FANDOM


This is basically a quickie to help people choose among top weapons with more than the simple "which do I think is cooler," or having to go out and dig up all the little nuances.

This is not an exhaustive guide, and will simply give a brief rundown on the strengths and weaknesses of the most popular and well known units in each category (especially what you can't gleam from the stats alone!). Those not on the market will naturally be excluded

Note, I had some formatting issues with "-" so if you see an ungodly large number like 35005000kg add a hyphen in the middle.

Main Battle TanksEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL tanks that are in production and likely to see purchase in 21C. This excludes those that are not at least extremely close to entering service, are no longer in production, or are almost certain to never see foreign sales (and yes, the Merkava is only on here because despite the fact that it shouldn't be on the market, someone always ends up buying some). The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing Tanks:

  • Speed
  • Protection (ability to prevent damage)
  • Survivability (ability to survive damage)
  • Armament/firepower
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics







Leopard 2

Pros:

  • Excellent speed and agility
  • Good to very good survivability & protection
  • Very good to excellent electronics
  • Very good to excellent firepower
  • Very easy to adapt to
  • Deep fording capability
  • Large stock of used vehicles



Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Most models have less protection than contemporaries
  • Poor strategic mobility due to weight
  • German politics restrict exports to many countries



With over 2400 examples outside of Germany, the Leopard 2 is the world's bestselling current generation MBT. On paper, however, it's mostly an average tank. Early models were good, but not great, in almost every category. In practice, however, it's a very different beast. The speed of the Leopard 2 is second only to the M1 Abrams, with tankers admitting to putting it to as high as 90 km/h. And it has exceptional offroad performance. Most notably, however, the vehicle is extremely user friendly from everything from maintenance to its control system, it is a very easy tank to learn and use, and that is a key selling point. It's also the only western tank with a deep fording capability, and more recent models have rectified its historically lackluster protection and also given it the most powerful main gun on any current tank.

Its biggest historical drawback has been its rather lackluster armor compared to other western tanks, and this has only been fully rectified in the latest versions such as the Leopard 2E, at a cost of some of its speed.





M1 Abrams

Pros:

  • Easily the fastest MBT that ever entered service
  • Excellent protection and survivability
  • Excellent firepower
  • Very good to excellent electronics



Cons:

  • Expensive
  • High fuel consumption
  • High IR signature
  • Very poor strategic mobility
  • US politics
  • Foreign variants have downgraded armor



The signature US design, with nearly 2000 foreign examples (over half Egyptian), runs a close second to the Leopard 2, but does so through the size of each order rather than a large number of small customers. The M1 series represents an ideal tank for offensive operations in open terrain. Its high speed allows it to easily maneuver around slower formations. Despite this, it still comes in second in both firepower, armor protection, and survivability. It was also ahead of the pack when it came to advanced battlefield management systems, and thus has exceptional electronics.

The main disadvantages are that the turbine engine consumes vast amounts of fuel, giving the Abrams unusually high logistical requirements, which combine with its extreme weight to make it very difficult to redeploy to distant locations. Also, the US does not sell its current armor package to most foreign customers, and customers may opt for less effective tungsten rounds instead of the controversial DU (with DU rounds, its L44 gun is as good as an L55 with tungsten).





T90S

Pros:

  • Very good protection
  • Low profile
  • Simple and reliable
  • Good firepower
  • Cheap
  • Russians will sell to pretty much anyone
  • Lower weight improves strategic mobility



Cons:

  • Lower survivability
  • Less sophisticated electronics
  • Limited internal space
  • Slow
  • ERA limitations
  • Autoloader limitations



The T90S is a distant third in sales (only about 1000 so far), but is vast improvement over the widely proliferated T80 and T72, and arguably the best medium tank currently on the market. Being lighter, and Russian, it's cheap compared to the performance it gives, but also has inferior electronics, which limits the (extremely valuable) coordination and information sharing that characterize western tanks, and makes its targeting system somewhat inferior. Also, being smaller, it tends to fare much more poorly when a round actually penetrates the armor, as the chances of catastrophic internal damage are much higher. Furthermore, the autoloader imposes a number of restrictions: it's vulnerable to mechanical breakdowns, it makes switching ammunition types more difficult, it reduces survivability by keeping ammunition "in the open," it has a lower spot and far lower extended rate of fire, and the loss of the 4th crewman hurts maintenance and security. The protection itself comes largely from ERA, which is dependent on the angle of a hit, only works once for any location, has been known to damage the vehicle itself, and precludes the use of infantry near the tank. It also entails significant logistical costs, such that the Russians themselves only apply it in wartime. Another hidden weakness is that the T90 can only fire on the move at low to medium speeds, as opposed to high speeds for many western tanks. Finally, unlike western counterparts, the T90 doesn't have dual targeting equipment for both the commander and gunner, which limits its ability to deal with multiple threats in rapid succession. Of course, all Russian tanks were built for taking advantage of numerical superiority.

On the other hand, it has a small target profile, its low weight makes it easy to transport around, it can fire antitank missiles that outrange western tanks, and like all Russian tanks, it has a simple and reliable design. Finally, the Russians are ahead of the pack in active protection systems, which are available and can greatly enhance survivability against ATGMs.





Leclerc

Pros

  • Good speed & agility
  • Good firepower
  • Excellent fire control
  • Lower weight gives better strategic mobility than other western tanks
  • French politics



Cons

  • Ungodly expensive
  • Lower protection and survivability than many contemporaries
  • Limited internal space
  • Autoloader restrictions
  • French politics



The Leclerc is unique among western tanks in that it is the only one on the market that uses an autoloader (Japan's Type 90 does too, but isn't on the market). It is also among the lightest, with only the Italian Ariete matching it (well, and the Type 90 significantly exceeding). However, the true crown of the Leclerc is its fire control, arguably the best of any current MBT (the other contender of course, being the Type 90).

Due to it being smaller and lighter than contemporaries, however, protection and survivability are somewhat lower. Of course, it also comes with all the disadvantages associated with an autoloader, and I've heard about issues related to crew comfort unusual for a western tank. Finally, the Leclerc has historically held second place for the highest unit cost among all modern MBTs, with only the Japanese Type 90 (again) exceeding it.





PT91E/P Twardy

Pros

  • Relatively cheap
  • Low profile
  • Direct upgrade of T72M1, which are everywhere
  • Decent firepower
  • Support variants are extremely popular



Cons

  • Lower protection and survivability than many competitors
  • Limited internal space
  • It's, well, Polish
  • ERA limitations
  • Autoloader restrictions



Developed independently in Poland in the late1990s, the PT91 was designed as a direct upgrade of its T72M1 stock, though with the capability to produce new build units as well (Poland used to build T72s). It involved providing improved applique and reactive armor, new engine and fire control, and other automotive improvements to create a tank that's closing in on the T90 in effectiveness on paper.

Off the paper stats, its protection appears slightly inferior to the admittedly cheaper T90 and most modern T80 derivatives, but it has better crew comfort and survivability features, as well as superior electronics due to the greater propensity towards western suppliers. It is also an extremely reliable design, being based on a proven and time tested unit. Moreover, and most importantly, ANY T72M1 can be upgraded to this standard, making it attractive to any nation with large numbers of these and limited cash.

