This Is China’s Beastly New Air Defense Vehicle

An imposing air defense vehicle made an appearance at this year’s Zhuhai Air Show in China, which is a massive week-long trade expo for the country’s defense industry that officially wrapped on Sunday. Designated as the Type 625E AA Gun Missile Integrated Weapon System, the vehicle is armed with both missiles and a Gatling-style cannon.

While confirmed details surrounding Type 625E’s origins and technical specifications are sparse, both China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC) and Norinco appear to be involved in its development. CSGC is a Chinese state-owned manufacturer of both civilian and military technologies that are produced for domestic and foreign customers, and ‘Norinco’ is the acronym used for China North Industries Group Corporation when the company conducts business internationally. CSGC and Norinco are behind many of the locally developed weapon systems exhibited at this year’s Zhuhai Air Show, and Type 625E appears to be no exception.

Judging by pictures of the system alone, the Type 625E short-range air defense system (SHORAD) looks to be an 8×8 vehicle-mounted self-propelled anti-aircraft gun and surface-to-air missile system of sorts. For Zhuhai, the Type 625E was sporting a pixelated desert camouflage scheme and, of course, its stacked armament. Its turret with a sizable Gatling-style cannon is especially difficult to ignore, with the barrel pointed directly at the camera in some pictures taken during the show, and it is believed to be of the 25mm variety, but that detail remains unconfirmed. Land-based close-in defense Gatling-style guns of this type are becoming increasingly prominent in China’s weapons portfolio. 

The vehicle also comes equipped with four canisterized missiles fitted to either side of the turret. The exact type of missile used on this system is unclear, but the general configuration would suggest that they could be FB-10 short-range types. Reportedly designed by the China Aerospace Long-March International (ALIT) company, FB-10 traces back to at least 2014 and appears to have entered service with the People’s Liberation Army at least on some level the following year. China then displayed the FB-10 at the Zhuhai Air Show in 2016 mounted on a 6×6 truck chassis as opposed to the Type 625E’s 8×8 vehicle base.

An FB-10A variant was then unveiled in 2021 during the Egypt Defense Exhibition in a similar configuration to the 2016 showcase, and its chassis was this time confirmed to be a Dongfeng Mengshi 6×6 light tactical vehicle. There also appears to be an FB-20 air-defense missile system, though confirmed information about this derivative is even thinner. FB-series missiles can purportedly engage low-flying air targets at a maximum range of over 6 miles (10 km) and reach an altitude of anywhere between 49 feet (15 m) to roughly 3 miles (5,000 m). 

The FB-10A missile launch system. Credit: Chinese internet
An FB-10A missile. Credit: Chinese state TV

The FB-10 missile type reportedly has technical specifications that are equivalent to China’s Hongqi-10 (HQ-10) surface-to-air missile system intended for maritime environments. Also designed by ALIT, HQ-10 is said to use an advanced rolling projectile and an infrared homing seeker as its guidance system, though there are also indications that the HQ-10 utilizes either passive or semi-active radar seekers as well, which would provide the missile with ‘dual-mode’ guidance capabilities. It’s worth noting here that HQ-10 was derived from the RIM-116 rolling airframe missile, which also utilizes dual-mode guidance, although this feature is designed to be more relevant for defending against anti-ship missiles with radar emitters.

Type 056 corvette with an HQ-10 missile launcher. Credit: 樱井千一/Wikimedia Commons

A radar can also be seen extending up from behind the missile system in some photos taken of the Type 625E. This device, while unnamed, will likely supplement the system’s anti-aircraft role by allowing operators to detect and track low-flying aircraft like drones, helicopters, and cruise missiles before engaging. In a promotional video for Type 625E and other Chinese combat vehicles included below, the system can be seen engaging multiple drones at once through an infrared camera feed, which concurrently suggests that infrared optical sensors equip Type 625E as well. Drones especially are expected to be a major factor in future conflicts, as has been proven on multiple occasions throughout the war in Ukraine, and both China and Taiwan are making notable advancements in this area.

The Type 625E display at Zhuhai 2022. An arrow has been added to highlight the sensor array. Credit: Chinese internet

China also showcased the CS/SA5 30mm Wheeled Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Weapon this year, which appears to be closely related to the Type 625E but instead utilizes a 30mm machine gun and what could be two dual-mounted FN-6 anti-aircraft missile launching tubes. CSGC and Norinco also released a promotional video for this system last year, which confusingly features the same footage as the clip of what is said to be the Type 625E in the video above.

Despite the variations in machine gun caliber and missile configuration, as well as the potential nomenclature mix-up, both systems clearly use the same underlying 8×8 vehicles, further suggesting that these systems are related in some capacity. For example, it could certainly be possible that CS/SA5 is the export derivative of Type 625E, as Chinese systems commonly have two designations: one used internally and one used for pitching on the international market.

China is investing far more heavily in SHORAD capabilities, which is a major trend globally, in order to protect its maneuvering forces and fixed installations from cruise missiles, combat drones, and other low-flying aircraft. This system is similar in concept to Russia’s Pantsir family of systems, which combines anti-aircraft guns with short-range air defense missiles. The naval Kashtan system is yet another example of a ‘hybrid’ short-range defense system, as are the Swiss-designed LAV-Air Defense variants and the American Vulcan Air Defense Systems, which you can read about in detail here.

The Type 625E, however, could even be useful as a highly mobile counter-rocket, artillery, and motor (C-RAM) system with its rapid-fire Gatling gun, although it is not clear if such a secondary mission is part of its requirements at this time. The United States actually uses a land-based version of the Vulcan-cannon armed Phalanx system in this role, showing that this potential use case is a viable option for a Gatling-style cannon like the one arming Type 625E.

Whether or not Type 625E is already in service with the People’s Liberation Army isn’t immediately obvious, although it seems unlikely. Still, it is a reminder that China is taking SHORADs very seriously and likely sees a lucrative export market for these capabilities, as well. 

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