a 17 kg (37 pound) system that includes the launcher/storage tube, missile, and sighting and firing gear. The missile has a max range of five kilometers and max altitude of four kilometers. The minimum altitude is 30 meters. The system is 1.45 meters (4.5 feet) long and the missile is 71mm in diameter. The manufacturer states that the missile has a 70 percent probability of hitting aircraft within range.
The QW-18 has a much better seeker, maneuverability and ability to handle jamming. The complete system weighs 18 kg (39 pounds) and the actual missile is 12 kg (26 pounds). Max range is five kilometers and it can reach targets as high as 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). Max speed is about 2,000 kilometers an hour and it is effective against targets travelling at about half that speed. Thus the QW-18 can hit low flying jets in addition to helicopters and UAVs. With the QW-19 (same general weight and performance as the QW-18) China appears to have surpassed Russia in the MANPADS department and is closing in on the Stinger.
In 1981 the U.S. introduced the Stinger to replace the 1960s era Redeye. The 14.3 kg Stinger fired its 10.1 kg missile out to 8,000 meters and was more accurate and resistant to countermeasures. Stinger had a 3 kg (6.6 pound) warhead. Stinger has been continuously upgraded since it first appeared as the FIM-92A. The current version is FIM-92J and there is a refurbishment program to extend shelf live by ten years. Stinger has been upgraded over the years. Newly built Stingers and QW series missiles both have a shelf life of ten years. China also upgrades older missiles, from the QW-11 on, to the latest version and gives the refurbished missile a shelf life of ten years.