Air Defense: Why Turkey Buys Chinese


October 9, 2013: On September 26th Turkey announced it had selected the Chinese FD-2000 missile and radar systems for a nationwide air-defense system. Final cost on this would be up to $4 billion. There were three other bidders on the contract, one from the United States (Patriot system), a European group offering the SAMP-T, and Russia with its S-300. Turkey is a member of NATO and integrating the Chinese FD-2000 into the NATO air defense will present technical and security problems. Turkey selected the Chinese system partly because it was cheaper and partly because the government wanted to show the world (and especially other Moslem countries) that Turkey is not a slave to NATO. The FD-2000 decision was not popular with Turkish military leaders, but they are remaining quiet, on orders from the elected leadership.

The Chinese FD-2000 is the export version of the HQ-9, an anti-aircraft system that successfully shot down a ballistic missile in 2010. This capability is important for potential export customers and China let everyone know about it. The Turks got the message, as they were seeking a system that could provide some protection against Iranian ballistic missiles. But the key aspect of the Chinese bid was price, which was at least a billion dollars cheaper than the alternatives. Moreover, China will allow some production in Turkey and some technology transfer. That’s where there may be a problem. American and Russian diplomats and trade officials are expected to bring up the stolen tech angle in a last ditch effort to get their systems back into contention. Russia and the United States are still trying to figure out how to effectively deal with the growing Chinese use of stolen technology, especially for weapons systems that are exported and compete against the systems they are copied from. No one has a solution and China denies all accusations. China has had to be careful of who they sell military gear to because of the possibility of lawsuits in countries where the courts can’t be ordered to ignore such stuff. Turkey may be one of those places.

The HQ-9 is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Patriot. Over 70 percent of Chinese long range antiaircraft systems are HQ-9s, the rest are Russian S-300s. About a decade ago China began delivering the HQ-9 to its army and navy (on ships). In the beginning the HQ-9 was a much less capable system. Over a decade of development and upgrades was believed to have benefitted from data stolen from similar American and Russian systems. The HQ-9 radar apparently derived a lot of technology from that used in the Russian S-300 system. The HQ-9 missile is similar to the U.S. "Patriot." The HQ-9 missile has a max range of about 100 kilometers, weighs 1.3 tons, and has a passive (no broadcasting) seeker in the missile. The Patriot missile weighs a ton (for the 70 kilometer range version) and a third of a ton for the 20 kilometer range anti-missile only version. The S-300 missiles weigh 1.8 tons and have a range of 200 kilometers. The FD-2000 is believed to have removed the more obvious items stolen from American and Russian systems. This reduces capability a bit but makes the FD-2000 more resistant to lawsuits over stolen technology.  

HQ-9 units are mobile. The Type 120 radar is carried and operated from a heavy truck. This radar can be put into service in less than 15 minutes and shut down and be on the road again in 10 minutes. The Type 120 has a max detection range of 300 kilometers. China will sell the HQ-9 and Type 120 radar to export customers separately, and last year rebels captured a Type 120 in Syria (which does not have HQ-9).

Most of the HQ-9 systems used by the Chinese army are mobile. Army HQ-9 brigades have a brigade headquarters (with a command vehicle and four trucks for communications and maintenance), six battalions (each with a missile control vehicle, a targeting radar vehicle, a search radar vehicle, and 8 missile-launch-vehicles, each carrying 4 missiles in containers).

Neither the S-300 nor HQ-9 has been tested in combat. Earlier Russian designed air defense systems tended to perform poorly in combat. Even the Russian SA-6 missile systems that Egypt used in 1973, and were initially a surprise to the Israelis, were soon countered and did not stop the Israelis from getting through. While the best sales technique is to push the products' track record, you have to do just the opposite with Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft systems. Thus, the Russians, and now the Chinese with their FD-2000, emphasize low price, impressive specifications, test results, and potential. This was apparently enough for Turkey.



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