Skip to content

Most Countries Can Afford The HQ-9 SAM

March 31, 2022
A single TEL for the HQ-9P at this year’s Republic Day parade outside Islamabad. Via ISPR.

No other country today is able to export the variety of air defense systems that China can–all of them locally manufactured. Even Russia is now a distant second although the prestige of its own anti-aircraft missiles and radars is very much intact despite frequent bad press. On March 23 a military parade outside Islamabad confirmed that Pakistan is now the third operator of the Chinese-made long-range SAM branded as the “HQ-9P.” Back in the 2000s and 2010s the same weapon systems was known as the FD-2000 and during an aerospace exhibition in 2021 its manufacturers CASIC/CPMIEC labeled it as the “HQ-9BE” to signal its for-export status.

The public record of the HQ-9 and the HQ-9P in particular is still incomplete but it’s not difficult to examine anyway. Before Pakistan teased its acquisition of the HQ-9P in November 2021 the HQ-9 was already operated by Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Algeria is the only known operator in North Africa and Chinese media claim the HQ-9 can be purchased through barter–exchanging commodities for the complete weapon system. The select clientele have a few shared characteristics that indicate who are likely to operate the HQ-9 in the future. These are small militaries who are outside the Western “alliance network” and have decades of experience operating legacy (meaning very old) air defenses. Since trying to purchase from Europe and the US entails risks such as constraints on the end users and export controls opting for Chinese-made SAMs becomes irresistible. With this criteria in mind, the the list of countries who may purchase the HQ-9 in the future is an extensive one: Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and many others.

The best information on the HQ-9 are its obvious and superficial details. The entire “complex” of launchers, loaders and radars are road mobile. It’s a Chinese-made SAM with many similarities to the Russian-made S-300PMU/PMU2. Countries that acquire the S-300 and its variants anticipate full-scale aerial warfare and attacks by tactical missiles. They need an anti-aircraft system that covers a huge geographical area with its radar and uninterrupted data stream for beating a high tech opponent. It makes sense for Pakistan’s air defense units to possess the HQ-9P since the threat from India and its massive air force is never going away. The HQ-9P also completed a layered air defense that current Western systems used by Pakistan’s armed forces can’t provide.

Like the Russian S-300 the HQ-9/A/B/BE/P are deployed in batteries and have a separate control station, search radar and tracking radar that detect multiple targets within a 150 kilometers radius. Each of the missiles inside the HQ-9’s cylindrical launch tubes should be able to eliminate aerial targets as far as 100 km away at altitudes between 30,000 feet and 90,000 feet. Of course, as the years go by and the technology matures the HQ-9’s performance evolves to match changes in aerial warfare. As far as its manufacturers are concerned the HQ-9 complements several other SAM systems such as the HQ-22 and the HQ-16 with optional direct energy weapons, electronic warfare, aerial early warning provided by drones and satellites. Together the complete layered network should defeat air campaigns like the ones used by the US and NATO on Serbia, Iraq, and Libya.

A special relationship with China allowed Pakistan’s armed forces to show the rest of the world that Beijing is a generous armorer on a scale few countries in the West can match. How many HQ-9P’s are in service with Pakistan’s air defense units are unknown but they provide an umbrella for the lower tier and mid-range air defenses such as the HQ-16, the HQ-7B, the NASAMS and the old-fashioned anti-aircraft artillery such as the 35mm Oerlikons. If China is willing to enhance Pakistan’s air defenses further it’s a powerful signal that it takes care of its friends and creates ever increasing headaches for its foes–like India.

Comments are closed.