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International Defense Exhibition Land Forces 2006: Highlighting Growing Russia-China Airborne Troops Cooperation

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on October 1st, 2006
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From August 2-6, 2006, Moscow was host to the second International Defense Exhibition Land Force (IDELF), which heavily featured Russia’s Vozdushno Desantniy Voisk (VDV), or Airborne Force. This show coincided with Airborne Forces Day on August 2, the 76th anniversary of the VDV, which in Russia has the same macho reputation as the U.S. Marines. This show, however, has faced some challenges. Led by the Russian Bizon Group, this IDELF was advertised in 2005 as a much larger bi-annual ground forces show that would take place at the well developed exhibition areas at Zhukovski Airfield. But this is also the location of the bi-annual Moscow Airshow, in turn controlled by a competing military events group, which forced IDELF into a much smaller Moscow venue. IDELF was also constrained by its failure to attract a larger array of Russian armor and land-weapon manufacturers, which had remained loyal to the more established bi-annual army weapons show in Nizhny Tagil, located North of Ekatrinburg in the Ural Mountains. A firepower display was hosted on a Russian Army base in the Moscow suburbs, but only featured Ministry of Internal Affairs Special Forces, a token Airborne Forces display and no Russian Army forces. However, it is not uncommon for Russian military show upstarts to face such challenges; some observers predict that this show will eventually gain traction and move to a larger venue.

IDELF’s focus on Russia’s VDV, however, provided an opportunity to gain insights into the growing Airborne Forces of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China has chosen to follow the Russian example of developing an elite mechanized Airborne force designed to perform offensive deep strike operations. The last decade has seen an intense Chinese effort to study and emulate the Russian example where applicable, to purchase Russian airborne force technology as they develop their own, and starting in 2005, to exercise with Russia’s much more experienced forces to gain further insights and experience. Such joint exercises airborne exercises may grow more frequent under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organizations, meaning many VDV trends will affect those of the PLA Airborne forces. China’s investment in Airborne Forces, combined with more recent signs that China intends to devote greater resources to the development of indigenous heavy-lift aircraft may in the next decade result in China’s leadership obtaining an effective power-projection tool to advance its interests in Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, not to mention forcing "unification" with democratic Taiwan.

In contrast, while professional and experienced, U.S. Airborne forces are not mechanized, instead stressing light weight to enable rapid deployment. They have lacked a dedicated airborne tank since1996, the year of the phase-out of the 17.5 ton M551 Sheridan and the cancellation of its replacement, the 26 ton M8 Armored Gun System. This integral armor was missed in early 2003, when Turkey denied access to the 15,000 soldier and 1,500 vehicle strong U.S. Army 4th Division, thus reducing its Northern flank for the Iraq invasion to the laboriously airlifted 2,000 men, five M-1 Abrams tanks, five M-2 Bradley armored personnel carriers (APCs) and 41 Humvee light vehicles of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The Russian VDV forces, and soon, the PLA Airborne forces, would not begin such an operation equipped so lightly.

Russia’s VDV

As relayed in Steven Zaloga’s masterful volume Inside the Blue Berets (Presidio: 1996), the former Soviet Union played a pioneering role in developing airborne troops beginning in 1930, to include the first development of air-transportable armor. In the late 1920s early visionaries like General Mikhail Tukhachevsky, later purged by Stalin, understood that developing aviation and armor technologies could be combined to create powerful airborne troops to attack deep into the enemy’s rear areas to enable ground forces to advance more rapidly and achieve victory. Stalin’s purges also hit the VDV officer corps hard and its combat record during World War II was not inspiring. Its most well planned airlift, the September 1943 Operation Dnepr resulted in failure borne of mistakes and quick German reactions. While it fought bravely the VDV routinely lacked adequate air transport. But impressed by the Allied use of airborne operations, again with mixed results, the Soviet remained committed to their airborne forces, and by the mid-1950s had grown to six divisions, the largest in the world.

