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Belarus Is Proud Of Its Chinese Ballistic Missile(s)

May 22, 2019

The missile was displayed next to the Polonez launch vehicle. Via Belarus media.

Held every two years, the new MILEX 2019 that took place at the Minsk-Arena spanned four days (May 15 until 18) and involved 170 exhibitors. It also proved Belarus, no matter its economic constraints, has a thriving military-industrial sector whose best offerings are automotive products, optoelectronics, unmanned systems, and missile components. The national press may have given the arms show more than its share of coverage yet a startling detail from the event hasn’t garnered enough attention.

The outdoor display surrounding the venue’s main entrance featured rows of different vehicles. The largest was the Polonez multiple rocket launcher and next to it was an inert missile. (Pictured above, framed in purple.)

The Polonez is recognized as the deadliest multiple rocket launcher in Europe today, its range surpassing any Soviet vintage large diameter rocket artillery that’s still in use by some NATO and non-NATO militaries. It has already found willing customers abroad like Azerbaijan, whose armed forces maintain a formidable collection of rocket artillery sourced from the Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, and Turkey. The Polonez combines a locally made 8×8 truck and an erector-launcher consisting of eight cells each armed with 300mm rockets. The maximum firing range of the Polonez’ unguided munitions is claimed to reach a jaw-dropping 200 kilometers. For comparison’s sake, a Russian-made BM-30 Smerch and the US-made HIMARS’ with its M57 rockets both can hit targets just 70 km away.

But the open secret of the Polonez is its basis on Chinese technology. The sprawling conglomerate known as Norinco has the world’s largest catalog of short and long-range rockets for export and Belarus snapped up the best in the lot. Collating online news about the Polonez reveals the mysterious joint venture that led to its creation involved transferring ballistic missiles too. This is what was shown beside the launch vehicle at MILEX for its past two installments. The missile for the Polonez is smaller than any Russian analogues and features a distinctive “sharp” nose cone. Its diameter, which is measured from the circumference of its booster sans the tail fins, matches the Soviet SS-21 Scarab rather than the Iskander-K although its range is modest–estimated anywhere between 250 and 300 km.

This type of Chinese short-range ballistic missile is identified as the “B-611” whose export designation is the M20. The SRBM is also promoted as the DF-12 or DF-12/M20 that’s loaded inside rectangular cells before placed in twos on its chosen 6×6 or 8×8 TEL vehicle. The M20 has no variant in use by the PLA’s own rocket forces, being reserved for the overseas market. Turkey’s Roketsan may have been the first true customer for the M20 when it launched a joint venture with Norinco in the 1990s to develop its Bora Kaan tactical SRBM.

Belarus’ preference for a Chinese SRBM shows how serious Minsk is about pivoting away from Moscow’s usual assortment of weapons it offers to dependable allies. Besides, what Russia sells are mostly decades old and no different from what the Belarusian military has (think second-generation T-72B tanks and AKS-74 rifles) and adopting better technology from a reasonable supplier does provide an edge over the neighbors. Like many countries with tight defense budgets, Minsk understands SRBMs are a cost-effective alternative to air power and the Polonez, with or without its SRBMs, is better than the Grad launchers kept by NATO members in Eastern Europe.

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