Artillery: China Offers Flexibility


May 18, 2020: Myanmar (Burma) has become the second export customer for the Chinese SY400 MRL (Multiple Rocket Launcher) and began receiving the launcher vehicles and missiles in early 2020. The first (in 2017) customer for the SY400 was the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

The SY400 system is unique in several ways. The launcher vehicle is the 8x8 41-ton (loaded) WS2400. This truck is based on Russian designs but equipped with a German engine and other mechanical components. The passenger cab carries the driver and seven passengers. Top speed is 75 kilometers an hour and range on internal fuel is 650 kilometers. Max payload is 22 tons. The WS2400 is strictly a military vehicle and is configured to carry and launch a number of different missiles or rockets. The SY400 can either carry two DF-12A ballistic missiles in sealed launch containers or two containers each holding four high-speed SY-400 guided rockets. Most SY400 vehicles carry SY-400 rockets.

The SY-400 projectile is a 400mm diameter solid-fuel rocket that weighs about two tons with two warhead options. With a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead, range is 150 kilometers. With a 200 kg (440 pound) warhead, range is 200 kilometers. A unique feature of the SY400 is that, while not a true ballistic missile, it is fired like one (straight up). Earlier long-range rockets were fired from a slanted launcher and the vehicle had to be aligned to face the target. SY-400 and the larger DF-12A ballistic missiles are both fired straight up. The SY400 has control features that enable it to tilt over once launched and follow the more familiar artillery rocket trajectory. The DF-12A goes to a higher altitude before tipping over and coming down at a higher speed characteristic of a ballistic missile.

Both SY400 and DF-12A use GPS/INS plus a terminal guidance system which enables them to land within 50 meters of the aim point. The DF-12A is a true ballistic missile weighting four tons, with a diameter of 600mm, length of six meters and a range of 280 kilometers with a 480 kg (nearly half-ton) warhead. As a ballistic missile, the BP-12A is faster and more difficult to intercept. The SY-400 is a high-speed rocket but not as fast as a ballistic missile and has a flatter trajectory and is easier to intercept because of its lower speed.

The BP-12A option for the SY-400 was introduced in 2008 to compete with the Russian Iskander M. The Russian missile was developed in the 1990s and entered service in 2008 The 3.8 ton Iskander E (export model) has a solid-fuel rocket motor and a range of 300 kilometers with a half-ton warhead. The missile, like its Chinese counterparts, can be stored in the shipping/launch container for up to ten years. Russia sells several different types of warheads, including cluster munitions, thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) and electro-magnetic pulse (anti-radar, and destructive to electronics in general.) There is also a nuclear warhead, which is not exported. Guidance is very accurate, using GPS, plus infrared homing for terminal guidance. The warhead will land within 10 meters (31 feet) of the aim point. Iskanders are carried in a 20-ton 8x8 truck, which also provides a launch platform. There is also a reload truck that carries two missiles. The SY400 missiles apparently only use a high-explosive warhead meant to do major damage to airfields, ports or structures.

It is unclear why Myanmar bought Sy400 systems because it is not under military threat from any neighbors. However, Thailand recently received some WS-1B long-range (150 kilometer range) rockets from China. Both Thailand and Myanmar are democracies with armed forces that sometimes take over the government. Burma was such a military dictatorship for decades until the generals allowed elections in 2011, rather than face major uprising and civil war. That negotiated return to democracy included the military maintaining a lot of autonomy and a relatively large budget. The Burmese military can buy whatever its budget will allow even if the item purchased really does little to improve national defense.

Qatar, the first customer for the SY400, was the latest Arabian nation to obtain ballistic missiles. In 1988 Saudi Arabia bought dozens of Chinese DF-3 liquid-fuel ballistic missiles, each with a range of 4,000 kilometers. These were never test fired by the Saudis and not shown in public until a 2014 parade. Meanwhile, the Saudis bought a dozen or so solid-fuel DF-21 ballistic missiles from China. These have a range of 1,700 kilometers. Meanwhile, Yemen bought dozens of ballistic missiles from North Korea in the 1990s. Iran and Israel build their own ballistic missiles but Israel has nuclear warheads for theirs. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have reliable anti-missile systems which have been used in combat.


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