Also, the support variants of the PT91 have been even more popular than the tank itself, and are regularly used to support any T72, T80, or T90 series tank.





T84

Pros

  • Relatively cheap
  • Low profile
  • Development of T80, which is in service with numerous countries
  • Good firepower
  • Very fast
  • Deep fording capability
  • Many variants have western technology and are compatible with NATO logistics requirments.
  • Ukraine will sell to literally anyone



Cons

  • Lower protection and survivability than many contemporaries
  • Limited internal space
  • ERA limitations
  • Autoloader restrictions



The T84 grew from Ukraine's trouble in getting parts from Russia for the T80s it was trying to sell. It gets similar marks compared to the T90 in protection and firepower, if not slightly superior in the former. It's also significantly faster, with excellent performance conveniently hidden in the stats. However, the internal layout of the T80 it's based on left much to be desired, most notably regarding ammunition storage. This results in inferior survivability. It also has most of the same issues the T90 does, especially regarding ERA and its autoloader. On the other hand, it incorporates western electronics and has the option for a western 120mm gun, which makes it much more attractive to users who cooperate with NATO forces. Also, with the demise of the Russian T80 production line, any current T80 user that wants more must either buy this or get a completely different tank.





K2 Black Panther

Pros

  • Excellent protection
  • Excellent electronics
  • Excellent firepower
  • Very good speed and excellent agility
  • Deep fording capability
  • Good strategic mobility


Cons

  • Extremely expensive
  • Smaller size reduces survivability
  • Autoloader restrictions



The K2, being the most modern tank currently out there, has quite a lot going for it. It's probably best described as a Leclerc on steroids, with similar design philosophy in almost every area, but matching or exceeding the Leclerc in almost every one of them (cost included). If sold on the market, this would be the most expensive by a decent margin. There's not a lot that can be said beyond paper stats and hype though, as even those who've used it don't have much experience with it, and aren't allowed to speak about it that much.





Type 90 / Al Khalid

Pros

  • Good speed & agility
  • Good firepower
  • Low cost
  • Low profile
  • China & Pakistan will sell to just about anyone
  • Good strategic mobility
  • Decent electronics



Cons

  • Limited internal space
  • Lower protection and survivability than many contemporaries
  • ERA limitations
  • Autoloader restrictions
  • No gunlaunched ATGM



China and Pakistan's response to upper end T72 and early T90 tanks, this unit was designed specifically to have relatively low cost and significant commonality with older designs (45%). This has already netted it a modest export sale to Bangladesh, and other nations equipped with outdated Chinese tanks may follow suit. It's most notable feature (missing from most stats) is the relatively high number of running gears, and an unusually high reverse speed (I've heard rumours of 47 km/h!). It can fire accurately even at high speeds (including reverse) and over rough terrain, and has the fairly good suspension expected of a tank designed for a mountainous nation. While not the epitome of tank design, it is a reliable and inexpensive weapon that's cheaper than the vast majority of counterparts, and more than capable enough for many militaries.

Where it falls short is protection, which is no better than the Russian designs, and approximately 10-20% lower than western counterparts. Its gun is also somewhat weaker than western 120mm weapons (despite claims to the contrary), and unlike other Eastern tanks on the market, it has no capability for gunlaunched ATGMs.





Type 96

Pros

  • Dirt cheap
  • Low profile
  • China will sell to just about anyone
  • Good speed and agility
  • Excellent strategic mobility



Cons

  • Limited internal space
  • Less sophisticated electronics
  • Inferior protection
  • Lower survivability
  • ERA limitations
  • Autoloader restrictions



The Type 96 is the current mass-produced Chinese tank, and the only one still in production that's actually seen any foreign sales. As is so often the case, this unit is most likely significantly overhyped by the Chinese sources (which often make dubious claims) and international media. More than likely, this is the worst tank on this list. However, its cost more than makes up for that, and combined with China's propensity to sell to even the most horrific regimes, it is very likely to find itself a key player in third world markets, where funding is limited. Furthermore, it is by far the lightest unit on this list, and among the lightest in the world. That gives it impressive strategic mobility.

It borrows a lot from the T72, and has almost every weakness of the T90 except speed, but it also has many of the series strengths. The only place it most certainly falls short is protection, which is almost certainly below the other tanks here.

As with most eastern weapons, however, there is limited information beyond speculation and official sources due to tight information control. It could have far more problems than advertised, or less than suspected.





Merkava

Pros

  • Unsurpassed survivability
  • Can carry extra passengers (including troops) or ammunition
  • Very Good protection and firepower
  • Insane secondary armament



Cons

  • Expensive
  • Lower speed
  • Poor strategic mobility



The Merkava was built around 2 things: defensive engagements and maximum crew survivability. As such, the tank is relatively slow, but heavily armored and running every trick in the book for increasing survivability. An interesting side effect is that when they stuck the engine in front (so a penetrating hit to the front still doesn't reach the crew compartment), it left a big empty space in the rear. This was used to provide a storage compartment big enough for either several dozen extra rounds, a few troops, supplies, or a combination of these. Furthermore, it got a nifty, heavily armored rear hatch to this compartment. The advertised purpose of the hatch was a safe exit point as opposed to climbing over the top of the vehicle, but it also provides entry for crews from destroyed tanks so they can still find protection, and makes it marginally effective as the mother of all infantry fighting vehicles. In addition to this, the tank has the largest secondary armament of any armored fighting vehicle I've yet seen. Most have only one or two machine guns, but the Merkava has 3, and a 60mm mortar! This makes it much better at fending off close in infantry assaults. The tank is also designed with modular armor that allows for easy replacement or addition of added protection. It should also be noted that the Merkava is optimized for rugged terrain, and is much more suited to that than most other tank designs.

However, a subject of Israeli requirements, it has little need for mobility, and is both slow in and of itself, and very hard to transport due to size and weight.





Infantry Fighting VehiclesEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL IFVs that are in production and likely to see purchase in 21C. This excludes those that are not at least extremely close to entering service, are no longer in production (this is why the M2 Bradley is missing), or are almost certain to never see foreign sales here. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing IFVs:

  • Speed
  • Amphibious capability
  • Protection (ability to prevent damage)
  • Survivability (ability to survive damage)
  • Infantry complement
  • Armament/firepower
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics





LAV/Piranha Family

Pros:

  • Fully amphibious
  • Proven design
  • Very good speed & agility
  • Most variants fully amphibious
  • Numerous variants
  • Potentially airdroppable
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Excellent to good strategic mobility



Cons:

  • Lightly armored
  • Not amphibious in LAVIII/Stryker
  • Minimal firepower
  • No integral antitank capability
  • Lower infantry compliment than many contemporaries
  • High center of gravity
  • Wheeled design



The LAV series of IFVs part of the Swiss MOWAG Piranha family of multirole armored vehicles, and include the Australian ASLAV, Candian LAVIII, and US Stryker and LAV25. They are by far the most popular type on the market in terms of number sold, with (including variants) over 8000 examples in nearly two dozen nations. These are very similar to the much later Russian BTR90 and Ukrainian BTR3U in that they place a turret on a lightly armored APC hull with emphasis on mobility rather than protection. Early variants are very fast, very light (<15 tonnes), and fully amphibious, and can even be hauled by many helicopters. They come with an impressive array of specialized variants such that an infantry brigade could literally make do with no other armored vehicles, and there have been tests proving that they could be modified to be airdroppable.

