Bluffer’s Guide: Fortress China, Air Defenses Caveat: Amateur web research. This is not intended as authoritative or exhaustive. All illustrations by me unless otherwise stated. Constructive feedback and corrections welcome. I am particularly indebted to Sean O’Connor (SOC) and the Google Earth hawks at his forum, also to the countless Chinese military observers who hang at such places as http://www.china-defense.com/forum/ (thanks Xinhui!) and http://www.sinodefenceforum.com/ (thanks Crobato!). Contents
2. Main area-defence systems
3. Tactical systems
4. Anti-Stealth and countermeasures
5. Beijing defenses
6. Shanghai defenses
7. Taiwan Straight defenses
8. Hong Kong defenses
9. A few other places
Militarily, China is a country of contrasts, with undoubtedly among the most powerful militaries in the world. A hot topic is whether China could beat USA in a conventional war – You can make your own mind up on that point, but the mere fact informed people discuss that shows that irrespective of what the naysayers would have us believe, China is a force to be reckoned with.
Like many countries China deploys ground-based air-defenses to protect against sudden air attack. The fact that China’s arsenal is far larger than most countries is more a factor of the size of the country and growing world standing, rather than an indicator of a militarized society IMO. Armed with a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons and rapidly maturing delivery capabilities, China has little to worry about in terms of major invasion.
Nonetheless China is surrounded by potential adversaries, particularly the US pacific forces and Taiwan. With Taiwan, the aggressor is definitely China of course. China also watches the sustained military might of Japan and flowering capabilities of South Korea with a weather eye. Russia flits from being friend to cold neighbor every few years; don’t let the fact that China has been a major arms customer fool you. Elsewhere China continues to have cold relations with its new nuclear rival, and old territorial rival, India. Pakistan is a friend and ally but now has nuclear weapons and thanks to China the capability to deliver them to Chinese cities so in the longer run things may get interesting there. Vietnam also is a potential threat but any conflict with them would be very localized. The last neighbors, the former Soviet states on the Western fringes of China, are somewhat of a mixed bunch but unlikely to be serious adversaries.
In the 1950s a Communist China courted Soviet support, but after Stalin’s death this relationship soon faltered and the Communist countries where thrown into a three-way cold war with each other and the West. Certainly in USSR many saw China as a far more likely adversary than USA in 1960s and some Stalinist hardliners may even have plotted to start a nuclear war between US and China as a means of naturalizing Mao (see “Red Star Rogue”).
What this meant for China’s air defenses wasn’t good. China had only received a handful of early model SA-2 Guidelines which were already nearly obsolete. These were quickly reverse engineered and entered service as the HQ-1 and soon after HQ-2 systems. The HQ-2 remains a major cornerstone of Chinese air defenses. Chinese attempts at indigenous SAMs were somewhat poor even after an injection of Western technologies during the 1970s and 80s when China was an awkward bedfellow of the West against the USSR.
Coinciding with the implosion of the Soviet Union, Russia was plunged into financial turmoil and desperate to sell its military technology, even to its old foe China. Consequently China imported advanced SAM systems. This also helped China’s slow indigenous programs.
In the 200s China deploys are relatively wide range of advanced Russian and indigenous systems, backed up by large quantities of legacy HQ-2 systems.
Summarizing the above, in the 1960s-80s the main strategic adversary was USSR and consequently most air defenses are concentrated in the north of the country, and are often deployed on the north side ofd cities even today. However, in the 1990s and 2000s the focus has returned to the financial hub of Shanghai (and now Hong Kong) and the Taiwan Straight.
2. Main area-defense systems
A Chinese indigenous system analogous with the Russian S-300 series, the HQ-9 has had a long gestation but is now being deployed in some numbers. Contrary to many published statistics, the missile is somewhat smaller than the S-300’s, and is probably a single-stage weapons. Many design features are borrowed from the S-300 series but also with many features of the US Patriot system, presumably gleaned by espionage in US and China’s Western-aligned neighbors.
