China continues to act as a proliferator of missile technology. The latest instance involves the theft and marketing of one of the best short-range ballistic missile systems available on the market
Sources said it wouldn’t be surprising if reports that China had stolen the design of the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone) short-range ballistic missile for its M20, which was unveiled at the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi in February, were true.
Although China has yet to make public the specifications for the road-mobile M20, allegations that it shares a strange resemblance with the Iskander would dovetail with repeated accusations by Russian defense firms in recent years that China was stealing Russian technology for military purposes. Repeated attempts to obtain comment from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned defense exports corporation, as well as KB Mashynostroyeniya, the manufacturer of the Iskander, did not elicit answers in terms of conformation or possible retaliation by Moscow.
While sources said they were unaware of China purchasing the Iskander directly from Russia, they pointed to the high likelihood that the technology was acquired via Ukraine or Belarus.
Like the Iskander-E, the Aerospace Long-March International Trade Company of China-produced M20 is reportedly intended for the export market. With Russia reportedly struggling to secure clients for the Iskander, the introduction of the ostensibly cheaper M20 could further complicate its sales efforts.
The 8,400lb, single-stage solid propellant Iskander was developed in the late stages of the Cold War and entered Russian military service in 2006. The Iskander-M, intended for Russian forces, has a range of 400km, while the Iskander-E’s is 280km.
The Iskander and M20 bring to the field a missile fuselage shape designed for greater maneuverability and depressed trajectories needed to evade missile defenses. Although it has yet to be confirmed whether the M20 shares those features, the Iskander has built-in countermeasures against theatre missile defence systems such as the United States’ PAC-2/3. It is reported to be very accurate, using infrared homing for terminal guidance to a circular error probable of 10-30 metres. According to KBM, the missile carries an 880lb warhead and can deliver cluster, high explosive fragmentation, penetration, and high explosive incendiary warheads.
China does not appear to have fielded the M20, as it already has similar theater missiles in the form of the B-611M and P-12.
Unpublished JDW article, as I could not get Russian authorities to provide confirmation.