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S-300PMU (SA-10) Air Defence Missile System

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The PLA Air Force (PLAAF)’s Surface-to-Air Missile Corps has been operating the S-300 (NATO reporting name: SA-10 Grumble) family of surface-to-air missile (SAM) system developed by Russian Almaz Central Design Bureau since the mid-1990s. The S-300 missile system was regarded as one of the world’s most effective all-altitude regional air defence system, comparable in performance to the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot system. The PRC remains the largest export customer of the S-300, mainly due to its incapability to produce a similar system domestically or acquire it from another country.

The PRC ordered two battalions (eight batteries) of the S-300PMU (SA-10 Grumble) SAM system in 1991 and received them in 1993. The US$220 million package included 32 truck-towed 5P85T (KrAZ-260V) transporter-erector-launchers (TEL), each with four ready-to-launch semi-active radar homing 5V55U missiles and 4~8 spare missiles, totalling 256~384 missiles in the package. Some additional 120 spare missiles were ordered from Russia in 1994 to replace those fired in exercises.

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PLAAF S-300PUM missile launch (Chinese Internet)  

The contract to purchase two battalions (eight batteries) of the improved S-300PMU1 (SA-10A Grumble) system was signed in 1994 and the delivery took place in the late 1990s. The US$400 million package included 32 self-propelled 5P85SE/DE TEL vehicles and 196 TVM-guidance 48N6E missiles. 50% of the package was paid through barter and 50% in hard currency.

An additional two battalions (eight batteries) of the S-300PMU1 system was ordered in 2001 in a contract worth US$400 million. The packaged included 32 TEL vehicles and 198 missiles, also in the 48N6E model. These missiles were reportedly deployed in the southeast Fujian province across the strait from Taiwan.

In 2002, The PRC ordered two Altair S-300F Rif (NATO reporting name: SA-N-6) shipboard air defence missile complexes worth US$£200 million from Russia. Each of theses complexes consists of six large-size revolver vertical launching systems (VLS), housing eight ready-to-launch 5V55RM semi-active radar homing missiles each. These systems were installed on the PLA Navy’s Type 051C (Luzhou class) missile destroyers.

In 2003, the PRC finalised a contract worth US$980 million with the Russian state export agency Rosoboronexport to acquire four battalions (16 batteries) of the more advanced S-300PMU2 (SA-10B Favorit) system, which was introduced to the international market in 2001. The package included 64 self-propelled 5P85SE2/DE2 TEL vehicles and 256 improved 48N6E2 missiles, which has an extended range of 200km against aircraft and 40km range against ballistic missile. The first two battalions were delivered in 2007, and the rest two battalions are scheduled to be delivered in 2008.

By the end of 2008, the PLAAF will be operating a total of 160 S-300 launchers grouped into 10 SAM battalions (40 batteries). These launchers include 32 S-300PMUs, 64 S-300PMU1s, and 64 S-300PMU2s. Each launcher is equipped with four ready-to-launch missiles and 4~8 spare missiles. If taking additional spare and practice missiles purchased from Russia into account, the total number of missiles received by the PLAAF has amounted well above 1,000.

The acquisition of the S-300 system has significantly improved the PLA’s capability of denying Chinese airspace to enemy air forces. In particular, the latest S-300PMU2 system gives the PLAAF limited ballistic missile defence capability for the first time. As well as serving defensive roles, the missile system could also be used in a more “offensive” manner by deploying them close to the border to force enemy aircraft avoid entering their envelope, thus forming an airspace blockage over enemy territory.

However, the mere 160 launchers are barely adequate to provide cover for few key cities and strategic assets. A number of indigenous SAM development projects have been initiated since the mid-1980s, but none has been able to produce a capable SAM system of the S-300-class. As a result, the PLAAF is forced to continue relying on the obsolete HQ-2 SAM system based on the 1950s-era Soviet SA-2 Guideline technology to provide air-defence in most parts of the country. The PRC was reportedly seeking a licensed co-production of the S-300, but the request may have been turned down by Russia.

