Defense Against China’s Ballistic and Cruise Missiles

At the time this blog is written, there are reports that the Philippine Army (PA) is contemplating on buying Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) from Israel, reportedly the “Spyder” SAM Defense System. It is actually a very nice system, mobile, with separate launchers and command-control unit, all of which help make it a very capable and survivable system (learn more about this weapon here: SPYDER Surface-to-Air Launcher for PYthon 5 and DERby Missiles). However, it is still a Ground-based system and uses relatively small missiles, limitations which may not be enough against the type of weapons that China can bring to bear against us.

Defending against Chinese attacks on land targets from the Air is complicated by the fact that China is a VERY formidable adversary. They have advanced weapons, and lots of them. Against LAND TARGETS, their most advanced weapons are BALLISTIC and CRUISE MISSILES. These are weapons that can strike from afar with great accuracy and would be their main weapons against land targets in case of war.

AIRCRAFTS would also be a threat, but these I feel would only be SECONDARY to the Ballistic and Cruise Missiles which should be the PRIMARY threat to us.

‘Ballistic Missiles’
A Ballistic Missile is a missile that follows a “Ballistic Trajectory”, meaning that it is launched into the air at an angle, and reaches its peak halfway to the target before it starts a downward path. There is absolutely no place in the Philippines that is not within the reach of China’s Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) and Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), whose ranges are measured in the thousands of kilometers, so this is a major threat to us.

Despite the fact that these missiles follow a predictable trajectory, and coming from a high altitude they can be easily detected by long range ground based radar systems, defense against them is complicated by the fact that they are relatively small, travel very fast (around Mach 20-25), and are relatively heavy. This means they are a difficult hard target to shoot down once they are in their “Terminal Phase” (i.e., just about to hit their target) because of their speed, momentum and small size.

Even if you have existing SAM systems, they may not be fast enough to hit it, and even if they do hit it, they may not be able to completely destroy the relatively large warhead if the missiles themselves are not large enough. Because of this, more specialized LARGE and more sophisticated SAM systems are needed to shoot them down, like the large, bulky and very expensive MIM-104 Patriot (more information about the Patriot is available here: Patriot MIM-104 surface-to-air defense missile system).

Even then, there has been a lot of controversy on the actual effectiveness of the Patriot in actual combat, specifically against Scud Ballistic Missiles in the 1990 Iraq War. There are still arguments back and forth that the Patriot then was not enough to completely destroy its targets, resulting in collateral damage. And we have to remember that China has much more capable Ballistic Missiles than the Scud.

The best defense against these Ballistic Missiles would be to destroy their launchers, or intercept them as they are launched, both of which indicate invading Chinese airspace which would be heavily defended by advanced Surface to Air Missile (SAM) systems, and that type of capability would probably only be reserved to other superpowers like the United States (US) or Russia. For small countries like us, we would be limited to defending against these missiles only in the Terminal Phase.

China’s BMs are almost exclusively land based, and they would need an IRBM like their “Dong Feng 21 (DF-21)” to be able to reach almost any target in the Philippines from their nearest province to ours, the Hainan Province. It has a range of over 2,000 km, and a warhead weighing 600kg which could be armed by nuclear or conventional warheads. More information about this weapon is available here: DF-21/-21A/-21B/-21C/-21D (CSS-5)

‘Cruise Missiles’
An even bigger headache for the Philippines would be “Cruise Missiles”, which China has a lot of at the moment. Just like Ballistic Missiles, they are difficult to shoot down, but because of different reasons. Cruise Missiles (CMs) are basically small, pilotless aircraft with advanced guidance systems that enable them to navigate and find their way to their targets over long distances. These missiles do not travel as fast as Ballistic Missiles, they usually have speeds of either below or above Mach 1. But they travel at low altitude and close to the ground, and combined with their small size and decent speed, they are difficult to detect and shoot down.

Because of their ability to travel at low altitude, ground based radar systems are largely LIMITED in terms of being able to track CMs down as these systems are hampered by obstructing terrain within their line of sight. These systems can only track CMs from a good distance in areas with large, relatively flat open spaces like Valleys, or from the shore facing the sea where their line of sight are relatively free of obstruction.

The most effective way to detect, track and shoot down these CMs would be thru the AIR for the simple reason that it is easier to see targets close to the ground from high altitude. You would need an “Airborne Early Warning and Control System” to detect and track them, and then you would need effective “Air to Air Missiles” (AAMs) that could engage targets close to the ground to destroy them. The fact that you need aircrafts to detect and shoot down these missiles complicates things as you will need to keep a fleet of aircrafts airborne 24/7, which means you will need to invest a lot of money in terms of hardware and maintenance.

China has a couple of models of Cruise Missiles that could be launched from almost anywhere, from Land, Air (Aircrafts), Sea (Ships) and even Underwater (Submarines), with ranges of up to thousands of kilometers. An example of this would be the HN-2 series of Land Attack Cruise Missiles, with a ranges of over 1,800 km and a warhead of about 400kg. You can learn more about this missile here: HN-1/-2/-3

A good example of a small AEWC aircraft is the “Saab 2000 Erieye AEWC”. It is made by Sweden, and has turbo-prop engines, which could mean lower operating and maintenance costs overall. Here is more information about it: Saab 2000 Erieye AEWC Technical Specifications

‘Scenario and Use’
We need to have defense against these missiles, because if not it will complicate a lot our ability to defend our land from attack. If we only rely on Ground-based SAM Defense Systems which will not be able to shoot down or will only have limited effect against these Ballistic and Cruise Missiles, then one scenario would be something like this: China could first pinpoint the location of our SAM Batteries thru Satellite or Long Range Reconnaissance Systems, or even using Decoys.

Once our SAM Batteries are pinpointed, Cruise Missiles could be used to attack and destroy them. These CMs are quite accurate, with the ability to hit targets within 5 meters of where they were specifically aimed at despite the hundreds if not thousands of kilometers they travel. Once our SAM Batteries are rendered inoperable, they could then send Ballistic Missiles and Aircrafts armed with Short-Range Missiles or Bombs to attack MORE Strategic Targets.

Alternatively, the Chinese could just ignore altogether (at least initially) our SAM Batteries and go on to use their Ballistic and Cruise Missiles to attack Strategic Targets like Bridges, Power Plants, Airports, etc. since our SAMs will only have no or limited effect against them, anyway.

‘Parting Shot’
SAM defense systems like the Spyder are very capable systems, but since they are ground-based systems, they have limited capability against Cruise Missiles. And also because they use relatively small missiles, they have no capability against Ballistic Missiles, which are too fast and too heavy for them to shoot down. I do agree it will be a VERY good start for the AFP, considering that we have NOT had any Surface to Air Missile system before (not that I know of, anyway). It is best in terms of shooting down aircrafts, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing (meaning Helicopters), Drones, Short and Medium range Air-Launched Missiles, etc. and has limited capability against Cruise Missiles.

In the end, though, even if we acquire these types of systems, we should be aware of their limitations compared to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile threats that China can launch against us. Systems that can neutralize these threats are large (against Ballistic Missiles), and will have to be air-based systems (against Cruise Missiles), both of which will be very expensive. At this point, I am not even sure if we can afford to have these types of capabilities, but at any rate plans for acquiring them sometime in the future when our economy can finally afford it should at least be in place.


– Technical Aspects of Ballistic Missile Defense,

– Missiles of the World,

– What is a Ballistic Missile,

– Defeating Cruise Missiles,

– Distance Calculator,

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