The disadvantage is that they're not much better armored than an average APC, protected against only heavy machine guns on the frontal arc, and infantry small arms on the sides and rear. IFV versions are also lightly armed just a 25mm cannon and a machine gun. Most importantly, they lack ATGM armament, requiring a separate variant to support them in that respect. The newer versions are also heavier, losing their amphibious capability and some of the strategic mobility for slightly better protection and more advanced systems. The added weight also showed problems related to a high center of gravity, which has resulted in fatal rollover accidents in both the LAVIII and Stryker. Also, while being wheeled makes them cheaper and, on paper, faster than tracked units, it also results in increased ground pressure, which reduces mobility in soft and rugged terrain.





BMP3

Pros:

  • Extremely well armed
  • Fully amphibious
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Development of widely used BMP2
  • Can fire missiles on the move
  • Low target profile
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Russians will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Only moderately armored
  • Lower survivability than many contemporaries
  • Numerous weapon types can create logistical nightmare
  • Inferior electronics to western designs



The BMP3 is an excellent all around vehicle, and runs a distant second to the LAV series in the export market, with nearly 2500 having been sold to date. What truly sets the BMP3 apart is its impressive armament: a 100mm gun that can also fire ATGMs, a 30mm autocannon, and 3 machine guns. All weapons, including the ATGMs, can be fired effectively while on the move at moderate speeds, and it somehow manages to maintain a very low target profile. The vehicle is reasonably fast, able to keep up with most tanks, and like all Russian IFVs, is fully amphibious. Armor is better than many contemporaries, sufficient to stop some 30mm rounds in the front, and machine guns at the sides and rear, but still not up to par with heavy vehicles like the M2 Bradley and Warrior.

The main disadvantage of the BMP3 is simply how much was crammed into that small hull. With the sheer amount of ammunition, it's much more likely to suffer catastrophic damage from a penetrating hit, and the Russian design philosophy also results in mines and IEDs having an above average chance of wiping out the entire infantry squad when detonating under their compartment. It's also not fully digitized like current western units though that also makes it simpler to operate.





BTR80A/90/94/3/4

Pros:

  • Based on proven design
  • Fully amphibious
  • Well armed
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Development of widely used BTR series
  • Large infantry complement in Russian models
  • Inexpensive
  • Ukraine will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Lightly armored
  • High target profile
  • Relatively low infantry complement in Ukrainian models
  • Inferior electronics to western designs
  • Purchase can anger Russia
  • Wheeled design



The Soviet Union developed an IFV modification of the venerable BTR80 shortly before breakup, and it found modest export success. In the '90s, Ukraine also developed its own versions (BTR94, BTR3, and now BTR4), which proved even more successful than the Russian ones (largely thanks to a massive order from Myanmar). While no BMP3, these still have above average armament for an IFV, including ATGMs. Like all Russian designs, the chassis is fully amphibious, and as with all BTRs, they have good road mobility and are relatively light, which is good for strategic mobility.

However, as with the similar LAV series, they're lightly armored, protected only against machine guns, and as wheeled units, mobility suffers in rugged terrain. Also, as Russian units, they lack the sophisticated electronics that characterize units like the LAVIII and Stryker, as well as enhanced survivability features. And like the BMP, the infantry seating arrangement can result in excessive casualties from mines and IEDs. Finally, at a shade under 3 meters, these are among the tallest IFVs in existence, and are much easier to spot and hit than low riding units like the BMP.





Type 92 (WZ551)

Pros

  • Dirt cheap
  • Fully amphibious
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Large infantry complement
  • China will sell to anyone



Cons

  • Lightly armored
  • Minimal firepower
  • No integral antitank capability
  • High target profile
  • Relatively low infantry complement in Ukrainian models
  • Inferior electronics to western designs
  • Wheeled design



The Type 92 IFV notably resembles a BTR80A, just with 6 wheels instead of 8, and has most of the advantages and disadvantages of that series, being a very similar design. However, in addition to the trademark Chinese cheapness, it has the advantage of being significantly lighter than those, making it much easier to deploy great distances. On the other hand, it's marginally armed, much like the LAV25, with nothing but a 25mm cannon and a single machine gun.





Patria AMV

Pros

  • Decent armor
  • Fully amphibious
  • Good speed and agility
  • Decent strategic mobility



Cons

  • No integral antitank capability
  • Relatively expensive
  • Wheeled design



This Finnish entry is another multirole wheeled design, much like the LAV series it notably resembles. However, it has the benefit of a larger gun and superior armor, somewhat exceeding the protection offered by the BMP3. Over 1500 of these have been ordered by half a dozen nations, though many are APC or support variants rather than the IFV.

It's a decent all-around vehicle outside of the obvious issues with being wheeled though even here it's better than many contemporaries due to recent advances. The lack of antitank armament does hurt though. Some variants are also pushing it on deployability, exceeding 25 tonnes.





CV90 Series 629

Pros

  • Decent armor
  • User friendly
  • Fully amphibious
  • Good speed and agility
  • Decent strategic mobility



Cons

  • No firing ports
  • No integral antitank capability
  • 40mm variant cannot fire on the move
  • Relatively expensive



The CV90 series has had moderate success, though politics played heavily as all the users are neighbors that work together on numerous issues (it serves in all four Scandanavian countries, as well as Belgium and the Netherlands). It's an average design with a degree of modularity in its armament package, which can range from 25mm to 40mm. It was developed for Scandanavian use, and thus is notable in being very user friendly for both combat and support crews, as well as capable in rugged terrain. It's also relatively light, though pushing the limits for deployability. Armor is a step above the BMP3, with similar frontal protection but better side protection, the ability to add additional armor, and a layer of passive reactive armor that improves survivability against light antitank weapons like RPGs.

On the down side, it is one of the few IFVs with no firing ports, leaving the infantry unable to participate in a fight while inside the vehicle. It also lacks any ATGM, making it vulnerable in armored combat, and the price tag is on par with some main battle tanks.





ACV300/ACVS

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Direct upgrade of M113 APC
  • Simple and reliable
  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Fully amphibious



Cons

  • Lightly armored
  • Minimal firepower
  • No integral antitank capability
  • Slow
  • Lacks advanced electronics
  • High target profile



The ACV300 is the only version of the ubiquitous LP AIFV still in production. The AIFV is little more than an M113 APC with a 25mm turret and some minor improvements, while the ACV300 replaces some components with Turkish made alternatives and adds some modern systems. It's still by far the cheapest western design, and benefits from the fact that there are well over 50,000 M113s still lying around in dozens upon dozens of nations, all of which could be upgraded. And even with new build units, most militaries are already quite experienced with the type and can adapt to it with ease. It is also fully amphibious and quite light, making it very deployable.

