The Hongqi-9 (HQ-9) is a long-range, high-altitude, surface-to-air missile system developed and manufactured by China, designed to track and destroy aircraft, cruise missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles. It incorporates technology from the Russian S-300P (NATO: SA-10 Grumble), the U.S. Patriot missile, and preexisting Chinese systems. At present, China is outfitting its Type 052C destroyers with a naval variant of the HQ-9.
China’s decision to develop and manufacture its own anti-missile system is a manifestation of its twenty-first century goal of achieving what political scientists refer to as “great power status”—the buildup of political, economic, and military strength. A key ingredient of “great power status” is military modernization, in China’s case the renovation of certain outdated aspects of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In particular, China has concentrated its recent efforts on boosting its offensive and defensive missile capabilities in order to compete with the U.S. and other Western powers.
Beijing’s specific emphasis on air and missile defense has its roots in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, during which China observed the complete supremacy of U.S. and Coalition air power in Iraq. The ability of the U.S. to decimate Iraq’s ground-based military with cruise missiles and smart bombs served to highlight China’s relative inability to defend its major cities, military assets, industrial complexes, and other high-value assets against such an attack. The development of China’s HQ-9 surface-to-air missile, therefore, is rooted in its observation and understanding of U.S. military power.