Earlier this week the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) announced that it had conducted a test of a new anti-tank missile system as part of a so-called “Taiwan Drill.” The exercise, which was conducted in an island-landing exercise from the Bohai Bay earlier this year, was only disclosed on Tuesday—and was possibly meant to serve as a message as much to Taiwan as to the United States.
The South China Morning Post reported that a rocket brigade from the Northern Theater Command conducted the live-fire test from a wheeled vehicle-mounted platform. Beijing didn’t specify exactly which system was involved in the recent exercise, but analysts have speculated it likely was the HJ-10 (also called the Red Arrow-10), a vehicle-loaded guided missile.
It was developed to combat enemy armor such as the U.S.-made M1A2 Abrams main battle tank.
“The drill is definitely aimed at Taiwan’s M1A2 Abrams tanks,” Hong Kong-based Chinese military analyst Song Zhongping told the South China Morning Post. “The PLA realised that warnings alone are useless against Taiwan’s independence-leaning forces, so they are now stepping up drills for island seizure to show that the mainland is well prepared to take back the island at any time.”
A year ago Taipei announced that it would buy the American-built Abrams and other hardware in a deal worth $2.2 billion—pending Congressional approval. The sale would include one hundred M1A2T tanks, fourteen M88A2 tank-recovery vehicles, sixteen M1070A1 Heavy Equipment Transporters plus two hundred and fifty Stinger Block I-92F shoulder-fired anti-air missiles.
The M1A2T is a special Taiwanese configuration of the U.S. Army’s latest M1A2Cand feature improvements that include more electrical power, a new auxiliary power unit and an ammunition data link for “smart” shells with reprogrammable fuses.
Taiwan has sought to purchase the Abrams for more than a decade to bolster its aging tank force. The island nation remains one of the last operators of the Cold War-era M60 “Patton” tank, which Taipei has steadily updated in recent years.
Beyond the M1 Abrams
While Taipei’s M1A2T MBTs are likely what Beijing could have in the crosshairs of the HJ-10, the anti-tank missile system could certainly take on the Soviet-era T-72 and T-80 tanks currently being deployed in the Ladakh Valley along the border with India. China deployed the all-terrain light armored vehicles used to carry the HJ-10 missile launcher to the region in August, during which a live-fire test was conducted at an elevation of 4,500 meters.
Whether the HJ-10 could endure the extreme winter cold is an issue however, as is the vehicle platform that carries the guided anti-missile system. Yet, the recent tests suggest that Beijing has great confidence in the platform whether in an amphibious landing or in a mountainous assault.
Both China and India have deployed troops and armored vehicles to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in recent weeks, and each side apparently is preparing for a long cold winter ahead.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.