 
 
Early Examples of Soviet Airborne Armor: T-26 and T-37 light tanks developed in the 1930s slung under a Tupolev TB-3 bomber. Credit: RD Fisher

In the 1960s the VDV began to come into its own as the Soviet Air Force acquired large efficient tactical transports in the 1960s like the 20-ton capable Antonov An-12 Cub and then larger strategic transport aircraft like the 46-ton capable Ilyushin Il-76 Candid in the 1970s. The late 1960s also saw the introduction of the unique BMD series infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) designed specifically for air-dropping, followed by a series of air-droppable armored tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs) and mobile artillery that realized Tukhachevsky’s dream of mechanized armored airborne infantry. While the VDV was used in massive exercises to impress NATO, and Soviet leadership mobilized VDV units for potential use during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it was never to be used in a large conventional conflict for deep-strike operations against the West. Instead, as Steven Zaloga observed, the VDV became the Soviet Unions "imperial storm troopers," seeing prominent use in the 1956 invasion of Hungary, the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the VDV conducted mainly heliborne operations, but the inability of the Army to wrest control of helicopters from the Air Force denied their being used to their full potential.

It was during the Afghan occupation, then later against still ongoing operations against Islamist militants in Chechnya, that the VDV saw its priorities shift from mechanized offense to the requirements of counter-insurgency. In early 2006 VDV commander Col. General Aleksandr Petrovich Kolmakov stated that over 700 VDV soldiers had died in Chechenya from 1999 to March 2006. Recent years have also seen the VDV leadership infused with veterans of both conflicts, like Kolmakov, who served in Afghanistan. Major General Vladimir Krymskiy, who heads the V.F. Margelov Higher Airborne Command School in Ryazan, commanded a VDV battalion in the Chchenya conflict and has brought a new focus on combat training to the VDV. Kolmakov has stated that 80 percent of VDV officers and 50 percent of enlisted personnel have had combat experience. Starting in 2002 the 76th Division has been made a centerpiece for Russian Army personnel reform through the introduction of "contracts" which offer careers and reduce chances for all-around abuse often blamed on the traditional conscription system. In addition the 98th Division and the 31st Independent Brigade are also covered by the contract system.

Today the VDV prides its self as an "independent" branch of the Armed Forces under the command of the Russian President and Commander-in-Chief, whereas in the past it has been subordinate to the Air Force and the Army. The VDV order of battle has been reduced to four major airborne divisions, one independent brigade, a training center and the V.F. Margelov Higher Airborne Command School in Ryazan, for a total of about 34,000 troops. The major VDV units are the elite 76th Division in Pskov, under the Leningrad Military District, the 98th Division in Ivanovo, under VDV control, the 106th Division in Tula, under the Minsk Military District, and the 7th Division out in Novorossyyk, also under VDV control and the 31st Independent Brigade in Ulyanovsk. A VDV division reportedly can control up to 5,000 to 7,000 troops, 200-300 BMDs, about 80-130 BTR-D armored personnel carriers (APCs), 20-30 NONA-S mobile mortars, and 12 D-30 130mm artillery guns. But it is possible these numbers are high, as financial constraints may have forced much equipment into storage. Today the Russian Military Transport Aviation Command (VTA) has about 210 Il-76, 12 very large An-124 Condor and about 50 An-12s for use in VDV transport missions, much less than half its available airlift in 1990.

 
 
NONA-S: This unique VDV artillery vehicle places the NONA automatic 120mm mortor on a BTR-D chassis. It can fire out to 12km with rocket-assisted rounds. Shown here in descent gear. Credit: RD Fisher

At IDELF Commander Kolmakov stated that by 2015 the VDV’s operational capability would "grow tenfold." This would follow a reorganization that would give integral artillery batteries and reconnaissance platoons to VDV regiments, the introduction of personal troop communications gear, and the introduction of new equipment such as the BMD-4 Bakhcha IFV, the SPRUT-D 125mm gun-armed airborne tank, the new BTR-D3 Rakushka APC, new small arms and satellite navigation equipment. Recon platoons are introducing new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance like the Enics. However, such ambitions are subject to the instabilities of Russian politics and funding constraints. There are also reports of pressure within the Army’s now powerful Military Districts to diminish the VDV units under their control. In addition, Kolmakov noted that in the future some troops will be reorganized into mountain and helicopter assault troops. To fulfill its new focus on counter insurgency, it is apparently the VDV ambition by 2015 to reorganize the 7th Division into mountain troops, and the 76th Division and the 31st Independent Brigade into helicopter-borne assault troops. This would leave only the 98th and the 106th Divisions to carry on the offensive mechanized assault mission.

