Providing Missiles to Every Foot Soldier – The PLA’s Answer to ‘Firepower Deficiency Anxiety’


The HJ-18 (Red Arrow-18) individual multi-purpose missile weapon system has suddenly emerged on the internet. This missile belongs to the popular category of small anti-tank missiles, known for their compact size, lightweight, high precision, and significant threat. It is primarily assigned to infantry squads, making it a formidable asset for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) infantry.

Starting with the introduction of the HJ-11, HJ-12, and HJ-10, domestically produced anti-tank missiles have entered a new era of upgrades. The introduction of the new generation of anti-tank missiles into the PLA has significantly enhanced the army’s anti-tank combat capabilities. Notably, the new generation of anti-tank missiles is not intended to replace older models one-to-one but aims to expand the range of equipment available to infantry squads, meeting the frontline soldiers’ needs for anti-armor and assault weapons.

China’s HJ-18 Individual Multi-Purpose Missile Weapon System

The HJ-11 and HJ-12 have replaced the older HJ-73 and HJ-8, while the heavy vehicle-mounted HJ-10 is set to replace the HJ-9. However, the AFT-07 anti-tank missile, developed from the HJ-73 series, continues to be in service, providing infantry with a more straightforward guided firepower. The introduction of the HJ-18 means that infantrymen now have another option for individually guided weapons.

The primary task of the HJ-18 individual multi-purpose missile weapon system is to attack various light armored targets, vehicles, strongpoints, and personnel, and under certain conditions, it can even target enemy main battle tanks. Its usage method is closer to that of a rocket launcher concept, being lighter and simpler to operate than the HJ-11 and HJ-12.

HJ-12 Anti-Tank Missile Deployed in the Western Theater

In real-world military experience, anti-tank missiles are often used to target non-tank objectives, such as light armored vehicles, artillery, and strongpoints. The U.S. military has revealed that during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, they fired over 7,000 anti-tank missiles, with the majority aimed at non-tank targets. Russian experts, after summarizing the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, also believe that in future warfare, only about one-third of anti-tank missiles will be used against tanks, with the remaining two-thirds focused on various vehicles and strongpoints.

The PLA has also used anti-tank missiles in actual combat against enemy command posts and achieved good results. Military experts both domestically and internationally generally agree that anti-tank missiles with long range, high precision, and mobility can be assigned to infantry squads for versatile firepower applications. Therefore, the modern direction for anti-tank missiles is versatility, allowing them to engage a wide range of targets.

The HJ-73D, due to its simplicity of operation, flexibility in use, and low cost, continues to be favored by the Army.

However, one drawback of modern anti-tank missiles is their high cost. For instance, the U.S. Javelin anti-tank missile costs nearly $200,000 per unit without the launching components. While they are cost-effective against modern main battle tanks, they become extravagant when used against light vehicles or strongpoints.

In this context, small anti-tank missiles have emerged. These missiles are compact, lightweight, and employ relatively simple guidance systems, designed specifically for engaging non-tank targets, with the capability to target tanks when necessary. Examples include the French “Shaher” and the British NLAW. The PLA has drawn from foreign military combat experience and developed the domestically produced HJ-18 individual multi-purpose missile as the new generation anti-tank weapon for infantry squads.

According to available images, the HJ-18 has a design characterized by a top-heavy layout, tail-mounted fins, and no wings, primarily for weight control. Weight is a critical factor for infantry-carried weapons. The HJ-18 individual multi-purpose missile is less than 1 meter in length, with a diameter of just 0.09 meters, and a weight of less than 10 kilograms. While slightly larger than the Shaher and NLAW missiles, it boasts a longer effective range of 150-1500 meters. NLAW has a range of only 1000 meters, and the Shaher’s range is even lower, at around 600 meters.

While the performance of the HJ-12 missile is excellent, its price is high, and the training period is relatively long, requiring extensive training for proficiency.

Infantry missile operators must destroy enemy armored vehicles and strongpoints while facing the risk of retaliation. Therefore, the longer the missile’s range, the safer the operator. Given typical heavy machine guns and other weapons within armored vehicles and strongpoints, a range of over 1000 meters ensures the operator’s safety. Hence, the range for light anti-tank missiles needs to reach 1500 meters to guarantee the operator’s safety.

The HJ-18 uses a semi-automatic command line-of-sight guidance system with infrared angle measurement and radio command transmission. When in use, the operator simply needs to keep the aiming device on target to ensure guidance. The guidance station will guide the missile’s flight and ensure it hits the target. This guidance system is cost-effective and minimizes the equipment on the missile, reducing the cost and price, as already verified in the second-generation anti-tank missiles like the domestically produced HJ-8 and HJ-73D anti-tank missiles. The HJ-18 has further improved upon these systems by using radio command transmission, eliminating the need for a guidance wire, simplifying the missile’s onboard equipment, and increasing the missile’s flight speed without the risk of the guidance wire breaking.

Due to its lightweight and low cost, the HJ-18 individual multi-purpose missile is installed in a disposable launch tube, equipped with a low-cost aiming and guidance system. After the missile is launched, the launch tube can be discarded, not occupying the squad’s organization, making its usage concept more similar to that of a rocket launcher. Because the missile’s weight is roughly equivalent to one general-purpose machine gun, infantry squads can carry multiple missiles, significantly increasing their long-range strike capability.

The PLA has persistently pursued direct firepower for infantry squads and has finally achieved precision guidance.

Once the HJ-18 individual multi-purpose missile weapon system is deployed, it will substantially enhance the combat capabilities of PLA infantry squads. First, the missiles enable infantry squads to precisely engage targets within a range of 1500 meters, especially various strongpoints and light armored vehicles, which pose the most significant threats to infantry.

Based on combat experience in the Ukrainian conflict and other real-world situations, infantry’s primary threats come from small- and large-caliber machine guns. These weapons are often protected by armor or concealed within fortified positions, making it difficult to achieve effective results using traditional weaponry. Now, with the HJ-18 missile, infantry squads can swiftly eliminate these threats, suppressing enemy firepower and opening the path forward.

The goal of giving every infantryman strong direct firepower and the ability to precisely engage targets has become a continuous pursuit of the PLA. The transformation from purely focusing on firepower density to guided and precision weapons marks the evolution of their capabilities in addressing the “firepower insufficiency syndrome.” (Wang Yanan)


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