Skip to content

China Can Sell Ballistic Missiles Anywhere

December 31, 2021
Via Chinese state media.

Militaries that are planning to acquire strategic weapons should look no farther than the state-owned conglomerates of China’s military-industrial sector. While missile technology is among the more treacherous corners of the global commerce in armaments it’s no longer difficult to purchase them. Again, the long and short answer is China. During this year’s monumental aerospace exhibition in Zhuhai, which took place from September 28 to October 3, a bunch of manufacturers showed their ballistic missiles. In fact, Norinco never shied away from advertising its ballistic missiles at arms shows.

China has a commendable track record of selling both hardware and know-how for ballistic missiles. Three Islamic countries–Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey–wouldn’t possess the missile technology they have today if not for China’s help. The same applies to Belarus and Qatar; there’s some evidence Serbia and Syria benefited from Chinese expertise on their large diameter rocket artillery at different points in time. As civil war rages in Ethiopia the state’s precious few SRBM launchers were expended and this proved China supplies anyone who can scrape up the money to pay for these missiles.

Norinco, world famous for its armored vehicles and artillery, offers countries a choice between the Fire Dragon 300 and the larger Fire Dragon 480. (The latter is pictured above.) While these fall under “tactical” ballistic missiles and adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which means there are strict limitations on their range and warhead size, the Fire Dragons entice its potential operators with the possibility of launching precision strikes from anywhere and maybe a future arsenal that will rival the world’s superpowers. The historical record does find a strong causation for militaries that at first have rocket artillery and then seek to build and enlarge their stockpile of ballistic missiles.

The Norinco Fire Dragon 300 is comparable to the US-made ATACMS that some close allies are given. The Fire Dragon 300’s maximum range is limited to 150 kilometers and the guidance system is a combination of satellite navigation (BeiDou and GPS) and inertial navigation. The Fire Dragon 480 is more dangerous with a range of 300 km and varying warheads. For readers in North America, an SRBM able to hit targets 300 km away is the distance between Manhattan and downtown Baltimore. Taking a European perspective a Fire Dragon 480 SRBM launched from the outskirts of Paris will have Belgium at its mercy. Chinese manufacturers, by the way, aren’t bound by treaties that forbid the export of cluster bombs. Ergo, a whole range of Norinco artillery munitions can be armed with them including these missiles.

Aside from Norinco there’s the aerospace conglomerate CASC and its M20A/B SRBM; the difference between the variants are their improved guidance systems. The M20 is seen as a competitor to the Russian-made Iskander-E albeit not as successful on the global market. The wealthy island nation of Qatar in the Persian Gulf made no secret about its M20 missiles on their 8×8 transporters although Belarus has been less forthcoming about the M20’s it received to complement its superb Polonez rocket artillery system. Another Chinese aerospace conglomerate CASIC offers an anti-ship missile that looks like the M20 it branded the CM-401 meant for coastal defense against surface vessels. CASIC dubbed the CM-401 “hypersonic” since its terminal phase involves flight speeds exceeding Mach 6 but the actual range of the missile doesn’t reach beyond 290 km. This makes the CM-401 a troublesome anti-access weapon for blocking small bodies of water. Try and imagine Bangladesh, who prefers China to supply its weapons, fortifying the Bay of Bengal with CM-401’s.

It’s abundantly clear militaries that envision deterrence and overmatch against their neighbors are well-served by China’s military-industrial sector. Imagining a list of potential clients who can afford Chinese SRBMs and related technologies brings up as many as 20 countries who are either illiberal or belligerent–sometimes both. The best part of adding SRBMs like the Fire Dragon 480 and the M20 to existing rocket artillery launchers is the Chinese supplier can help with localized manufacturing and when this is online the possibilities are endless. Just look at the military branches of Iran and Pakistan who are responsible for strategic weapons.

Comments are closed.