The disadvantages, as expected, are numerous. For one, the turret adds quite a bit to the height of the already boxy M113, pushing it in line with the BTR80 IFV variants in that area. It maintains the M113's anemic speed, being seriously outpaced by most modern AFVs. It's not digitized like most of the other western units, and with just the 25mm cannon and coaxial machine gun, it's down with the lowest units in terms of firepower. Naturally, there are no provisions for ATGMs. Finally, its armor is only sufficient against machine guns, though upgrade packages can improve that to be on par with the BMP3.



VBCI

Pros

  • Excellent electronics
  • User friendly
  • Large infantry complement
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Decent strategic mobility



Cons

  • Minimal armament
  • No integral antitank capability
  • Very expensive
  • Wheeled design
  • Unproven



The VBCI is just entering service, so not much is known just yet. We do know it's designed for ease of maintenance, and has excellent mobility. It also has a large troop compartment, and is also one of the few on the list here that's fully digitized. While lightly armored by default, protection is modular and can be increased in the field, giving it similar protection to the Finnish and Swedish units.

On the other hand, much like the LAV, it's got little more than a light cannon and a machine gun for armament, and has been shown to be rather expensive considering its combat capability. This is more useful in a peacekeeping role than frontline combat. Of course, that's what France wants, and it is already being eyed by potential export customers. While combat loaded, it's also somewhat limited in its deployability. Though the French use of the A400M rectifies this, many potential customers use smaller transports.





Puma

Pros

  • The best protection and survivability of any unit on this list
  • Excellent firepower
  • Modular design
  • Excellent electronics
  • Good speed and agility
  • Easily upgraded
  • User friendly



Cons

  • Limited strategic mobility
  • Extremely expensive
  • Low infantry complement
  • Unproven
  • German politics



The German Puma is arguably the best IFV out there right now, at least for frontline combat. It has excellent armor even in the base configuration, and can have an additional package applied in the field. And while no bigger than most other IFV guns, the Puma's carries airburst ammunition that makes it much more effective against infantry behind cover, and is one of the few western designs listed that carries ATGMs. It's targeting and electronics systems put many MBTs to shame, and it has advanced crew protection features unlike anything found in most contemporaries. The design also has extremely high growth potential.

The big issue with this is cost. This is by far the most expensive IFV out there, matching and even exceeding many MBTs in this respect. It's also by far the heaviest, exceeding 30 tonnes even in the lightest configuration, which limits its air transportability to the A400M and larger (and even the A400M might not meet this requirement). And, of course, its new and unproven, plus the standard German export restrictions.





Type 97

Pros

  • China cheap
  • Extremely well armed
  • Fully amphibious
  • Good strategic mobility
  • Development of widely used BMP2
  • Low target profile
  • China will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Only moderately armored
  • Relatively low speed
  • Lower survivability than many contemporaries
  • Numerous weapon types can create logistical nightmare
  • Inferior electronics to western designs



The Type 97 is China's answer to the BMP3. It is very similar in most respects, and thus retains most of the BMP's advantages and disadvantages. In addition, it has an exceptional speed when traversing water, though at the expense of relatively poor road and offroad performance (it's as slow as an M113). Another notable difference is that it has an internal arrangement with the engine in front, which helps increase crew survivability.

In sales, it suffers from the fact that the BMP3 is based on a more widely proliferated design, and will always have a oneup on it due to that, as well as always be in competition to it, while those who are strapped for cash will probably look for something cheaper.



Armored Reconnaissance VehiclesEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL recon units that may be purchased in 21C. This will have a slightly different format from the previous entries because, while ALL tanks and ALL IFVs are similar, recon units can vary considerably based on design philosophy. This list will exclude those based on APC or IFV chassis (a simple assumption: almost every infantry carrier has at least 1 recon variant). Similarly, the HMMWV is mostly a utility vehicle, even if there are recon variants, so that's out as well. On the other hand, this will include something normally excluded from these: units out of production. This is because new specialized recon vehicles are actually rather rare, and few nations (even modern ones) have anything newer than a quarter century old.



The primary design philosophies are the following:

Stealth: Epitomized by Germany's ultra quiet Luchs and Fennek, these are designed to run around without being seen or heard. Armament and protection are minimal. However, in addition to standard things like radar and IR reduction, they'll also go for noise reduction (the Luchs has been known to roll right by sleeping troops without waking them), and use things like extendable masts or unmanned vehicles to stay out of sight while scouting.

Confusion: While stealthy units like to go around without being seen, these want to be noticed. They're basically just a slightly modified IFV or APC, and are indistinguishable from the infantry carrying version. As a result, enemy forces that find them can mistake them for part of the main force, causing them to deploy early. Naturally, they also have to be able to hold their own in a fight. Almost every major IFV has a recon variant like this, with the US M3 Bradley being a prime example.

Mobility: The philosophy behind many Warsaw Pact units like the BRDM, as well as secondary western units like the land rover and HMMWV variants. These have minimal to moderate armament, some protection, and very good speed. In a sense, they're basically designed to find the enemy, and RUN.

Combat: These heavily armed vehicles are found mainly in Europe (French AMX10RC, Italian Centauro B1), and are essentially light tanks, with the only difference being that these are wheeled and pack more surveillance and communications equipment. In current generation units, a 105mm gun is the norm, and these can even take on tanks under the right circumstances.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing IFVs:

  • Design philosophy
  • Speed
  • Amphibious capability
  • Protection (ability to prevent damage)
  • Survivability (ability to survive damage)
  • Infantry complement
  • Armament/firepower
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics





Panhard AML

Design Philosophy: Combat & Mobility

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • They are everywhere
  • Small target profile
  • Fully amphibious
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Very well armed for its size



Cons

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Dated design
  • Limited survivability



The Panhard AML is in use with at least 40 nations, totaling over 3600 ordered to date, and as such represents one of the most prolific armored vehicles in history. While new builds aren't that likely, they are possible, and with literally thousands that could be sold used, it's not hard to get its hands on. This tiny (5.5 t) vehicle comes with either a powerful 90mm gun or a 60mm mortar, and while not up to modern tanks anymore, is quite capable as a fire support platform. It's also quite fast, and naturally easy to haul around. And cheap.

However, its design is 50 years old, and has not been that significantly updated due to lack of growth potential. As such, modern units are no different from their predecessors, and almost seem Russian in their spartan accommodations compared to modern recon units. Also, as mentioned, these are no longer effective against current tanks.





BRDM2

Design Philosophy: Mobility

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • They are everywhere
  • Fully amphibious
  • Small target profile
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Very good speed and agility



Cons

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Light Armament
  • Dated design
  • Limited survivability



The signature Russian recon unit, this is little more than a lightly armored car with a radio and a turret with 12 machine guns, and modest surveillance equipment. It is fast, and fully amphibious, and dirt cheap. It also exceeds the AML in number of users (though falls just short when you account for the former Soviet republics that just got it by default). As with the AML, with thousands already out there, sales of used units are far more likely than new builds.

