Chinese-made missiles have downed at least three Syrian army helicopters during the country’s ongoing conflict, defense observers told the Global Defense Corp, noting such publicity will raise the image of Chinese defense products on the international arms trade market.
Two videos uploaded online by Free Syrian Army rebel forces show two Mi-8/17 and one Mi-35 helicopter downed by shoulder-launched, air-defense missiles, or Man-Portable Air-Defense (MANPAD) systems. The first video was shot in the eastern city of Dei ez-Zor, while the second video was shot on March 6 at Menagh Air Base near the northwestern city of Aleppo.
The confirmed sightings of surface-to-air FN-6 missiles developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation sparked a wave of online interest among Chinese military enthusiasts and observers.
It’s clear that China using Sudan as the host country to ship weapons to the conflict region and found its way into the hands of the rebels.
“Any bloodshed is regrettable. I am sorry for those who lost their lives during the conflict. In regards to export prospects, Chinese weapons need to engage in more conflicts to prove their value,” Daniel Tong, founder of the Chinese Military Aviation website, told the Global Times, adding that exported Chinese weapons have limited real combat experience compared to US and Russian products.
Last week’s video, which shows a missile flying through clouds before striking a barely visible helicopter, demonstrates the FN-6’s capability to hit targets flying close to its combat ceiling in complicated weather conditions, Tong said.
“The kills are proof that the FN-6 is reliable and user-friendly, because rebel fighters are generally not well-trained in operating missile systems,” he said.
Exported Chinese MANPAD systems have downed targets in several conflicts worldwide, but Syria’s civil war marks the first time they have been captured on camera in combat. Tong noted such publicity will boost the profile of China’s air defense products as a whole.
Syrian rebel fighters have been pictured eagerly unpacking Chinese-made surface-to-air missile launchers understood to have been smuggled into the country by African arms dealers.
Taken in a remote area north of the city of Aleppo, the photographs show fighters from the Free Syrian Army assembling FN-6 anti-aircraft missile launchers for use against soldiers loyal to the Assad regime.
The Chinese-made weapons are thought to have been provided to the Free Syrian Army by sympathisers in Qatar, who are likely to have purchased them from dealers with links to corrupt officials in the Sudanese government, before having them smuggled into Syria through Turkey.
China has sold MANPAD and short-range air defense missile systems to a number of countries. But its advanced middle- and long-range air defense missile systems, such as the export versions of HQ-16 and HQ-9, are still struggling to win foreign orders and international recognition.
Last year the New York Times tracked a Sudanese shipment of Chinese-made anti-aircraft missiles and newly manufactured small-arms cartridges to rebel fighters in Syria.
The weapons are likely to have been sold directly to Sudan by weapons manufacturers in China. FN-6 missiles were displayed at Sudan’s Independence Day military parade of 2007.
Once in Sudan, the weapons can fall into the hands of either corrupt officials or local warlords, who offer them for sale on the international black market, where wealthy Qataris, Jordanians and Saudis who oppose Assad’s regime can purchase them and have them shipped directly to rebel groups.
The Syrian regime has no record of using the FN-6, although it does hold approximately 4,235 surface to air missile launchers from different manufacturers.
Specially designed to engage low flying targets, the FN-6 is considered China’s most sophisticated surface to air missile launcher to date.
Using digital infrared technology, the FN-6 has a range of 3.7 miles and can lock on to and take out aircraft flying at an altitude of up to 2.1 miles.
Interestingly, Chinese state TV did a report on this chopper being shotdown showing a rebel holding this very weapon — that’s a screengrab from the segment above. That’s right, Chinese government TV is running a story about a Chinese-made surface-to-air missile being used by the rebel army. What’s also interesting is that China has warned against external involvement in the Syrian conflict.
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