 
 
 
Information--Enics UAV: This computer-controlled UAV that was demonstrated at the IDELF fire demonstration may be equipping VDV recon platoons. Photos show the UAV and the view it produces projected onto a big screen. Credit: RD Fisher

Airborne Tanks

IDELF was able to produce some but not all of the VDV’s airborne armor. VDV units currently employ BMD-1, BMD-2 and BMD-3 airborne IFVs, and are also taking delivery of the 2S25 SPRUT-D airborne tank and the BMD-4 IFV. Financial constraints do not permit the VDV to employ all the BMDs it has produced, placing many in storage, but the VDV has also worn out much of its BMD inventory as well. The 8,000kg BMD-1 is armed with a 73mm smooth-bore short gun for infantry fire support, while the BMD-2 uses the same chassis but is armed with a 30mm automatic cannon that is more useful against light armor. The BMD-2 can also be equipped with the capable AT-5 9M113 Konkurs which can penetrate 650mm of rolled homogeneous armor (RHA).

The 12,900kg BMD-3 has a larger dimension for better troop comfort, uses advanced welding technology that affords greater protection, in addition to using automatic fire suppression and nuclear/chemical/bio protection equipment. All Russian airborne tracked vehicles have the ability to "kneel," or depress their suspensions, to decrease their volume and to enhance their tactical concealment.

 
 
 
BMD-2 and BMD-3: BDM-2 shown at the firepower display and the BDM-3 shown in its Universal Company-produce descent gear. Credit: RD Fisher

The future apparently belongs to the BMD-4 IFV and the 2S25 SPRUT-SD airborne tank. The BMD-4 uses the BMD-3 chassis, but upgrades with the Bakhcha turret, based on that used by the BMP-3, using a coaxial 100mm and 30mm gun. The 100mm gun can also fire unique 4km range Bastion gun-launched laser-guided anti-tank missiles, which can also target helicopters. Some BMD-3s are being upgraded to BMD-4 while new production continues. At IDELF Gen. Kolmakov stated that one VDV company has been equipped with BMD-4s, or about ten vehicles. In addition, the VDV is taking delivery of the 18-ton SPRUT-SD, which combines a light-weight 125mm gun turret on a version of the BMD-3 chassis. Russian officials recently committed to purchasing 57 of these tanks. The gun can fire a full range of infantry support and guided weapons, such as the Reflex family of 5km range laser-guided gun-launched anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. This allows the SPRUT-SD to out-range tanks that only fire conventional rounds, giving it the ability to fire first and win. While Russia has used gun-launched anti-tank missiles since 1979, the U.S. Army will not introduce it analogous 8km range Raytheon Medium Range Munition (MRM) until later this decade.

 
 
 
BMD-4 and BAKHCHA Turret: The BMD-4 is now in production as part of the VDV modernization program. Credit: Universal Company and RD Fisher

 
 
 
2S25 SPRUT-SD: This new airborne tank combines a 125mm gun with a chassis based on the BMD-3. Credit: RD Fisher via Universal Company.

Much as been written about the VDV’s experiments with troop descents in their armored vehicles, for the purpose of avoiding vulnerable delays in marrying troops with their vehicles. According to some sources interviewed at IDELF, the VDV maintains this skill but does not exercise it frequently. Others noted that this skill was still widespread within the VDV. Nevertheless, the VDV has improved the ability troops in the BMD-3 to withstand the shock of landing by fitting special seats with roof-mounted shock absorbers. This is compared to the simple floor mounted seats of the BMD-1. These tanks afford no outside view during airdrop and are remarkably cramped for their crew, requiring high bravery on their part. The tanks swing wildly upon leaving the aircraft and the troops inside have no warning of the shock of the initial parachute opening or the shock of landing.

 
 
 
Making it all possible: A close up of the Universal Company’s PBS-950 cushion-bag descent system on a BMD-3 IFV. Credit: Universal Company and RD Fisher

At some point the VDV also apparently desired to play an amphibious support role, or at least to investigate whether it could take advantage of water landing areas. A video shown by the Universal company illustrated how the VDV experimented with dropping BMD IFVs out of Il-76 aircraft into water. While Russian officials stated that driver and commander would ride the tank into the water, this seemed improbable, but then there would be little choice in order to drive the tank to land.

 
 
Water Tank: An out take from a video showing a BMD being dropped into water out of an Il-76 flying about 150mph. Driving your car off a bridge seems gentle by comparison. Credit: RD Fisher via Universal Company

BTR-D Series Airborne and the BTR-D3 Rakushka APCs

Introduced in 1973, the BTR-D APC carries 14 persons up to 550km on roads. Based on a lengthened BMD-1 chassis it weighs about 8,000kg or about the same as a BMD-2. About 500 may be in use. It comes in several versions. The basic APC BTR-D is armed with a heavy machine gun and an AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher. The BTR-RD is armed with the AT-4 or AT-5 guided anti-tank missile, while the BTR-ZD is armed with a twin 23mm ZU-23 anti-aircraft cannon that is also very useful against personnel and ground targets. The BTR-D has also been produced in command and satellite communication control versions. However, there are reports that this APC has reached the end of its life span and is in dire need of replacement.