Of course, it has its problems too. Like the AML, the design is ancient and has not been significantly updated. Furthermore, there have been some interesting features, such as the crew hatches being in the front of the vehicle, making evacuation in combat suicidal (some foreign variants fix this).





CVR(T) Series

Design Philosophy: Combat

Pros

  • Tracked
  • Excellent speed and agility
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Low target profile
  • Widely proliferated



Cons

  • Limited anti-armor capability
  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Dated design



Mostly represented abroad by the Scorpion light tank/recon vehicle, this versatile British platform was widely proliferated, with about 1000 units still serving in 15 nations today, giving a good potential for transfers of used units. It's most notable in that, unlike most other purpose built recon units, it happens to be tracked, which provides better mobility in soft and rugged terrain. Despite this, it retains a road speed that even wheeled units would find respectable, and is among the fastest tracked vehicles in history.

As with many others, this one has been around over 40 years, and its small size and cramped interior have limited upgrade potential. As such, these units are spartan in their features. Also, like the AML, its armament is no longer sufficient against modern tanks, though still a good fire support vehicle against other units.





Panhard VBL

Design Philosophy: Mobility

Pros:

Relatively new design

Widely Proliferated

Fully amphibious

Small target profile

Excellent strategic mobility

Very good speed and agility

User friendly



Cons

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Light Armament
  • Limited survivability



The VBL is in many ways similar to the US HMMWV, and is among the smallest and lightest units here (topping at 4 tonnes). About 750 examples serve in 16 customers, with France itself running twice that. However, unlike most other units here, it's still a relatively young design, and new build units are more likely than used. It's most notable in that it has very good gas mileage for an armored vehicle (15 mpg, 24 kmpl), and is thus cheaper to operate than many contemporaries. The design also has a large number of armament options.

However, like its HMMWV and armored land rover cousins, it's marginally protected such that even heavier small arms can penetrate, and its small size limits upgrades significantly.





Panhard ERC90

Design Philosophy: Combat & Mobility

Pros:

  • Relatively cheap
  • Development of widely proliferated AML
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Fully amphibious
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Very well armed for its size



Cons

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Dated design
  • Limited survivability



The ERC90 was developed to succeed the AML90, and is larger and better protected than its predecessor, yet it still retains a high speed. It's also notable in that the gun can elevate and depress further than in many other vehicles, which made it popular in mountainous countries. Nearly 200 were sold abroad, making it a moderate success. A similar number were procured for France after learning its own AMX10RC was too heavy for some roles, and these are soon to be retired. The later versions (F4 Sagae) are also among the few armored vehicles that are both capable of killing T72s and also traversing African bridges, which in many cases have a serious load limit that precludes heavier vehicles.

However, while effective against older T72s, this still falls short against modern armor, though by a far lower margin than the AML or Scorpion. It's also still a relatively dated design and not digitized like the most modern units.





AMX10RC

Design Philosophy: Combat & Mobility

Pros:

  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Good speed and agility
  • Excellent firepower
  • Very good electronics
  • Fully amphibious
  • Excellent road range



Cons

  • Cannot fire on the move
  • Relatively slow for a wheeled unit



The AMX10RC was the originally selected replacement for the AML, and armed with a 105mm gun. 120 were sold to foreign customers, and about 50 may be available for transfer from France, with another 250 starting in 2015. It's tied with the South African Rooikat for having the longest road range of any armored vehicle (1000 km), and is fully amphibious. It's also the only 105mmarmed unit that can be transported by a C130 in combatready configuration.

However, the AMX10RC's gun is not stabilized, so it must stop to fire accurately, and its speed, while certainly good, is the lowest of any wheeled unit here.







Centauro B1

Design Philosophy: Combat & Mobility

Pros:

  • Decent strategic mobility
  • Relatively well armored
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Excellent firepower
  • Decent electronics



Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavier than many contemporaries



The Centauro was actually developed as a lighter and more transportable alternative to the Leopard 1 tank (which Italians relegated to a reconnaissance role after it became dated). As such, it has tank level weapons and fire control, and is the most powerful recon unit in terms of armament (later variants have a 120mm gun). It's also among the best protected, actually being able to shrug off light cannons, up to 40mm in the latest versions. Speed is excellent, with road speed that matches the absolute fastest armored vehicles, and less loss on rugged terrain than many other wheeled units. It's also among the newest recon vehicles on the market, having entered service in 1991, and is still available for production. About 100 serve in foreign customers, and a further 100 were retired by Italy and could be sold.

Of course, as one would expect of a unit with few drawbacks on paper, it's going to be expensive. It is essentially a light tank after all. It's also rather heavy for a recon vehicle, and at 24 tonnes combat weight, it cannot be carried in combat ready configuration by a C130. Also, unlike most other recon units, it's not amphibious.





Fennek

Design Philosophy: Stealth

Pros:

  • Decent strategic mobility
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Excellent electronics
  • Extendable sensor mast
  • Low target profile
  • Exceptionally quiet



Cons

  • Expensive
  • Lightly armed
  • Minimal protection



The Fennek is the answer to replacing Germany's impressive Luchs reconnaissance vehicle. It's much smaller than its predecessor, and even quieter. Moreover, the Fennek is the first of a new generation of recon units with unique features, including advanced IR and acoustic signature reduction, including a telescopic mast that lets it survey the battlefield from deep behind cover (and can be set up away from the vehicle and operated remotely), and the vehicle is fully digitized. It's also fast, and has a very low target profile.

Firepower, however, consist of only a single heavy machine gun or AGL, and protection is also rather light for the 10ton class vehicle that the Fennek is. And, as expected, it's hardly inexpensive.





Rooikat

Design Philosophy: Combat & Mobility

Pros:

  • Decent strategic mobility
  • Relatively well armored
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Excellent firepower
  • Excellent road range
  • Decent electronics



Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavier than many contemporaries



The Rooikat was designed as South Africa's replacement for the Eland 90 (licensebuilt AML), and while as yet unpurchased by foreign buyers, it remains on the market. The Rooikat was designed with a focus on speed (no armored vehicle beats it) and combat range (only the AMX10RC has more than 75% of its range), rather than armor. This was based on a deep strike role and the vast desert and karoo areas that characterize much of the region. Still, it's well protected for a recon unit, sufficient against 25mm cannon on the frontal arc, which is much more than most recon units. And its gun armament is both powerful and versatile. As with other such units, it has good fire control and communications systems, even if not necessarily fully digitized.

As with the Centauro, the Rooikat is quite heavy, closing in on 30 tonnes, which makes it more difficult to transport great distances. It's also, as expected, quite expensive.





Spähpanzer Luchs

Design Philosophy: Stealth

Pros:

  • Decent strategic mobility
  • Fully amphibious
  • Very good speed and agility
  • Decent electronics
  • Exceptionally quiet



Cons

  • Lightly armed
  • Relatively heavy
  • Lightly protected for its size



The original stealth car, the Luchs, as previously mentioned, is amazingly quiet, and designed to see without being seen itself. Despite that, it's still a decent combat vehicle in its own right, with a 20mm cannon (just like its companion, the Marder IFV) and excellent road performance. Finally, it's fully amphibious. Over 400 were produced for Germany, and while never exported and out of production, the introduction of the Fennek leaves a potential for these to be sold.

