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People's Daily Online

Less expensive weapons could serve foreign buyers

People's Daily Online

(China Daily) 07:51, September 21, 2015

Ballistic, cruise missile sales banned; rocket launchers meet market needs

Foreign arms purchasers can forget about getting their hands on Chinese-made ballistic and cruise missiles, such as those displayed in the Sept 3 Victory parade, because although they are extremely powerful and of great military use, a host of statutory obstacles prevent overseas sales, according to a military expert.

Potential buyers need not feel frustrated, though, because business-savvy Chinese arms manufacturers have prepared a number of alternatives-multiple rocket launchers that are equally formidable and more affordable.

'Chinese State-owned businesses in the defense technology sector are offering potential purchasers a wide range of multiple rocket launchers. Their products can provide all the surface-to-surface strike requirements of foreign purchasers,' said Gao Zhuo, a defense columnist in Shanghai.

'Multiple rocket launchers are especially suitable for nations that don't have a large defense budget, but aspire to affordable deterrence weapons because they are cheaper than ballistic missiles, yet still have immense destructive capabilities, long ranges and constantly improved levels of accuracy,' Gao said.

On Sept 3, China displayed seven types of ballistic and cruise missiles in the parade at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, including the CJ-10A cruise missile, the DF-15B short-range ballistic missile and DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile.

However, virtually none of them can be sold to foreign countries because of the restrictions stated in the Regulations on Export Control of Missiles and Missile-related Items and Technologies, which was enacted in 2002.

The regulations specify that the export of 'ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles, sounding rockets, cruise missiles and unmanned air vehicles that can be used to deliver at least a 500-kg payload at a range of at least 300 km' must be strictly controlled by the government to prevent proliferation of missile technology.

Like many foreign militaries, the People's Liberation Army has also been seeking low-cost, powerful surface-to-surface strike weapons since the early 2000s, when China began overhauling its arsenal.

'The world's best'

Motivated by the lucrative opportunities on offer, major weapon suppliers such as China North Industries Group and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp have continued to develop and upgrade multiple rocket launchers and demonstrate them at almost every defense show featuring Chinese defense contractors.

Many observers consider the AR series of long-range rocket launchers, developed by China North Industries Group, to be the most attractive to foreign buyers. A number of African nations have already bought dozens of AR-2 units, according to reports.

Military-today, a weapons database in the United States, said the latest variant, the AR-3, is probably the most powerful artillery rocket system in the world.

The launcher is capable of firing 300-mm-caliber conventional rockets, which have a maximum range of 130 km, and guided rockets, as well as 370-mm-caliber guided rockets, which can hit targets 220 km from the launch site.

By comparison, Russia's BM-30 Smerch has a maximum range of 90 km, while the US M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System has a top range of about 70 km. Conventional artillery cannons have a top range of about 40 km.

Some of the newer rockets developed for the AR-3 can reach 280 km and have an accuracy rate comparable with short-range ballistic missiles, industry observers said.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp is currently promoting the WS-64, its newest multiple rocket launcher system, which the company promotes as the world's first precision-guided, anti-ship artillery rocket.

'The WS-64 will be particularly attractive to those who want a powerful and cost-effective anti-ship weapon. Several units of these weapons can form a coastal defense good enough to deter enemy ships from approaching offshore,' Gao said.

The manufacturers have deliberately rebuffed inquiries about the weapon's destructive power, but the commander of an artillery rocket battalion from the PLA ground force said each volley fired by his unit's 300-mm multiple rocket launcher can destroy an area the size of more than 80 soccer fields.

'The power of each of my rocket launchers is equal to that of a whole battalion equipped with traditional artillery weapons. To be specific, each rocket can cover and destroy an area equivalent to seven soccer fields, while each volley can fire 12 rockets in just a few minutes,' Major Wang Peicheng, political supervisor at one of the long-range rocket artillery battalions under the PLA Jinan Military Command, said during a battalion 'open house' event for domestic journalists in August.

'It's fair to say that our artillery rockets are the best in the world in terms of power, range and precision levels,' he said.

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