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China Is Overproducing Anti-Tank Missiles

April 18, 2021
Poly Defence ATGM. Via IQDEX/Iraqi MoD.

Not to be confused with the well-known arms show from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the latest installment of IQDEX in Baghdad was a modest event by regional standards. But Iraq’s internal troubles always lent the biennial gathering an urgency its counterparts couldn’t muster. There were many world-class exhibitors at IQDEX 2021 that took place from April 10 until 13in Baghdad, this being the show’s ninth installment, and among them were China’s Norinco and its sibling Poly Technologies/Poly Defence. It was in the latter’s commodious exhibition space where a curious armament was left on display.

Turns out it’s another Chinese anti-tank missile launcher.

To think 30 years ago China’s state-owned military industries were dismissed for the lackluster armaments they churned out in vast quantities. While their selection of infantry weapons are dependable and perfect for equipping ground forces on a shoestring budget (be it the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein’s army divisions) the available anti-tank weapons at the time lagged behind what NATO and the Warsaw Pact had. Of course, this is no longer the case in 2021.

After some cursory due diligence it turns out Poly Defence branched out into anti-armor weapon systems this decade with surprising results. Pictured above is a “medium-range” anti-tank missile launcher that’s part of the GAM-series shown in a video clip promoting IQDEX 2021. Not to be confused with Norinco’s own family of anti-tank missiles that enjoyed strong demand in three continents, the GAMs are a separate branch from Poly Defence meant for a global clientele. If Chinese state media is correct, the GAMs are two different models for armies looking that need portable and sophisticated missiles their infantry can launch against tanks and fortified structures.

Poly Defence put both models on display at IQDEX 2021. The lighter shoulder-fired GAM-10X was hung on a wall along with its munition; it’s a top attack missile competing with Norinco’s HJ-12, a model touted as the Raytheon FGM-148 Javelin’s rival. The other GAM model was the GAM-102 that was mounted on a folding tripod. Poly Defence has shown its latest anti-tank missiles around the Middle East and elsewhere for a handful of years now and product leaflets shared on social media reveal the GAM-102 in particular is a laser-guided medium-range missile with a diameter of 152mm and a 1,200mm width and able to travel as far as 4 kilometers.

Readers who are familiar with contemporary anti-tank missiles may observe a resemblance to the Russian-made Kornet, especially the portable launch tube housing the missile and the day/night rangefinder attached underneath it. Yet habitual claims of Chinese manufacturers imitating foreign military products are wearing thin and almost baseless at this point. The Poly Defence GAM-102, just like its closest peer the Norinco HJ-11, subscribes to a convenient layout where at least two soldiers can disassemble, transport by foot, and then re-assemble the weapon system for immediate use. The Russian-made Kornet’s portability, where the entire weapon system’s main components (tripod, rangefinder, missile) are separable, lends itself well to other designs from different countries.

The GAM-102 is adaptable for use on vehicles as well and Poly Defence offer a turret armed with four missiles. This is different from the weapon station of the AFT-10–a tracked missile-armed vehicle–mounted on a wheeled 8×8 APC that’s for export too. Poly Defence are never forthcoming about its arms deals and it can’t be ascertained who has discussed buying the GAM-102. A particular selling point for Poly’s missiles is the company is upfront about its willingness to transfer technology and production of these weapon systems to the client, if such is requested. This applies to Poly Defence’s extreme-range CM-501G/501GA non-line-of-sight missile launcher and its jet-powered loitering munition.

The weird part is other Chinese companies are as generous when it comes to their missile technology. Aside from Norinco with its formidable Hong Jians or Red Arrows (HJ-73, HJ-8, HJ-9, HJ-10, HJ-11, HJ-12) at least two other Chinese state-owned companies have lightweight anti-tank and surface-to-surface munitions available for export. This abundance of weapon systems–in a single category–is proof enough that China’s military-industrial sector has rapidly peaked and must find customers abroad when even the PLA have neither the budget nor the willingness to accept everything they offer.

When taking stock of the missiles peddled by Norinco and Poly Defence it’s evident Chinese state-owned companies have too many sophisticated weapons to sell abroad and it’s creating a glut in the market. The Iraqi armed forces, by the way, have resisted purchasing Chinese military products (Type 56 assault rifles are usually for the police and militias) to preserve their relationship with the US and have shunned the latest offerings from the number one trade partner China. But this doesn’t stop Norinco and Poly Technologies from making their presence felt.

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