Electronic Weapons: Chinese Hummers Listen

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June 4, 2020: Recent photos of Chinese units out on training exercises showed something new, several Dongfeng Mengshi (Hummer variant) 6x6 vehicles with box-like structures on the cargo bed that apparently contain electronic equipment and two 10 meter (32 foot) telescoping masts that, when extended, display a number of electronic monitoring devices. The configuration of the sensors indicates communications or radar signal monitoring and location finding. The vehicles were accompanying a combat brigade so it seems likely this was a test of this signal monitoring and location finding for Chinese troops in a combat situation.

Chinese hummer-like vehicles are popular with Chinese and foreign special operations troops but are only occasionally used for special military tasks, like these electronic monitoring vehicles. These 6x6 trucks weigh six tons and can carry about 1.2 tons of cargo. The telescoping masts weigh about 100 kg (220 pounds) each and carry about as much at the top of the mast. There’s room in the box-like cargo compartment for at least one operator plus additional electronics. These 6x6 vehicles can generate enough electricity while stationary to power the electronics.

Telescoping masts have been around since before World War II, mainly for obtaining longer range radio communications. During World War II some mobile military headquarters used the telescoping masts to maintain communications with distant sub-units. These mast vehicles could also be used as radio relay links or for intelligence work like radio direction finding to locate enemy units that were using radio communications. These uses of telescoping masts continued after World War II but in the 1990s the availability of powerful and sturdy digital video cameras enabled another use. Canada for example developed a recon (Coyote RVSS) version of its 17 ton LAV II 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle in the late 1990s that used the telescoping mast for video surveillance. These were used in Afghanistan since 2002 and proved enormously useful by doing long-range surveillance for Taliban and al Qaeda gunmen. The Coyote reconnaissance system was mounted on a wheeled armored vehicle. The recon gear consists of a nine meter (30 foot) telescoping mast that contains a Doppler radar, laser rangefinder, thermal imaging sensor, and video camera. The mast-mounted sensors can see clearly out to 15 kilometers and identify targets (day or night) for artillery or air attack. The radar can spot targets out to 24 kilometers but can only distinguish vehicle types (wheeled, tracked) beginning at about 12 kilometers. Other nations used similar systems.

The Chinese found they could put such a telescoping EW (Electronic Warfare) system on an even smaller vehicle and choose one of a few locally produced hummer type vehicles that the Chinese military uses. The Chinese armed forces did not buy a lot of these vehicles, perhaps a few thousand or so a year at most. Civilian versions became popular with Chinese consumers and export customers. The most popular of these hummer clones come from Dongfeng, which initially produced some hummers under license. Dongfeng has since produced a number of hummer variants, including armored models equipped to handle RWS (remote weapons systems). These were nicknamed Mengshi (“east wind warrior). The latest of these, the CSK-181 is an eight ton armored hummer design similar to the new American JLTV. One characteristic of the Chinese hummers are built-in night vision cameras (one in front and one in the back with a flat-screen display for the driver to use) and a satellite navigation system. A lighter, unarmored, hummer version of the CSK-181 was used for this new EW vehicle.

China openly copies a lot of foreign military equipment designs, often in many variations because multiple manufacturers get involved. The Chinese military thought the American hummer (HMMWV) was a useful design but did not adopt it widely. Instead Chinese troops use a legal version (because of a joint manufacturing deal) of the Jeep Cherokee, but a bit larger. This BJ2022 vehicle comes in two versions, with one being a bit longer and serving as something similar to the old American ¾ ton truck. Most of the BJ2022 are basically much updated World War II American jeep designs that borrow much from SUV and four-wheel drive innovations. The basic version can carry a payload of 500 kg (half ton) and seats four. The longer version carries 750 kg and seats up to eight. These are four-wheel drive vehicles that have manual transmissions and are mainly used on roads or flat terrain. For jobs requiring slightly larger tactical vehicles with more carrying capacity, the Dongfeng hummer variants are preferred.

 


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