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Confirmation of these claims came even earlier than the authors expected. Look at the following report.
New York-based Shijie Ribao (World Journal) newspaper, June 24, 2002, p.A7 – "China Serially Produces Hongqi-15 Missile [System] – the King of Air Defense" (with insignificant omissions):
(Information from the newspaper's correspondent in Hong Kong): China earlier imported from Russia the S-300 ADM system, which received the Chinese name Hongqi (HQ)-15. These systems are deployed mostly near the Taiwan Strait and turned into the factor of psychological pressure on Taiwanese military pilots. According to reliable sources, China has already started serial production of the HQ-15, which has become the "king weapon" of Chinese air defense.
Russia's "Military survey" (probably the authoritative "Independent Military Survey" weekly newspaper) recently published the following report: In 1992 China imported from Russia three systems (battalions) of S-300 PMU missile launchers and 144 missiles for them. Later (in 1992-93) seven more improved S-300 systems were imported.
Very rapidly, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) mastered these systems and began missile-launching training. After several training-maneuvers of this kind, in 1994, the PLA became satisfied [with the S-300's performance] and decided to import the production line for S-300 "guochanhua" (serial production from Chinese components).
According to reports available, presently China managed to increase the "guochanhua level" (share of Chinese components) up to 70 percent in the Chinese-made HQ-15 system, i.e., a copy of the S-300 PMU-1. These systems are capable of launching a missile every three seconds and of attacking six different targets at once; the response time of this system is as little as 15 seconds.
The reports of Rosoboronexport corp. (the Russian state-owned weapon export monopoly) indicate that China is producing a renovated variety of the S-300, with improved space characteristics and software; moreover, the modular principle of S-300 design allows the Chinese side to upgrade these systems significantly by substituting a small number of key components.
Presently, S-300 systems (both Russian-made and Chinese-made) deployed near the Taiwan Strait are engaged in tracking Taiwanese Mirage (Mirage-2000) fighters. According to the insiders' information, the introduction of S-300 systems greatly increases China's air defense safety.
After the Kosovo War, the PLA did its best to upgrade its air defense. PLA experts believe that if the Yugoslav army had had S-300 systems, it would have been capable of hitting U.S. military aircraft.
Presently, China and Russia are jointly developing several new ADM systems, particularly the HQ-16. Researchers on both sides jointly worked out the tactical-technological characteristics of this system and are moving ahead with its development.
(end of summary from Russian "military survey" and Shijie Ribao article)
They are as follows:
1) China is now capable of annually producing at least 10 battalions of HQ-15 or S-300 PMU1 ADM systems or maybe an even greater number. Each battalion includes 12 mobile launching platforms with four mobile launchers on a single platform and is capable of launching 48 missiles simultaneously. It also includes several mobile platforms with radars and controlling devices.
Each battalion of this kind effectively protects an airspace inside a circle with about 120-km radius, with an altitude of up to 25 km. The cost of such a battalion, for the PLA, evidently has fallen to about $30 million, while the Russian export price for an S-300 battalion reaches $300 million.
The PLA will be capable, in 2002-2004, of obtaining several dozen HQ-15/S-300 battalions and, consequently, of protecting the entire highly developed eastern coastal zone (which produces up to 60 percent of China's GDP) plus the most important eastern regions of the country.
According to several unconfirmed reports, in 2001 the PLA acquired from Russia several Triumph S-400 ADM launchers, with a range up to 250 km. Evidently, it won't be very difficult for the Chinese side to upgrade the HQ-15/S-300 systems to the S-400 level ("by substituting a small number of key components"), thus greatly expanding the combat potential of the already constructed multi-level air defense network.
An item of particular importance: China is acquiring some components for HQ-15/S-300 systems through the "back door" – the same as components for J-11/SU-27 fighters – from Russian defense plants and army units. For example, at the end of 2001, some sophisticated parts of S-300 systems were stolen in Birobidzhan garrison (about 150 km east of Khabarovsk city), very close to the Chinese border.
So, if necessary, China will upgrade its HQ-15/S-300 systems or increase their production volume even without an official agreement with Moscow.
2) Now one can claim that, very probably, China – by mid-2002 – also started serial production of Tor-M1/HQ-17 systems – very effective mid-range, mid-altitude ADM systems, although their technological level doesn't surpass that of the HQ-15 systems.
Each company of these systems includes four mobile platforms with two missile launchers on a single platform plus an additional radar/command and control platform. How many such companies could the PLA obtain in 2002-2004? Probably hundreds, taking into account their comparatively low cost.
Mid-range, mid-altitude HQ-17 systems are supplementing long-range high-altitude HQ-15 systems and supporting them on the lower level. If an enemy's fighter or cruise missile escapes the HQ-15 missile, then – almost certainly – an HQ-17 missile will hit it.
As mentioned in an earlier article, the "super Tor-M1"/HQ-16 is under joint Chinese-Russian development, probably a rapid one. When this system's development is completed, it would be comparatively easy to upgrade HQ-17 systems in the PLA inventory up to the HQ-16 level. That's because the Tor-M1 design – just like the S-300 one – is based on a modular principle, so the change of a small number of key components will provide a high rise in combat capacity.
3) Finally, let's look to the grimmest part of the picture (after Sept. 11, there is no way to "hide one's head in the sand" and ignore unpleasant realities). In the case of "high-tech limited conflict" around Taiwan – and the PLA during the last several years has actively prepared specifically for this – the losses of U.S. tactical aviation (F-15, F-16, F-18 fighters) could be very high. This would be the result of joint actions of long-range HQ-15/S-300 ADM systems, mid-range HQ-17/Tor-M1 ADM systems and low range missile-artillery Feimeng/Tunguska systems etc.
Let's be "grateful" for all of this to the Kremlin and Moscow. Let's think what forms our gratitude could take.
Exact information, given in the last several articles, about recent acceleration of modern fighters and ADM systems development and production in China drives us to the upgrading of estimates regarding other small-size and mid-size weapon platform manufacturing.
China's defense industry, capitalizing on the newly acquired economic and technological potential of this country, indeed reached a new qualitative-technological level in 2002. So it is possible to now claim that the following weapon systems – close enough to advanced world levels – are in serial production already or will be put into serial production in the nearest future:
All these items, including the "pleasantest" last one, are mostly based on Russian technology. Let's be "grateful" to Moscow and the Kremlin for this also. And it is not excluded that North Korea, Iran and some other Middle Eastern "nations of concern" will gain access to this sophisticated weaponry – if not via Russian channels, then via Chinese ones.
Of course, China still has a lot to learn from Russia in the weapons area. Traditionally, China has problems in manufacturing so-called "
Dr. Thomas J. Torda is a Chinese defense technology and language consultant with a Northern Virginia firm.
You may contact Dr. Torda at
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