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S-300PMU (SA-10) air defence missile system (Chinese Internet)
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S-300PMU2 (SA-10B) air defence missile system (Chinese Internet)

S-300PMU Missiles

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5V55U air defence missile of the S-300PMU (Chinese Internet)  

The vertically launched S-300 missile uses a single-stage solid propellant rocket motor. It is normally armed with a 100~150kg HE-fragmentation warhead with a proximity fuse, though a low yield tactical nuclear type is believed to be an alternative warhead option. The missile's vertical launch trajectory provides fastest available reaction time capability to counter targets approaching from any azimuth. Missile engagement altitude extends from 25m up to about 30,000m. The maximum engagement range is 120~150km. The missile is carried inside a sealed container-launcher cylinder and does not to require any check-ups or adjustments for a period of 10 years.

The initial version acquired by the PLA is the S-300PMU introduced in 1992 for the export market. The system features the improved 5V55U missile, which was developed from the 5V55R, The missile still utilised the older semi-active radar homing (SARH) terminal guidance but had an increased engagement envelope to give this missile roughly the same altitude capabilities as the newer 150km-range 48N6 missile.

The S-300PMU1 uses the improved 48N6E missile using the more advanced Track-Via-Missile (TVM) guidance similar to that used on the U.S. Patriot missile air defence system. The TVM guidance provides the 48N6E missile with anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability as well as improved performance against aircraft. The S-300PMU2 (Favorit) uses a further improved 48N6E2 missile that has extended range and performance.

Missile Model 5V55U 48N6E 48N6E2
Maximum Velocity 2,000m/s 2,000m/s 2,000m/s
Launch Weight 1,470kg 1,780kg 1,800kg
Range (vs Aircraft) 150km 150km 195km
Range (vs Missile) 35~40km 40km 40~50km
Altitude 75km 75km 95km
Guidance Semi-active radar TVM TVM


There has been speculations that the PLA may be considering a licensed co-production of the S-300 SAM systems in China. The Chinese copy of the S-300 was reportedly designated HQ-15. Some reports suggested that Chinese-assembled S-300 missiles using Russian-made kits have already been tested by the PLA, but this cannot be confirmed. China has the capability to initiate such a co-production but the PLA may wish to use the S-300 technology to improve its own indigenous designs such as HQ-9 instead. Another possibility is that China will only produce the missile, but not the TEL vehicles and guidance radar, to save the overall costs of the programme.

S-300PMU Launch Complex

Each missile battery consists of four TEL vehicles (with 16 ready-to-launch missiles), a 30N6E Flap Lid B (also known as Tomb Stone) phased-array illumination and guidance radar, and a 76N6 Clam Shell low-altitude early warning radar At the regiment level, there is also a command post consisting of a combat control system mounted on a 8X8 MAZ 543 truck, and a 64N6E Big Bird early warning radar mounted on a semi-trailer towed by an 8X8 MAZ-7910 tractor truck.

The battery takes only five minutes to deploy once it comes to the halt. The vehicles have electronic inter-vehicle communications and data transmission links with elevatable pole-type antenna, and thus it does not require interconnecting vehicle cables. Each of the KrAZ-260 tractor truck has four hydraulic jacks positioned either side between the first/second and third/fourth road wheels which are lowered to the ground to provide a more stable and level environment.

Table: Equipments of a Typical S-300 Regiment
NATO codename
5P85T   32 S-300PMU Truck-towed TEL based on KrAZ-260, each carrying four missile transport-launch containers (TLC)
5P85SE (master)
5P85DE (slave)
S-300PMU1/PMU2 Self-propelled 8X8 TEL based on MAZ-543, each carrying four transport-launch containers (TLC)
30N6E(2) Flap Lid B
(Tomb Stone)
8 S-300PMU/PMU1/PMU2 Phased-array illumination and guidance radar
76N6 Clam Shell 8 S-300PMU/PMU1/PMU2 Low-altitude early warning radar
96L6E   8 S-300PMU/PMU1/PMU2 Detection and target designation radar
83M6E(2)   1 S-300PMU/PMU1/PMU2 Command post including 54K6E(2) combat control system and 64N6E(2) early warning radar
54K6E(2)   1 S-300PMU/PMU1/PMU2 Combat control system
64N6E(2) Big Bird 1 S-300PMU/PMU1/PMU2 Early warning radar and IFF interceptor
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5P85SE master launcher (right) and 5P85DE slave launcher (left) (Chinese Internet)
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30N6E Flap Lid B phased-array illumination and guidance radar (Chinese Internet)
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Battery command post (Chinese Internet)
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KrAZ-260V spare missile transloader (Chinese Internet)
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