Battery configuration is modeled on the S-300. Range is about 90km (I don’t buy the 200km claim) and the system probably has good multi-target and modest ABM capability. It is certainly a formidable system. Illustrations represent the production versions as best I can tell:
The HQ-9 dimensions estimates:
S-300 P series (SA-10 and SA-20)
The first S-300s delivered to China were S-300PMU, the export version of the SA-10B Grumble. These were initially deployed around Beijing although two of the batteries have probably been redeployed elsewhere as better systems replace them around Beijing.
In the late 1990s the S-300PMUs were succeeded by the more capable S-300PMU-1 system. Unlike its predecessor, China opted for the less mobile trailer-mounted missile TEL. Pretty much all export versions of the S-300/400 series can be mounted on either the classic Maz truck TEL, or a towed trailer. Generally China observers reverse the relationship assuming that the trailer mounted examples are the older PMUs rather than the more widespread PMU-1.
The PMU-1 introduced a more capable missile and the impressive ‘Big Bird’ radar. These are usually deployed in separate sites serving multiple S-300 batteries and can be likened to “land-Aegis”.
The antenna rotates but has phased arrays on both sides so it can search two sectors at once.
China has also started to receive the PMU-2 ‘Favorit’ system. Like the PMU-1s this is mounted on a trailer but uses a different tractor, the same as is often associated with the S-400 system. The PMU-2 has genuine 195km range.
The HQ-12 is an indigenous Chinese system derived from the HQ-2. Despite a passing resemblance to the upper stage of the HQ-2 the missile is in fact completely new and features a single stage solid-fuelled rocket with a range of about 50km (better than the 35km of the HQ-2). Development has been somewhat protracted but the system appears to have entered widespread service slowly replacing HQ-2s. Probably developed as a contingency to the more sophisticated HQ-9, it is plausible that the HQ-12 is now viewed as the cheaper alternative to the S-300 and HQ-9 systems. One aspect where the HQ-12 is quite strong however is in terms of radars, which are cross-pollinated with the HQ-9 program. Despite certain hangovers from the old HQ-2, and being generally less capable than the HQ-9/S-300s, the HQ-12 is a very capable system providing credible modern air defense to less-strategic locations.
The Chinese version of the Soviet SA-2, the HQ-2 has been deployed in successive versions. The system is undoubtedly the least capable Chinese area-defense SAM but remains prominent. Range is about 35km but altitude is good. Although Chinese systems may be more capable than the SA-2s, they still suffer from multi-target and mobility limitations.
The below photo shows that even in 2007 PLA was still building HQ-2 sites, although it has been suggested that this is an HQ-12 site with HQ-2 deployed as an interim arrangement. Either way it’s likely that he HQ-2s here have been displaced from a higher priority location where they have been replaced by one of the multitude of more advanced systems field by China.
3. Tactical systems
The Chinese military, including curiously the armed police (PAP), deploy a wide variety of short-ranged air defence systems. Some are fixed-site but most are operated in a truly mobile fashion.
China purchased a modest number of SA-15 systems in the 1990s. Typically quoted number is 36 systems. Some sources speculate that China may be license producing the type. The SA-15s in Chinese service are the M1 standard.
The launcher is completely self-sufficient with both surveillance and tracking/targeting radars on-mount, together with 8 vertically launched missiles.
This is an indigenous system developed from the older HQ-61. The missile is based on the Italian Aspide which itself is a development of the Sparrow missile. The HQ-64 was widely publicized in the 1990s (together with the HQ-9 and KS-1), but only recently appears to have entered Chinese service. The Air Force (PLAAF) deploys the system, and possibly the army (PLA) also.
A typical battery follows the HQ-61 model with a single surveillance radar serving up to three fire-control radars, each able to direct two 4-round launchers. All components are truck mounted for good mobility.
