Serbia has reportedly signed a contract to acquire the HQ-22 medium-long range surface to air missile system, after the country’s armed forces had shown interest for several months in acquiring modern air defense platforms which the majority of analysts previously expected it would purchase from Russia.
The HQ-22 is one of China’s latest platforms, and provides a shorter ranged counterpart to the HQ-9B system. The system has an estimated range of 150-170 km and can engage targets at altitudes ranging from 50 meters to 27 km.
The platform has widely been compared to the American Patriot and the Russia S-300 series, and although its range is shorter than the more advanced S-300 variants such as the S-300PMU-2 it is thought to benefit from superior electronic warfare counter measures and superior capabilities against stealth targets at shorter ranges.
The system is capable of engaging cruise missiles, short ranged ballistic missiles, and all manner of aircraft including bombers and drones, and will provide unprecedented situational awareness for the country’s air force due to its powerful sensor suite.
The HQ-22 was first unveiled at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2016, and the system is capable of launching 12 missiles to engage up to six targets simultaneously – considerably less than either the S-300PMU-2 but comparable to the Patriot.
The system is notably much cheaper than the HQ-9 or the S-300, which made it more suitable given Serbia’s very limited defense budget.
The reasoning behind decision not to purchase a Russian weapons system, with advanced platforms such as the S-350 and older S-300 variants available at similar prices, has been widely speculated.
They include a need to avoid over-reliance on Russian weaponry, a desire to improve defense ties with China and possibly the threat of sanctions by the United States should it acquire Russian weaponry.
Serbia has recently improved its air defense capabilities by acquiring both Russian MiG-29 fighters, provided as aid in 2017, and by purchasing Russian Pantsir short ranged air defence systems– both of which provide effective complements to the HQ-22.
The HQ-22 notably cannot be seen as a direct substitute to the S-300 or S-400 systems, which could be acquired in future to add further layers to the air defense network – possibly after more funds become available to acquire more systems.
Serbia notably became the first European country to acquire Chinese combat drones in July, with the delivery of the CH-92A platform, and its struggling economy has receiving a significant boost from Chinese investment.
Serbia remains one of the few European countries outside both NATO and the European Union, leading both China and Russia to seek to improve relations Belgrade with the latter focusing particularly on defense.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2020.