 
 
 
BTR-D, BTR-RD and BTR-ZD: These unique APCs based on the BMD chassis add considerably to the mechanization of the VDV. Credit: RD Fisher

Reported statements by Russian officials indicate that up to 499 new BTR-D3 Rakushka APCs will be purchased to replace the BTR-D. Little is known about this new APC and Russian official would not discuss it at IDELF. It appears to be based on the BMD-3 chassis and one available photo shows it to be larger, and thus more accommodating than the BTR-D. This APC might also be better able to carry new Russian anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles like the supersonic Khrizantema.

 
 
New BTR-D3 Rakushka APC: Russian officials plan to purchase 499 of this new larger APC for a reformed VDV. Credit: Russian Internet

KAMAZ To Replace GAZ Trucks

The VDV is now moving to replace its purpose-build GAZ-66 airborne compatible trucks with the KAMAZ 4360 model. The KAMAZ is heavier but is being acquired in part because the GAZ has long been out of production. Some commented that an Il-79MD can only carry two KAMAZ trucks whereas it could carry three of the GAZ. When queried several Russian sources noted a reluctance to employ the KAMAZ in a combat capacity, such as equipping it with guns, artillery rockets or SAMs. Nevertheless this would be an obvious option.

 
 
New Airborne Truck: The KAMAZ 4360 is slated to be the VDV’s new airborne truck, shown here on a Universal Company P-7M airborne pallet. Credit: RD Fisher

PLA-Russian Cooperation and Russian Comments

In appears that through the 1990s the PLA began to seek a closer relationship with the VDV, which culminated in the China-Russia "Peace Mission 2005" exercises held in China’s Shandong Province in August of 2005. It is very likely that modest officer exchanges have been building up through this period, with reports that a PLA delegation will visit the VDV in mid-2006. In 2006, however, an additional step will be taken; the PLA will send two officers to the V.F. Margelov Higher Airborne Command School in Ryazan, the center of VDV officer and troop training, and the development of airborne doctrine and operations. Sources interviewed at IDELF expected that PLA Airborne officers would become a regular feature at the institute.

A number of sources at IDELF familiar with Peace Mission 2005 spoke well of the Russian airborne troops experience with their Chinese counterparts. Some noted that the Chinese were "in our mold" or following our example. Others noted the Chinese had a ways to go to reach Russian levels of capability, but they expected the Chinese to make rapid progress. Russian press reports from the exercise noted that the PLA airborne troops did not jump with their weapons, which has been traditional for the VDV. While encumbering and adding weight to the paratroop, it also means the troops are vulnerable until they retrieve their weapons from separate canisters. When weather or tactical conditions result in a disbursed airdrop, this can increase the time needed to retrieve equipment, further increasing vulnerabilities.

 
 
CMC Vice Chairman General Guo Boxoing: Shown inspecting a paratrooper. Notice an apparent lack of weapons and the personal communication device fitted to the helmet. Russian paratroops intend to purchase a similar system, which the PLA introduced during the Peace Mission 2005 exercise. Credit: CCTV

In late early 2005 Chinese sources relayed that they had considered co-producing the Russian BMD but decided against due its expense. Instead they developed their ZLC-2000/ZBD-03 family of airborne armored vehicles, with one chassis forming the basis for IFV, command and anti-tank missile armed versions. Their vehicle replicates important attributes of the BMD, like its "kneeling" suspension, but has an overall higher hull profile for added crew and troop space. One source, however, offered some critical comments regarding the ZLC-2000. He observed that the front-mounted engine and higher hull profile of the Chinese design created potential vulnerabilities. The higher profile made the Chinese IFV more unstable on landing, increasing the chances of damage that would take the vehicle out of combat. The front-mounted engine would also make the Chinese IFV more vulnerable to combat damage, as the front of the vehicle would most likely be the first area to be hit.