A single unoccupied HQ-6x site has been found on Google Earth:
A Chinese copy of the French Crotale system, the HQ-7 is deployed by both the army and air-force. The system is highly mobile even in its towed ‘shelter’ version. The basic system has a range of 12km and provides modest defense against fast jet targets. The PLAAF shelter version:
Finding HQ-7 units deployed on Google Earth is virtually impossible due to their mobile nature and the adoption of camouflage nets, but the PLAAF deployed two batteries to protect the Olympic games and one of these was widely publicized. By chance it is caught on Google Earth and I also found the other battery. Although there are a few trappings of a comfortable holiday period token deployment, the sites nonetheless give rare insight into HQ-7 site layouts:
Another HQ-7 site at an air base:
China has developed successive improved versions of the HQ-7 with numerous prototypes and models at defense shows. The latest version, with an export designation FM-90 (In-service designation not known but logically HQ-7C), appears to have entered limited service. The FM-90 features a longer ranged missile (15km vs 12km) and a new six wheel launch vehicle:
A single FM-90 site has been found on Google Earth by Sean O’Connor. The site itself is clearly originally an HQ-2 site so the layout should not be regarded as typical for HQ-7:
The oldest indigenous SHORAD to be in service, the HQ-61 is now obsolete. The missile is similar in appearance to the Sparrow but is slightly larger and has the forward fins out-of-line to the rear fins. Range is about 10km. It is reportedly only used in Beijing military region but I suspect it is deployed in Shanghai also (see Google Earth below).
A single ‘field’ deployment is visible in historic data on Google Earth:
The land-based version of the naval CIWS Type-730 the LD-2000 combines a seven barreled 30mm Gatling gun with 6 TY-90 SAMs. The system is likely to have a similar overall capability to the US C-RAM but with extended range thanks to the 6km reach of the TY-90s. However rather than anti-mortar defenses the LD-2000 is more likely employed for point defense of key installations and facilities from cruise missiles, PGMs and fast jets at low altitude.
Still in the mock-up stage, this system can be likened to the Israeli Spyder system, but using a Hummer mount more reminiscent of the US SL-AMRAAM. The system equates to ground launched PL-12 and PL-9 missiles and may be for export only. The PL-9 is not a great SAM (has been marketed before) although the active-radar guided PL-12 (SD-10) missile is much more credible and likely to have a range of about 25km when ground launched.
Another Chinese rip-off, this time of the US Avenger system. Possibly another export-only offering, this system is probably compatible with a wide range of Chinese MANPADs.
Derived from the air-launched light SAM, the TY-90 SAM is a short range system probably in-service with the PLA. Range is only about 6km but some mounts include relatively advanced targeting systems. The below illustration is of a quad TY-90 mount used in conjunction with 23mm or 25mm AAA.
This is a relatively recent system similar to the German Gupard. Like the Gupard the system employs twin 35mm cannon. The fore control appears to include a tracking radar as well as a phased array search radar and eletro-optical/IR passive devices.
The Type-95 is the mainstay self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. The system has four 25mm cannon and four MANPAD missiles but uses a relatively basic search radar.
China’s first successful self-propelled anti-aircraft tank, the Type-88 was all the same mediocre at best and never entered widespread service although some units remain in frontline service. The system is essentially a Type-74 twin 37mm gun mounted on an old tank chassis.
The 35mm Type-90 is a copy of the Swiss Oerlikon GDF series auto-cannon. China has produced these in relatively substantial numbers and they are almost certainly the most potent towed AAA guns in Chinese service. China has produced various fire control radars derived from the SkyGuard system. Type-90s appear to only be used in mobile formations rather than fixed sites.
There have been various attempts to mount the Type-90 on various vehicles but the most recent and promising incorporates an electro-optical device and appears to have electronic muzzle fusing possibly hinting at ‘smart’ “AHEAD” style anti-missile ammunition. If that’s the case then this system probably represents a cheaper and possibly more effective counterpart to the LD-2000 (above):
An indigenous 25mm cannon employing a mount closely modeled on the Russian ZU-23-2. Most are towed but the most interesting version is a self-propelled Air-Assault jeep with two MANPAD missiles also added. It’s not clear if this in service but it appears a very practical system.
The Type-85 is a straight copy of the Soviet Zu-23-2 23mm AAA mount.
The Type-59 is the Chinese version of the Soviet S-60 57mm AAA mount. It is employed mainly in static locations with six or 8 guns. Range is about 6km.
A twin 37mm AAA system with an effective range of about 4km, the Type-74 is probably the most numerous AAA system. Like the Type-59 it is usually deployed in static locations but most of the units are kept in reserve during peace time. The system is of limited use against modern adversaries.
4. Anti-Stealth and countermeasures
China employs a range of “anti-stealth” and similar ‘asymmetrical’ air-defenses. These not only attempt to target stealth aircraft but also to shoot down or prevent cruise missile and precision guided weapons attack.