On the other hand, weighing in at nearly 20 tonnes, one might expect a little more than a light 20mm cannon, and armor only sufficient to protect against the same (in the frontal arc of course).













Self-Propelled ArtilleryEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL SPH/SPG units that are in production and likely to see purchase in 21C. This excludes those that are not at least extremely close to entering service, are no longer in production, or are almost certain to never see foreign sales here. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing self-propelled artillery:

  • Speed
  • Gun caliber
  • Barrel length
  • Firing range
  • Rate of fire
  • Ammunition compatibility
  • Electronics & communications
  • Emplace/displace time
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics





K9 Thunder (155mm/52 cal)300+

Pros:

  • High rate of fire
  • MRSI capability
  • Excellent firing range
  • Has an armored resupply vehicle
  • Fast emplacement/displacement
  • Very good electronics



Cons:

  • Relatively low speed
  • Relatively heavy
  • Expensive



The K9's being in first place is somewhat deceptive it only has one foreign buyer (and through licensed production at that). But no other modern weapon can match a buy of 300 units. This is more of a defensive unit, and is hard not to compare with the similar M109, which also places speed as a secondary concern and has that nifty resupply vehicle that's not only protected, but can transfer ammunition without anyone getting out. Range is quite good 30 km with unassisted, 41.6 km with ERFBBB rounds, and up to 56 km with some assisted rounds. The K9 also has a modest MRSI capability able to fire 5 rounds such that they hit at the same time, and as expected from such a unit, can get into and out of action quickly.

On the other hand, it's not light, weighing as much or more than many tanks, and is not cheap. Of course, based on its defensive design, it's also rather slow and unable to keep up with rapidly moving armored formations.





DANA/ZUZANA (152mm/37 & 155mm/45 cal)

Pros:

  • Very light weight
  • Crew and gun compartments separated
  • High road speed
  • Inexpensive



Cons:

  • Low firing range compared to contemporaries
  • Lack of advanced electronics



The ZTS DANA was developed by Czechoslovakia, and sold a decent 175+ units to foreign buyers. The ZUZANA is a currently marketed 155mm version with improvements to bring it in line with other western guns, and in addition to new build, could also appear as an upgrade of existing DANA stocks. The most notable things with these guns are, first, that they're wheeled, and second, that the turret is placed in a separate section of the vehicle, and completely removed from the crew stations. The former results in a high road speed only exceeded by the CAESAR and G6, while the latter dramatically improves survivability, and this is one of only two units in production that meet the US Crusader requirement in that area (the other being the Archer). Also, while now standard, the DANA was the first artillery system that allowed the gun to be loaded at any elevation instead of having to be returned to rest after firing.

Of course, these are hardly as advanced as truly western designs, and their firing range has always been rather anemic compared to other units in their class the DANA being easily outranged by everything on this list.





PLZ45 (155mm/45 cal)

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Relatively low weight
  • Has an armored resupply vehicle



Cons:

  • Relatively low rate of fire
  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Painfully slow
  • Low ammunition load



A Chinese bid for the export market that includes some western technology, this is best compared to the M109A5, which it matches in most categories, being notable for its longer barrel and hence greater firing range 24 km for standard rounds and 39 km for extended range munitions. It holds well compared to older units, but cost is its main advantage. It's mainly found a home in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who account for most of the 150+ units sold.

Against more modern systems, however, it falls short. The rate of fire is almost the bare minimum for a weapon of its type, firing range is only good compared to older designs with 39 caliber barrels, and it lacks the advanced electronics systems and MRSIT capabilities of many contemporaries. Finally, it only carries 30 rounds internally, which is the lowest of any armored artillery system only truck mounted units carry less.





PzH 2000 (155mm/52 cal)

Pros:

  • Excellent rate of fire
  • Excellent firing range
  • High ammunition load
  • MRSI capability
  • Excellent electronics
  • Has an armored resupply vehicle
  • Fast emplacement/displacement



Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Very heavy
  • Rather slow



The PzH 2000 is without a doubt the absolute best unit on the market (on paper of course), and has been sweeping across NATO due to its performance. Its rate of fire is unmatched, and its firing range is equal to the K9, but with certification for the South African VLAP (longest ranged artillery round on the market) only the G652 can exceed it. As with other excellent guns, it has an armored resupply vehicle, and can get in and out of action extremely quickly. It's fully digitized and has an MRSIT capability of up to 5 rounds. Also, and quite notably, it has by far the largest ammunition load of any weapon in its class, with no other unit having more than 80% of its 60 rounds. As such, it can provide far greater sustained fire.

It is also, of course, among the most expensive units, and the heaviest, again with few units exceeding 80% of its extreme weight. It's speed is also painfully low, with only a handful of modern systems being even marginally slower. Finally, combat experience has shown that it has trouble in adverse conditions, with at least three major issues found in Afghan operations.





G6 (155mm/45 or 155mm/52 cal)

Pros:

  • Unmatched firing range
  • Very good rate of fire
  • MRSI capability
  • Exceptional protection and defensive features
  • Excellent road speed
  • Extremely fast emplacement/displacement time
  • Excellent electronics



Cons:

  • Poor cross country speed in earlier versions
  • Heavy
  • Expensive



The G6 is a self-propelled version of the exceptional G5 artillery gun, and has that weapon's amazing range and accuracy, which helped it sell over 100 units in the Middle East. The latest version (G652L) is easily a top contender for best artillery gun on the market, and has an MRSI capability of 6 (!) rounds, and a rate of fire second only to the PzH 2000. In addition, it can hurl its VLAP projectile out to 73 km in some variants, completely blowing away all competition. The G6 is also, unique for a unit of its weight, wheeled, and as such, it's a full 40% faster than units like the PzH 2000 on roads, and with the newer versions, it has amazing off road capability as well. Finally, the G6 is unique in that it is designed to survive direct attack in addition to shell fragments. The front is armored against 20mm cannon, and like APCs and IFVs, it has firing ports to allow the crew to engage assaulting infantry from inside a very valuable feature when fighting insurgents.

It is, however, not without drawbacks. The early versions had some of the worst of froad and cross country speeds of any units in their class (though more than rectified in the G652, which is also offered as an upgrade), and the unit is quite heavy, making for difficult deployment. And of course, it's hardly inexpensive.





CAESAR (155mm/52 cal)

Pros:

  • Very fast
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Very good rate of fire
  • Very good firing range



Cons:

  • Minimal protection
  • Low ammunition load
  • Very limited gun traverse
  • Expensive



The CAESAR was the first in a resurgent trend of mobile artillery weapons truck mounted guns (they previously fell out of favor after WWII). The design allows for a very fast vehicle that can be transported in a C130 something none of the armored units can claim. Naturally, it was designed for rapid deployment forces, and has sold over 80 units to foreign customers date. The CAESAR's gun was based on the best modern towed systems, and matches contemporaries in range and rate of fire, and it can emplace and displace very quickly due to its design.