 
 
 
Unstable ZLC-2000? Taken during the Peace Mission 2005 exercise, this photo shows a ZLC-2000 airborne infantry fighting vehicle that has landed on its side, appearing to confirm Russian criticism that its high hull design creates a high center of gravity and thus greater chances for instability upon landing. Credit: Chinese Internet

From these comments it is possible to see a difference in IFV design priorities; the Russians want to start fighting as soon as possible to reduce the period of vulnerability after forces have landed. And as airborne IFVs are lightly armored by nature, the Russians have chosen mid and rear engine mounting to help prolong combat endurance. IFV crew comfort is also a very low priority for the VDV. Having rejected co-production of the Russian BMD, the PLA then chose to emphasize different capabilities for their IFV. The PLA apparently places a greater premium on crew comfort, hence the larger hull and the protection afforded by the engine. This may also indicate that the PLA intends to use their airborne IFVs for operations encompassing greater distances.

 
 
Comparison of BMD-2 and ZLC-2000/ZBD-03: Pictures from Peace Mission 2005 show the differences between the Russian BMD-2 and the PLA’s new airborne IFV. Credit: Chinese Internet

Universal Corporation Cooperation With China

One of the VDV’s key enablers has been the Moscow-based Universal Company, which since the 1960s has developed a long series of unique airborne extraction and landing systems for tanks, APCs and heavy equipment. In the early 1970s it developed the PRSM-915, a large multi-parachute system for landing the BDM-1 IFV, with a unique retro-rocket system designed to significantly slow descent at its last seconds. While used less today, Universal has devised newer PBS-950, which uses a unique reciprocating engine to ram air into large vinyl bags beneath the tank to cushion the landing. The PBS-950 is used on the BDM-3 IFV and SPRUT airborne tank. Universal official noted this system can handle up to 20 tons and the technology can be developed to handle 25 ton airdrops.

 
 
 
Universal P-7M Pallet In Russia and China: One photo shows a GAZ airborne truck on a P-7M pallet, and the other shows an indigenous PLA airborne truck on a Universal P-7M pallet. Credit: RD Fisher via Universal Co., and Chinese Internet

While Universal officials would acknowledge their sales to China, they would not discuss the extent of that cooperation. But there is ample photographic evidence that PLA airborne units made extensive use of Universal’s products, like the P-7M landing pallet. The P-7M has been used to drop two types of PLA truck, an indigenous design and a modified Italian IVECO design, plus a buggy used by Airborne and Special Forces units. Photos from Peace Mission 2005 suggest that the PLA also uses the PBS-950 to land its new ZLC-2000/ZBD-03 airborne IFV. The photo below from Peace Mission 2005 shows a ZLC-2000 IFV with angled platform over the rear of the vehicle that is consistent with an above photo of a BMD-3 with the PBS-950.

 
 
ZLC-2000/ZBD-03 Apparently with PBS-950: Taken during the August 2005 Peace Mission exercise, this ZLC-2000 has the angled platform that would be consistent with the Universal Co.’s PBS-950 airbag-based heavy descent system. Credit: Chinese Internet

PLA Interest in the Rostvertol Mil Mi-26 Heavylift Helicopter

Russian sources at IDELF confirmed several reports in early 2006 that the Rostvertol company is engaged in a determined marketing campaign in China. These officials also noted that there is solid interest by the PLA as well a "civil" Chinese operators in either leasing or purchasing the unique Mi-26, which at a maximum payload of 20 tons, is the most capable heavy cargo helicopter in the world. First seen in action dispensing concrete and decontaminants during the Chernobyl disaster, the Mi-26’s unsurpassed lifting ability has even been employed by the U.S. Army, lifting damaged Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters from remote locations in Afghanistan. At full load, which is about as much as a Lockheed-Martin C-130 can carry, the Mi-26 can travel 590km. An army refueling version of the Mi-26 can carry 14,040 liters of fuel. For the PLA the Mi-26 would add new levels of capability for precision logistic support for airborne and amphibious troops engaged in distant operations, perhaps on Taiwan.

 
 
Lifting Americans: Rostvertol’s marketing campaign now makes great use of an opportunity to lift one of its main competitors, the Boeing CH-47 Chinook. Credit: RD Fisher via Rostvertol

