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Vietnam Is Assembling Air Defense Radars

January 4, 2023
Via Vietnamese state media.

A low-key arms show in Hanoi called “VietnamDefence 2022” turned some attention to the country’s budding military-industrial sector. The longstanding view that Vietnam’s military is burdened with outdated equipment of Cold War vintage is now incorrect as there’s ample evidence state-owned enterprises are advancing their technological prowess by leaps and bounds. The telecommunications conglomerate Viettel in particular enjoyed a lot of exposure at the event held from December 8 to 10. An impressive variety of products were displayed at its indoor pavilion including ruggedized portable radios and different battlefield radars. One of Viettel’s tabletop models (pictured above) at the event deserves some scrutiny. Judging by its appearance it looks like a long-range 3D surveillance radar for an integrated air defense network.

By regional standards Vietnam’s military boasts a mature air defense arsenal that combines Soviet vintage SAMs with a sprawling inventory of anti-aircraft guns in several calibers. Of course, this all stems from the cataclysmic struggle against the US and its beleaguered ally the Republic of Vietnam from 1965 until 1975. Despite the country’s post-war isolation and a struggling economy the armed forces maintained its air defenses and augmented these with more advanced systems like Russia’s popular S-300 that’s operated by at least 15 countries. Today the state of Vietnam’s air defenses along with the industry and infrastructure for supporting it is unmatched among the ASEAN bloc with only Singapore having a comparable layered air defense network.

But at Vietnam Defence Expo 2022 the specific vehicle displayed at Viettel’s pavilion, crowded as it was with other products such as portable short-range radars and other electronic warfare equipment, resisted classification. Knowing that Vietnam isn’t hampered by an arms embargo and comprehensive sanctions or export controls imposed by the West it’s impressive how this specific model of a 3D air surveillance radar is a fully indigenous creation. The lack of accessible public records on Vietnamese radar systems and electronic warfare assets means examining this radar model’s characteristics is difficult. An earlier analysis of the system described it as a medium-range, rather than a long-range, 3D radar and is now in production.

However, it’s easier to use its apparent size and layout to draw comparisons with similar radars made elsewhere. A lot of countries have either made rapid progress in their development of radar technology or have maintained their technological reach over the decades. The Lanza LTR-20 from Spain’s Indra Sistemas, S.A. is a useful analog for this Vietnamese surveillance radar. The Lanza LTR-20 is a modular system deployed in a static position or as a mobile solution on the bed of a large transporter. It operates in the L-band and has varying coverage that depends on the size of its role within an air defense network. The farthest extent of its coverage reaches beyond 400 kilometers. The Thales GM400 Alpha is another competitor among European 3D aerial surveillance radars but it operates on the S-band at even greater ranges in the 500 km threshold.

The Chinese YLC-16 3D surveillance radar invites its own comparisons with this Vietnamese model. The YLC-16 made by the state-owned CETC utilizes a wheeled transporter and complements a multi-layered arsenal of SAMs. Setting aside its unavailable specifications Viettel’s own efforts at a 3D surveillance radar is a strong indicator of how far along its technological grasp is. It also hints at a possible theater-level air defense system that is assembled locally; there are no shortage of international partners who can help Vietnam in such a program. Since 3D surveillance radars are meant to protect entire geographies and keeping in mind Vietnam’s territorial extent, as well as local progress with assembling missiles, a sophisticated air defense network is being planned by Hanoi and Viettel is among its main contractors.

A final and very obvious detail about this long-range surveillance radar is the choice of its wheeled transporter. Although Vietnam does have an automotive industry its growth is a work in progress and production volume is limited. Judging by the tabletop model truck’s size and its 8×8 chassis Viettel intends to harness well-known global suppliers for this equipment. Some of the best and likeliest are Tatra (Czech Republic), MAN (Germany), and Kamaz (Ryssia). A separate mobile radar being developed by Viettel is mounted on a Russian-made Kamaz transport, which isn’t surprising. It’s not out of the question for India to supply a transporter for Viettel’s long-range mobile radar since Delhi and Hanoi have established multiple defense agreements.

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