However, there are obvious costs. For one, the only protection provided is in the armored cab of the truck, and the crew must be out in the open to fire the gun. For another, it only carries an anemic 18 rounds itself, and any extra rounds are unloaded from a normal truck usually by hand. As such, this is often seen more as an upgrade of towed weapons than an alternative for the armored units. And yeah, it's kind of expensive too.





Archer (155mm/52 cal)

Pros:

  • Good speed
  • Very good firing range
  • Very good rate of fire
  • Decent strategic mobility
  • MRSI capability
  • Very good electronics



Cons:

  • Limited protection
  • Expensive



Unlike the "similar" CAESAR, the Archer is an alternative to armored units, and despite being mounted on a truck chassis, is capable of operating without the crew leaving the cab. Its 155mm gun has similar range and rate of fire to other modern weapons, and with its advanced electronics, it boasts an MRSI capability of 6 rounds (matched only by the G652), and thanks to the design only armoring critical portions of the vehicle, it comes in at a rather low 30 tonnes. It can also emplace and displace extremely fast, matching the absolute best units (like the PzH 2000 and G652). Its speed of 70 km/h is also rather good compared to armored units, though still slower than most other wheeled artillery pieces.

On the other hand, its ready magazine appears to contain only half of its 40round load, and must be reloaded in the open, and only a few key areas (the cab and gun system) have any armor protection, meaning it can still be disabled relatively easily. Also, while lighter than fully armored units, it's still too heavy for most tactical transport aircraft.





2S19 Msta (152mm/48 cal)

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Compatible with Warsaw pact weapons
  • Based on T72 & T80 chasses
  • Has a self-entrenching blade


Cons:

  • Relatively slow emplacement and displacement
  • Low firing range
  • Fewer ammunition types than 155mm weapons
  • Relatively low speed



The 2S19 is the current Russian weapon, but has seen much less export success than other Russian systems (only 2 African nations have bought it). It's best compared to the M109A2/5, against which it performs decently, and it has two big advantages. The first is that, being chambered to 152mm rounds, it's one of only two modern systems that can be integrated into former Warsaw Pact clients and without requiring an entirely new ammunition stock. The other is that, being based on the T72 and T80, its automotive components are familiar to maintenance crews in those same countries. It's also, naturally, rather inexpensive, and has a nifty dozer blade that allows it to dig its own firing pits.

On the other hand, its speed is nothing to write home about, and there is much less variety in 152mm rounds than the ubiquitous 155mm NATO. Its range, 36 km with extended range munitions, is also arguably the worst of any system here. Finally, survivability is limited by the fact that this is the only system on this list that can take up to two minutes to get into and out of action most others here take less than a minute.





M109A6 (155mm/39, with option for 47 or 52)

Pros:

  • Advanced electronics
  • Practically everyone has older versions that can be upgraded
  • MRSI capability
  • Has an armored resupply vehicle
  • Fast emplacement/displacement
  • Decent strategic mobility



Cons:

  • Low firing range in base model
  • Relatively low rate of fire in base model
  • Slow



The M109A6, while presently only in service with the US, is a major potential seller, especially with modern variants. This is due to the simple fact that the M109 series is by an order of magnitude the single most prolific self-propelled system in the world today, with well over 6000 units of older models still serving in over 30 nations. Upgrading these is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying new units. The basic A6 has improved electronics and fire control, giving it an MRSI capability of 4 rounds, and it of course has that armored resupply unit. It's also quite light compared to others, with only a handful of systems weighing less than its 32 tonnes. The US also markets a version with a 52 cal barrel, rectifying two of the main deficiencies in the design.

On the other hand, the basic version has only a 39calibre barrel, which results in rather poor firing ranges compared to contemporaries (however, 45, 47, and 52caliber upgrades are available from various sellers), and it suffers from low rate of fire due to the dated gun. It's also rather slow and with limited road range again a factor of the age of the design.





PLZ05 (155mm/52 cal)

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Relatively low weight
  • Has an armored resupply vehicle
  • Good firing range
  • Good rate of fire



Cons:

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Slowest unit on this list
  • Low ammunition load



The PLZ05 is a development of the PLZ45 that includes a longer barrel and (possibly) an autoloader similar to that on the 2S19, which would result in a range and rate of fire approaching that of western weapons like the K9. Also, like its predecessor, it's relatively light.

On the other hand, all the weaknesses of the PLZ45 are present, and this is, by a slim margin, the slowest unit on this list.











Rocket ArtilleryEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL MRL (multiple rocket launcher) units that are in production and likely to see purchase in 21C. This excludes those that are not at least extremely close to entering service, are no longer in production, or are almost certain to never see foreign sales here. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing self-propelled artillery:

  • Speed
  • Rocket size/payload
  • Rocket range
  • Rate of fire
  • Reload requirements
  • Range of ammunition types
  • Electronics & communications
  • Emplace/displace time
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics





ASTROS II 127/180/300mm, 32/16/4round

Pros:

  • Excellent versatility
  • Very good firing range
  • High speed
  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Some armor protection



Cons:

  • Exclusive ammunition
  • High number of rocket variants can cause logistical problems



With about 200 units sold to 6 countries, the ASTROS II is the most successful rocket system still in production. The most unique feature of the system is the variety of options. The ASTROS accepts 5 different types of rocket (127mm, 180mm, 2 300mm unguided types, 1 300mm guided), with maximum ranges from 30 to 90 km. And, like the MLRS, can switch rocket types in the field. The 180mm and above also feature cargo-carrying variants with mines or submunitions, resulting in over 20 different rocket options, by far the most of any system. The launcher itself has an armored cab to protect crew, automated firing systems, and very good mobility. Additionally, the system is relatively light and easily transported.

On the other hand, the ASTROS is only designed to accept the Brazilian ammunition, which means it has no interoperability with any nation that's not a current user. Furthermore, the sheer number of rocket types invite supply issues, particularly for units in the field, as they become far more likely to run short of the type that's needed for a job.





BM30 300mm, 12round

Pros:

  • Very good firepower
  • Very good range
  • Good rate of fire and reload



Cons:

  • Extremely heavy
  • Relatively poor speed
  • Relatively expensive



The BM30 is the latest and biggest in the long history of Soviet truck-mounted MRLs. It's continuing to gain export success, with half a dozen customers purchasing about 130 units to date. The BM30 is an answer to the success of western weapons, whose large caliber and long range made them extremely popular, and effective against Soviet artillery. In answering, the Russians produced a system that has the same range of the larger Brazlian ASTROS variants (70-90 km), which is also higher than most MLRS variants. They retain an impressive 240260 kg payload, and a full load can be fired off in 38 seconds, and reloaded in 20 minutes. This is quite good considering the size of the system. As with most such units, there are a range of cargo rounds with submunitions and mines, as well as a standard HE.

However, everything comes with a price. This is not cheap, even compared to western designs, and weighs as much as a medium tank, limiting strategic mobility. Furthermore, the BM30 has what for many amounts to a bare minimum speed of 60 km/h.





