China Buys More Russian S-300 SAMs

China continues to add advanced missiles to its burgeoning “anti-access” arsenal with the purchase of 15 S-300 batteries, in a deal worth as much as $2.5 billion, according to Reuters. The Russian built S-300 (also known as the SA-20) air defense missiles have a reported range of 100 miles and are often qualitatively compared to the Patriot missile system.

An S-300 battery includes four trucks carrying four missiles each along with the seeker and target acquisition radar. Four S-300 batteries typically make up one air-defense battalion in the People’s Liberation Army. China has been buying S-300s for the past 20 years.

What surprises me the most about China’s appetite for Russian built air defense missiles is that they apparently haven’t been able to reverse engineer the S-300 design well enough to build them domestically. As reverse engineering is China’s stock in trade, it either speaks to the complexity of the S-300 or an indigenous defense industry unable to produce at least some of the more advanced precision weapons, even if their design is three decades old.

— Greg

  • Omar

    “What surprises me the most about China’s appetite for Russian built air defense missiles is that they apparently haven’t been able to reverse engineer the S-300 design well enough to build them domestically.”

    Partly true. The PLA has indeed developped the HongQi 9 which has been heavily influnced by the S-300 PMU as well as partly by the Patriot system. However, it is also true that the latest versions of the S-300 (there are quite a few and China has bought two versions) are markedly superior to the HQ-9.

    • Michael

      Maybe it’s just me, but HongQi sounds an awful lot like honkey.

      And don’t get me started on the N. Korean missile, the Taepodong. Huh huh huh.

      • ptsd

        Now thats funny, I dont care who you are

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Greg,

    I agree with your statement on China’s inability to reverse engineer the S-300 system, since they have had it for decades to tinker with. In my opinion this reflects a general lack of engineering and technological infrastructure that prohibits China for producing any modern weapons.

    This most likely is the result of the lost generation of the 1960 and 1970 due to the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution that closed down institution of western learning and sent teachers into the countryside to learn to become peasants or were just plain killed them. The sending of the best primary/secondary students overseas in the 1990’s has kinda backfired. In 2009 a survey of Chinese born Phd’s in the US found that after five years of getting their degrees only about 30% returned to China and most of those as American citizens working for US companies.

    In 2009 China started an ROTC type program, fist year it has 10K students. This program sends students abroad, many to the US and pays their bill for a college degree. The catch is every summer they have to return to China and ant the end of their schooling that they will owe two for one years of service in the PLA or other Government enterprises such as teaching. The target here is the second and third level students who would normally go back to the farm or into an industrial job.

    On the S-300’s just received by China, if I recall they are the last of an existing contract and are an older export model the S-300PMU1 system. If I’m incorrect here I’m sure the paid to post fact checkers will correct me Greg.

    Byron Skinner

    • Omar

      The PLA already fields 40 batteries of broadly three types of S-300s, broken down into 160 launchers as follows:
      32 S-300PMUs
      64 S-300PMU1s
      64 S-300PMU2s
      A battalion usually consists of 4 batteries so the PLA has 10 S-300 battalions. As mentioned in an earlier post, the PLA also has HQ-9s which are similar to the PMU version (otherwise known as the SA-20). The additional 15 batteries just bought are definately of the advanced PMU-2 48N6E2 equipped versions, possibly of the Favorite model. Keep in mind that the PMU-2 was only received by China in 2008/2009 after a contract was signed in 2006. The PMU-2 is far superior to the PMU-1 and is indeed slightly superior to the PAC-3, at least in range.

  • George Floros

    Copying a weapons system is not necessarily the cheapest alternative to buying, if the original system is available. You should bear in mind that the most successful copies were made due to unavailability of an original solution, for example the Israelis copied and improved the original Mirage design since the French backed down from supplying them any more planes. The HQ-9 was originally a copy of a Patriot PAC-1 model but when better S-300s became available they were bought en masse.Some improvements filtered through to HQ-9 but the end product was not competitive (or cheap) enough to be fielded.

  • willy

    China is not rying to reverse engineer anything. They still believe that jeeping their poeple low and working and buying best things from others is the way.
    The new universities they have are designed for very few. Leadrrs kids get mafia school like in italy. Those people will not even reverse engineer nothing.
    Thinking that to win something China should allready be AHEAD in some technology.
    They are not?.. :) :)

  • Pete

    Hey, with all the surplus money they chinesse have from the US-Chinese trade imbalance, they have to spend it on something. Its not like ‘they’ are actually ‘really’ paying for these is it?

    Anyway, its a defence system, so unless the US intends invading them they shouldn’t worry the US. Anyway, they are not exactly a defenseless Panama, they have no oil, and worse they have Nuclear weapons. So that getlemen is as they say, that :)

  • nraddin

    They are still 3 decades behind in defense ability and are forced to supply from the outside. Doesn’t that leave us to question the big China threat we are developing our near term goals toward?

    I have to wonder about the logic of always being equipped for a WWII style/size war. The US seems to feel like there are always just around the corner while failing to remember that we won both World Wars without being ready for either of them in any way at all or even more importantly that we have wars that we are fighting now that we are skimping on the funding for to field for the next World War.

    In IT we tend to work toward a solutions that evolve prep for worst case involving as little money as possible leaving as much on paper as a plan as possible. We plan on the idea that some things will have to be left broken in the worst cases and calculate which of those things that’s ok for and when. Military planning for future wars should be little different, designing building and testing a few state of the art XYZs is important, building 15000 of them might not be when you can train, use and protect 99% with 10% as many. All of this of course is a moot point if we are going to continue to be the worlds police and fight war after war after war over blowback from war after war after war both Cold and Hot.

  • David Lubin

    I see these going to Iran.

  • Will

    SAMs are part of an “anti-access arsenal”? What, if anything, qualifies as a defensive weapon under that definition?

    • joe

      Anti Access is defensive; if broadly ‘aggressive defence’ - it’s expanding the ability to say “don’t violate my airspace” to say “don’t get involved in this war”.

  • Tony C

    I’m still suprised at how large the missiles and support systems are for the S-300.
    The set up time for this equipment must be quite excessive? At any rate, if they are protecting high value targets, they can set up and stay. Seems to me that China has a very large number of anti-aircraft systems for a reason. Maybe they are wanting to intimidate the US Navy, despite the size of a carrier, it still has only limited space for aircraft. Seems to me that the US should improve their offensive capabilities for these systems.

  • LEP

    Not only the Chinese are able to reverse engineer advanced Russian missile systems, they are also eminently capable of introducing advanced microcircuitry and computing capabilities of Western - U.S. origin into such systems. The Chinese counterpart to the Russian S-300 and S-400 systems was a recent contender in the Turkish competition for an advanced anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile system. Why should we exclude the possibility that the Russian S-300 batteries purchased by China will be enhanced or otherwise modified in due course through the addition of Chinese military electronics?