PLA Interest in AERNA-E Armor Protection System

IDELF also saw reporting of China’s interest in the ARENA-E armor protection system and the Khrizantema IFV, both made by the Kolomna-based Engineering Design Bureau (KBM), also famous for its IGLA series shoulder-launched SAMs. KBM reported that China has been "long interested" in the ARENA-E and that China’s Norinco had made a "formal request," and that the "Chinese side was handed over joint commercial proposals for tailoring the ARENA system to a hypothetical tank." Developed in the early 1990s following the Russian experience in Chechnya, ARENA-E consists of a small radar and computer that automatically directs shot-gun like charges against small RPG size or larger anti-tank missiles. The system is able to discriminate between true missile threats and bullets and large battle debris. While the timing of the most recent Chinese move is unknown, PLA resolve to obtain this technology likely was strengthened by Israel recent experience in which its tanks and armored vehicles suffered from Hezbollah use of massed anti-tank missiles. Given the vast size of China’s tank and APC inventory, it is likely that the PLA will seek to co-produce ARENA, or more likely, purchase enough of the technology to develop a similar system that it then will market. The U.S. Army has selected Raytheon to develop an active protection system for its Future Combat System of vehicles by the 2010-2011 timeframe. But the Army has come under recent media and Congressional criticism for not purchasing the Israeli-developed Trophy active protection system believed able to be deployed to Iraq much sooner—which is disputed by the Army.

 
 
ARENA-E: Following Israel’s drubbing from Hezbollah’s massed use of anti-tank missiles and RPGs, it appears that the PLA is taking more seriously its development of active protections systems for its armor, like the KBM ARENA system. Credit: Warfare.ru

Chinese Interest in Russian Supersonic Anti-Tank Missiles

KBM also reported that it’s "Khrizantema system ranks second in China’s priorities…and plans and hopes soon to start talks on the system with China." Khrizantema (Chrysanthemum) was revealed in 1997 as a unique anti-armor and anti-air system that can simultaneously guide two supersonic 9M123 6km range missiles via dual automatic radar and semi-automatic laser-beam riding guidance systems. This responds to the weakness of most modern subsonic speed anti-tank missiles: many modern armored fighting vehicles are often able to detect and react to such missiles before they can hit. The Khrizantema system is currently fitted into the BMP-3 APC chassis. As KBM is reporting on this potential sale early in its negotiations with China, it is not yet clear whether the Chinese will pay for full co-production, or as they have with other Russian systems, intend to purchase enough technology to enable their development of a facsimile. If purchased this would mark a significant upgrade, as the PLA’s current most modern HJ-9 is a subsonic anti-tank missile. Khrizantema or a system like it would be ideally sized for the PLA’s new ZBD-97 IFV or with some creativity, might also be fitted to the ZLC-2000 family of airborne vehicles. While the Russian Army has not been able to afford Khrizantema, the PLA may be attracted to its potential to give mechanized units a more powerful anti-armor and low-altitude anti-air system. The U.S. Army has purchased small numbers of new supersonic anti-tank missiles like the Line-Of-Sight-Anti-Tank (LOSAT) but prefers to introduce larger numbers of a smaller but similar capable missile with the Future Combat System in the next decade.

 
 
Khrizantema: This unique anti-armor and anti-air system has apparently caught the PLA’s attention. Credit: RD Fisher via Rosboronexport

Commentary On New PLA SAMs

Sources interviewed at IDELF also offered insights into the PLA’s progress in developing advanced surface-to-air missile (SAM). Since its 2004 introduction on the Type 052C Luyang II class air defense destroyer, there has been a dearth of information on the PLA’s new SAM, which has been marketed in a land-based version since 1998. Known as the HQ-9, it has been marketed since 1998 as the passive system guided FT-2000. However, there has been more interest in its active guided version, inasmuch as Chinese officials revealed their intentions to produce an anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) capable version, and Pakistani sources expressed interest in it in 2004. In 2003 a new Chinese land-based phased array radar was revealed and though to be linked to this SAM. And in 2004 Chinese sources indicated it was possible new large Chinese SAMs would use a radar self-guidance system, as opposed to Track-via-Missile (TVM) system used in early U.S. Patriot and Russian S-300 SAMs. But at IDELF Russian sources very familiar with Chinese SAM developments were adamant in insisting that China’s new SAM did not exceed the capabilities of the Russia Antey Almaz S-300PMU or S-300PMU2, both of which have been purchased by the PLA. These source did not expect the Chinese SAM to pose any competitive threat to Russian advanced SAM offerings save in terms of price. These same sources also noted that there are negotiations underway regarding China’s desire to co-produce the Almaz-Antey Tor-M1, a compact short-range SAM capable of intercepting some air-dropped precision-guided munitions. The PLA purchased two batches of TOR-M1s in the 1990s, and according to Asian sources has actually completed negotiations for co-production.

 
 
Not As Good As The S-300: As it starts to enter the marketplace, Russian sources downplay the capabilities of China’s new active-guided SAM. Credit: RD Fisher

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