In the past, The War Zone has looked in detail at the Centurion, and you can read more about it, and see it in action, here. The Centurion was rushed into service after a crash development program in 2004, to meet an urgent need to defeat rockets and other projectiles during the insurgency in Iraq.
As a point-defense weapon, Centurion is employed in close proximity to friendly forces, typically defending fixed installations such as military bases or even the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Another role is to provide a lower tier of defense to protect more advanced and longer-range air-defense systems, such as the Patriot.
Employing a version of the well-known 20mm Vulcan cannon, which is used in numerous American fighters built over the decades from the F-104 to the F-22 Raptor, the Centurion puts up a wall of fire to swat lower-end artillery shells, mortar rounds, and rockets.
While a 30mm cannon, as used in the Chinese CIWS offers greater destructive power and range than the 20mm ammunition used in the Phalanx and its land-based iterations, regardless of caliber, these kinds of weapons all have a fairly limited radius. But when fielded as part of a multi-layered air-defense system, or as a point-defense solution for a particular installation, then that’s not necessarily a problem. Having radar and electro-optical sensors on the same truck chassis means the Chinese system is self-contained and doesn’t have to be plugged into a larger network, although that could be advantageous in some scenarios.
The particular ammunition used in the new Chinese system would also help determine its lethal radius. To ensure that the Centurion’s own fire doesn’t cause destruction to the surrounding area, a special Multipurpose Tracer-Self Destruct (MPT-SD) round is used, which lack the range and ‘stopping power’ of the tungsten-cored armored piercing discarding-sabot (APDS) round used in the naval Phalanx. It could be that the Chinese system makes a similar tradeoff, or it may be that the original non-self-destructing ammunition is retained.
The proliferation of drones is also a likely driver behind the development of the new 11-barrel system. The threat posed by swarming drones is one that has not gone unnoticed by China, which is one of the leading players in that field. Loitering munitions are in the ascendancy in the Asia Pacific region, with the Israeli-made Harop, in particular, proliferating there in both land and sea domains, and with Taiwan also developing loitering munitions of its own. Moreover, the hurdles to exporting a counter-drone system are likely fairly low and, especially after the experience of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict last year, this is a threat that is fast becoming a high priority outside of China, too.
Whatever role the new Chinese truck-mounted system is intended to fulfill, it’s clear that, if adopted for service, it would offer capabilities in excess of those of the current LD-2000, at least as far as the gun armament is concerned. Equally, there is no reason why short-range surface-to-air missiles couldn’t be added, as on the earlier system, to provide another option against low-level aerial threats.
In fact, the continuing Chinese focus on short-range air defense (SHORAD) systems that can detect, track, and engage smaller targets in all weathers, is in stark contrast to the U.S. approach, where this class of weapon has been neglected since the end of the Cold War. This is of particular concern as the drone threat continues to proliferate and it’s a topic that we have discussed in depth in the past.
Meanwhile, there is a growing interest in C-RAM solutions, which could have prompted NORINCO to market this system now. As well as Centurion, solutions include other larger caliber automated gun systems, as well as new directed energy (laser) C-RAM systems, and the missile-based Israeli Iron Dome. As far as laser air-defense systems are concerned, NORINCO also offers a truck-based solution — in this case, intended primarily to destroy low-flying drones:
For now, it’s not certain whether the new ground-based 11-barrel 30mm weapon will enter PLA service, or if it’s actually aimed primarily at the export market, but a system like this makes perfect sense as a rapid means of countering a variety of low-altitude threats in the region, as well as being broadly applicable in other potential conflict zones, too.
Ultimately, it is another indication of the seriousness with which Beijing takes the proliferation of aerial threats, with an impressive arsenal of air-defense systems that can address threats ranging from high-speed, high-altitude air-breathing aircraft, all the way down to air-launched missiles, drones, and potentially now also low-end threats like shells, mortar rounds, and rockets.
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