Foremost among these in my opinion are the anti-satellite program (“Space Denial”). These can disrupt/prevent GPS and spy satellites thus drastically improving the PLAs chances in any scenario with US. Also, because satellites are unmanned shooting them down is politically lightweight in times of limited warfare.
The main anti-satellite weapon of PLA is a ground based ASAT missile called KS-19 by western observers. The missile resembles a ballistic missile and is possibly based on the DF-21 or DF-25 missiles. The weapon was successfully tested in 2007 shooting down a satellite at over 500km altitude.
Another anti-satellite weapon that China is reported to employ is a very powerful laser. The US complained that China was dazzling their spy satellites with lasers – it’s only a question of ramping up the power and dazzling becomes destroying. The laser is probably not mobile.
Both of the above systems appear relevant should China develop anti-ballistic missile weaponry also.
Closer to earth, China uses long wavelength radars which are probably able to detect stealth aircraft in some conditions, although they are not fine enough to use for engagement by missiles. Another potential ‘anti-stealth’ system are the passive detection systems which appear to be deployed with HQ-9 SAM batteries. The main noted type is the DWL002 although similar but distinct trailer mounted systems are also in service.
On a cheaper front there’s the Bodyguard system designed to detect laser designators and dazzle them (another explanation is that they emit duplicate laser strobes to confuse the incoming weapon).
Air defense is also a role for the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and they conduct demonstrations of ciovic defense employing various countermeasures and even AAA. Among the curious systems employed is this MRLS, the exact role and effectiveness of which is open to question.
5. Beijing defenses
Beijing is the capital of China.
The remains of two belts of HQ-2 sites (The new “Great wall”) left over from the cold war remain active:
The defenses were modernized with S-300PMU SAMs in the 1990s.
Those were in turn partly replaced by the more capable S-300PMU-1s when they became available and now HQ-9 is also deployed.
Forgetting the old HQ-2s for a moment, the combined air-defense picture looks like this:
6. Shanghai defenses
Until the S-300 PMU-2s are deployed Shanghai is probably the best defended city in China.
The defenses were overhauled in about 2005:
Shanghai also has a belt of AAA sites on the north side. Curiously these do not appear elsewhere. (Note: AAA sites in China are damn hard to find. These locations come courtesy of Top81.net. There could be many more sites maybe all over Shanghai buy I can’t find any others).
7. Taiwan Straight defenses
China caused quite a commotion by deploying the S-300 PMU-1s across from Taiwan. If they deploy PMU-2 missiles with their 195km range then the whole island will be within PLA SAM coverage.
What’s curious is that there appears to be gaps in the East coast air-defenses. It may be simply that Google Earth has more SAM sites yet to be discovered, but the implication is that China is not so concerned about Taiwanese counter-attacks.
Dianqian (Xiamen) has a lot of AAA sites. The islands nearby are under Taiwanese control including the one labelled "Missile Bases".
Also in the straights, the Taiwanese territory of Matsu Islands is also defended and heavily militarized:
8. Hong Kong defenses
A British territory until 1997, Hong Kong has not been heavily defended. It was not previously overlooked by HQ-2 sites as far as I can tell. Recently an HQ-9 site has been built on reclaimed land on the mainland side, covering the whole island although the mountainous island itself disrupts the arc of to medium altitude. Putting SAM sites in valleys is generally not a good thing militarily speaking.
Hope this was an interesting read. Comments and encouragement welcomed.
Incredible work Planeman- you are a force to be reckoned with for sure! I was a little curious about the omission of Hainan island, however as I would expect this to be a prime location for air defence.
Very cool info. Thanks. What about the island top right, is that Taiwanese? That's heavily militarised with coastal defences etc. There's a C-130 on that island or the next, don't recall I guessed it was Pakistani but obviously Taiwanese.
Lol during Chen Sui Bien's presidency the tentions between China and Taiwan were high. Residents in Hong Kong were scared that Taiwan might threaten to bomb Hong Kong in response against a Chinese invasion. However the Chinese air defense system looks promising to me , Hong Kong's position as an Asian financial capital and PLA's defense system can sure repel a Taiwanese airstrike and obliterate Taiwan