Enhancements Triple the Range Across Four Evolutionary Stages

Images of the domestically produced Type 054A improved frigate launching the HQ-16C ship-to-air missile have been released for the first time, giving us a chance to see this improved mid-range ship-to-air missile. The HQ-16C is a major upgrade of the HQ-16 series, with a range of 70 km. After equipping the improved Type 054A frigate, it has gained mid-range area air defense capabilities, reducing the fleet’s reliance solely on Aegis ships.

The HQ-16C is not the most advanced in the HQ-16 family. The most advanced HQ-16FE was showcased at the Zhuhai Air Show, with a maximum range of 160 km. It is expected to equip the Type 054B frigate, making it a mini version of the Aegis ship. After upgrading, the Type 054A theoretically can also use the more advanced HQ-16 missile. This simple upgrade gives the 40 Type 054A ships stronger air defense capabilities, which is quite cost-effective.

The HQ-16 is a domestically developed mid-range air defense missile by the Shanghai Aerospace Eighth Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, suitable for both land and sea. During its serial development, the HQ-16 missile has gone through four stages, with its range tripling three times. The basic HQ-16 is a ship-to-air missile, equipped on the Type 054A frigate. It is launched from the domestically produced JAK-16 shipborne vertical launch system, which is also our first kind of universal shipborne vertical launch system. The system can launch both the HQ-16 ship-to-air missile and the Yu-8 anti-submarine missile.

The HQ-16 uses cropped delta wings, giving it advantages like high speed, significant lift, and excellent maneuverability. During its design and testing, the HQ-16 intercepted ultra-low-altitude sea-skimming targets and low-altitude supersonic targets, demonstrating strong interception capabilities. Its guidance system combines wireless commands, mid-course inertial guidance, and terminal semi-active radar guidance, providing strong anti-jamming capabilities. The basic missile has a maximum range of 25 km and a maximum interception altitude of 15 km. It can intercept targets below 10 meters above the sea.

A single Type 054A frigate is equipped with a 32-cell JAK-16 vertical launch system. If anti-submarine needs are not considered, it can carry up to 32 HQ-16 ship-to-air missiles. The ship is equipped with four fire-control radars, and can guide up to eight missiles to intercept four incoming targets simultaneously, providing decent anti-saturation capabilities.

After the success of the HQ-16 and HQ-16A, improvements were made based on user feedback. The most significant improvement was increasing the range. With modern air raid weapons becoming long-range and out-of-area strikes becoming the norm, the air defense missile range needs to increase accordingly. This led to the development of the HQ-16B and HQ-16C missiles. The former equips the army, and the latter the navy. Both have similar core performance with slight differences.

A major challenge for the HQ-16 was to increase its range while maintaining its dimensions and weight, to ensure compatibility with existing vertical launch systems. This required the adoption of a better-performing solid rocket engine. Longer ranges pose higher requirements for the guidance system. Especially for the naval version, the demand on shipboard energy supply increases, necessitating a more advanced guidance system.

After persistent efforts by domestic technicians, we have developed a new generation of solid rocket engines. Under roughly the same volume and launch weight, the missile range has successfully increased to 70 km, equivalent to the US Navy’s Standard Missile-2 Medium-Range (SM-2MR).

Due to the missile’s increased range, higher speed demands were introduced. Thus, the size of the cropped delta wings on the HQ-16B/C was reduced. While these wings provide lift, they also produce drag. As the missile’s speed increases, the body provides more lift, allowing for a reduction in wing size to decrease drag, balancing the missile’s speed, maneuverability, and range.

In terms of guidance, the HQ-16B/C missile uses a strapdown inertial guidance combined with mid-course command updates and terminal active/passive radar guidance. This means the HQ-16B/C has two end-attack modes: an active radar mode for long-range targets and dealing with saturation attacks and a semi-active mode for medium and short-range targets. After all, the power of the illuminating radar is much greater than that of the missile’s terminal guidance radar, making them more resistant to jamming and more suitable for striking medium and short-range targets.

To complement the HQ-16C ship-to-air missile, the final batch of the Type 054A frigate was upgraded, with the mechanical scanning illuminating radar replaced by an active phased array illuminating radar. This radar has higher power, better accuracy, and stronger anti-jamming capabilities, further harnessing the range performance of the HQ-16C ship-to-air missile.

The latest model in the HQ-16 family is the HQ-16F. Compared to other HQ-16 variants, it can be considered a new type of missile. However, it remains compatible with the HQ-16 air defense system, similar to the relationship between the Patriot PAC-2 and PAC-3. The HQ-16F features a slender body, retaining only small tail fins.

As mentioned earlier, the faster a missile, the more lift its body contributes. When speed reaches a certain threshold, fins can be eliminated, resulting in a finless design, a layout commonly adopted by modern long-range air defense missiles. For example, the interceptor of the HQ-9 only has small tail fins, with most of its lift coming from its body during high-speed flight.

The HQ-16F also introduced lateral thrust control, positioning lateral thrust rockets around its body. When reaching the designated position, these rockets ignite, allowing the missile to “sideways” intercept targets, enhancing its capability to intercept high-speed targets, such as tactical ballistic missiles. The export version, the HQ-16FE, has a maximum range of 160 km. This alone exceeds the US Navy’s Extended Range SM-2, the Russian RIF-M, and the European Aster-30, whose ranges are 120 km, 150 km, and 120 km, respectively. Therefore, after the 054B frigate was commissioned, its air defense capability surpassed many foreign air defense ships, becoming another powerful vessel for the navy’s oceanic operations.

Source: Wang Yanan

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