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The Chinese Tank-Killing Red Arrow

September 8, 2014

Chinese HJ-8 ATGM 01

For a late arrival among modern anti-tank missiles, the Red Arrow has paid its dues.

During the height of the Cold War’s arms racing China never really caught up with either Eastern Bloc or NATO technology. Until now, that is.

So by the time the PLA deployed a genuine wire-guided anti-tank missile that could strike a target four kilometers away, it was already the 1980s. Rather than produce another AT-3 Sagger clone (the Sinicized HJ-73), Norinco‘s Hong Jian-8 or Red Arrow-8 combined features of the American BGM-71 TOW, the Israeli MAPATS, the French MILAN, and the Soviet AT-4 Spigot.

The original HJ-8 was a crew-served weapon system introduced between 1984 and 1988. Mounted on a collapsible tripod similar to the TOW, an optical TV sight is attached to a carriage supporting the disposable launch tube armed with a 120mm missile. When fired, the launch tube is discarded by the missile’s back blast, a mechanism similar to the MILAN.

Like its Soviet peers, the HJ-8 was wire-guided by the operator to the target. The improved HJ-9 of the early 2000s used a laser guidance system. The design of the self-erecting side folding stabilizing fins were improved as well.

A much larger 150mm missile called the HJ-9 is a further improvement on the Red Arrow and resembles the BGM-71E TOW2A missile. Designed as a multirole system, it can be mounted on vehicles and helicopters in a tank-killing capacity, and is available on a single use configuration similar to the Russian Kornet ATGM. (See picture below.)

Because the PLA hasn’t fought a major ground war in the last 30 years the Red Arrow proved itself asymmetrically in the world’s hot spots.

Chinese Norinco ATGM missile tree

Outside China, Norinco found an eager clientele for its anti-tank missiles. Generous with its license, Pakistan, Sudan, and Egypt were allowed to manufacture the HJ-8. At least 20 other countries in Asia, Africa, and South America have bought the system. According to an account published by a Chinese press agency Pakistan became the Red Arrow’s first export customer and licensed manufacturer during the late 1980s when its army became convinced the HJ-8 was more accurate than the BGM TOW.

It’s unclear how the HJ-8 reached Europe, but it arrived in time for the Balkan Wars. Illicit Iranian support for Muslim Bosnian fighters most likely included deliveries of the missiles.

Today, the Red Arrow is used by Syrian rebels and numerous short video clips of their kills are on Youtube.

Norinco eventually adapted the Red Arrow for the Z-9 scout and Z-10 attack helicopter, the WZ-series tracked and wheeled APCs, and for armed MALE UAVs.

Chinese HJ-12 ATGM

During this year’s Eurosatory arms show in France Norinco revealed the latest addition to the Red Arrow’s lineage called the HJ-12. Judging by its appearance alone, the latest addition to the family tree is modeled after the FGM-148 Javelin, being a flyover shoot down weapon system.

As a rare example of a universal multipurpose anti-tank missile, the verdict is the PLA’s Red Arrows are here to stay.