16 September 2013, 12:50

China’s new air defence system relies on Russian-made elements

зенитно-ракетный комплект Тор М-1  Боевой состав сил ПВО

According to a news report, China has started testing its SD-10A air defence system using a new type of weapon, namely the modified air-to-air missile PL-12. PL-12 is the first Chinese missile using active radar homing. Russian engineers helped China build the missile, which makes extensive use of Russian-made component parts.

That the missile boasts active radar homing means that it needs no illuminator radar, but has its own on-board radar that can find and lock the missile onto the target.

Judging by the news report, the system uses the modified PL-12 missile, with one more stage added to it, namely a larger-diameter booster engine. The authors of the publication feel the missile in question will transform the air defence system into one of the next generation, compared to the HQ-16 complex, which was also designed with Russia’s assistance and uses a number of elements of the Russian BUK complex. HQ-16 is currently going into service in China. The authors feel that SD-10A will also start coming into operation shortly and draw the conclusion that it may prove largely more efficient than the advanced Russian system S-350, and almost as efficient as the Aster-30 European system.

But actually the SD-10A air defence system may fall short of these expectations. Conceptually, the system is nowhere near S-350 or Aster-30, which boast specially-designed, state-of-the-art surface-to-air missiles. A closer prototype would be the NASAMS Norwegian air defence missile complex, which went into service back in the 1990s and which uses the US-made air-to-air missiles AIM-120C. These are comparable performance-wise with the Russian R-77 or Chinese-made PL-12 missiles.

An updated NASAMS II air defence system has an effective rang of just 25 kilometres, while the AIM-120C missile, if fired from a plane, boasts the range of more than 100 kilometres. The Chinese have largely modified the missile by adding a booster engine, but this alone can hardly be seen as a drastic solution.

After all, the baseline version of the PL-12 missile weighed a mere 180 kilos, while the Aster-30 complex air-to-air missile weighs 450 kilos. To make SD-10A as efficient, the Chinese would clearly need a completely different missile.

When air-to-air missiles are made lighter, they normally have less powerful warheads and a shorter storage life than air defence missiles. Finally, missiles with active radar homing normally cost a lot more than those with semi-active radar homing. It is precisely because of budget restrictions that the US had to shut down its program to develop the air defence complex that used the AIM-120 missile.

It is safe to assume that China’s new SD-10A system does not seek to replace the currently produced HQ-16A complexes, but is largely meant for exports. But if the new system does go into service, it will most likely be used for some specific purposes, like reinforcing the air defenses of some important facilities.

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