HIMARS 227mm, 6round

Pros:

  • High speed
  • Excellent reliability in all conditions
  • Excellent strategic mobility
  • Good firing range
  • Very easy to learn and adapt to
  • Excellent variety of ammunition
  • Good electronics
  • Good rate of fire and reload



Cons:

  • Low rocket load
  • Minimal protection
  • Relatively expensive
  • Serious US policy restrictions



The HIMARS was developed as a slightly scaled down M270 MLRS that had greater strategic mobility, and could fulfill the increasing demand in the US for rapidly deployable units. With the M270 no longer in production, this is now the only new build system available, and 4 countries have already bought it. Added to that, 15 foreign nations are current or former operates of the M270, totaling over 750 examples, and many of them could upgrade to HIMARS. Essentially, the unit simply mounts a half size rocket launcher (one 6round pod instead of two) on the familiar FMTV truck, and equips it with the same communications and fire control of its larger cousin. This can easily be hauled (in combat configuration) by C130s, and even many lighter cargo aircraft like the C27J. As expected, it has most of the advantages of the M270, only lacking the protection and cross-country mobility of the armored, tracked design, and carries an impressive road speed and range in its stead.

However, the HIMARS, with only 6 rockets before reloading, can only fire a little more than half as fast as the M270 in a single engagement, and in any situation where more than 6 rockets may be needed, this does not compare favorably to contemporaries. It also carries the protection issues of any truck mounted unit, and the higher cost expected of US designs. However, the most serious problem is that last year, the Obama Administration signed a ban on the sale of cluster munitions that don't meet UN requirements (dud rate <1%). This includes the most common and important ammunition types for the HIMARS, and limits nonexistent customers to unitary weapons, which are less effective against area targets, and can be more expensive since these really need to be the guided variants in order to be effective without requiring a massive volume of fire that the HIMARS simply can't deliver.





WS1/2 304/400mm, 4 or 8/6rounds

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Excellent firing range
  • High rocket payload
  • China will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • A bit slow to set up
  • Rockets are mostly unguided
  • Relatively slow reload for most variants
  • Launcher has limited traverse
  • High minimum range
  • Accuracy issues at long range



The Weishi (WS) family of rockets and rocket launchers were developed for export, though have yet to find any buyers. These are marketed as extremely long range (100 km for WS1, 180 for WS1B, 200 for WS2) combat systems that include a 4 or 8 round (WS1/1B) or 6 round (WS2) truckmounted launcher. These weapons carry an impressive 150 kg warhead (200 kg for the WS2), or a large load of submunitions great distances.

While impressive on paper, these have their own issues. For one, the big rockets take time to set up and reload, 20 minutes in both cases for most variants. For another, as with all rockets, there is a minimum range, and it is directly related to maximum range. This is extremely high (4070 km), and can be a hindrance in fluid battles. Also, as with the Brazilian ASTROS, there's the critical issue in that literally no one uses these at present, and the launchers are incompatible with other rockets. Another hidden weakness is accuracy. While dispersion is stated as being about 1% of range, consider for a moment how much 1% of 100200 km is. Except for versions with terminal guidance (none have full guidance through the entire flight), these can miss an entire city!





RM70M/Modular 122mm, 40 round

Pros:

  • Part of BM21 family
  • High rate of fire
  • Fast reload
  • Latest variants can use BOTH BM21 and MLRS family rockets
  • Good speed
  • Good variety of warhead options
  • Inexpensive



Cons:

  • Limited range
  • Low accuracy
  • Relatively heavy for its type
  • A ton of competition
  • No major upgrade to rocket design.



The RM70 series is based off the Soviet BM21, just with a heavier 8x8 truck body that allows for a full pack of reload rockets to be carried, greatly enhancing reload. Over 400, mostly older models, are in service with 17 foreign clients, making this rather prolific. In addition to any of these could be upgraded to modern standards, and other BM21 users can use these to replace those units as well, as it fires the same type of rocket, including Chech/Slovak designs that are among the few cargo carrying versions of the Grad rocket, with a variety of submunition options. Like all BM21 series units, these overcome inaccuracy of individual rockets with sheer volume, and can quickly reload to keep a sustained fire that puts entire batteries of conventional artillery to shame. However, the most useful feature, found only on the latest RM70 Modular, is the ability to substitute an MLRS rocket pod for the 40round launcher. This is, to my knowledge, the ONLY unit that can switch between a 28round pod for Soviet bloc 122mm and, a 6ropund pod for the US 227mm MLRS in short order, and that makes it attractive to former Warsaw Pact states and clients that are now working with NATO.

However, the 122mm weapons are rather short ranged for modern times even the best upgraded ones are still under 40 km, and the original rocket has a range of half that. Furthermore, these are known to be wildly inaccurate, so expending large numbers of rockets is necessary for hitting targets. Also, while the larger vehicle allows for reload rockets and other inclusions missing from the BM21, it also results in a 150% weight increase. As such, this is too heavy for tactical airlifters. And finally, dozens of competing systems are on the market, many of which are easier for customers to adopt. Of course, probably the most telling weakness is that Slovakia does not provide an extended range rocket and all alternative designs offered have ranges of little more than the original 20 km.





Sakr Series 122mm, 21/30/40round

Pros:

  • Low cost
  • Egyptian sales not hindered by international politics
  • Part of BM21 family
  • Great variety of warhead types
  • Already adapted to numerous launch platforms
  • High speed
  • Excellent strategic mobility



Cons:

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Relatively low accuracy
  • Must be reloaded by hand
  • Requires higher control for firing
  • Lower number of rounds than contemporaries



The Sakr series is an inexpensive Egyptian upgrade to the venerable BM21 involving both a new launcher and a complete line of rockets, though retains compatibility with all other Gradseries rockets and derivatives. This has been marginally exported, with about 20 units known to have been sold to 2 nations. Though 40round versions exist, most of the launchers are smaller than traditional BM21s, being 21 (RL21) or 30 (RC30) round units, but have the advantage in that they were designed for integration onto a wide variety of chassis, including smaller vehicles. This results in these being some of the lightest and most transportable systems on the market. The rockets themselves include a wide variety of designs and warhead types. There are 3 design models (Sakr 10, Sakr 18, Sakr 36) with their designation roughly indicating firing range. The Sakr 10 is the only unit that doesn't have multiple warhead options, and is also fired from smaller, manportable and jeep mounted launchers (14 rounds). The others, on the other hand, each have two types of submunition warheads antitank with 4 (Sakr 18) or 5 (Sakr 36) submunitions, and antipersonnel with 77 (Sakr 18) or 96 (Sakr 36). While not the only source of cargo carrying rockets, no competitor has yet produced one that matches the range of the Sakr 36, giving Egypt an edge in that respect.

The biggest down side to the Sakr is that, unlike other upgrades to the BM21 system, it doesn't have a significantly improved fire control, and launchers have only the most basic systems, being reliant on commands from a higher headquarters and largely incapable of acting independently. Also, as made obvious, most launcher designs are smaller than the standard 40round unit, reducing the number of rounds, and with it the long-term rate of fire.





Pinaka 214mm, 12round

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Extremely fast reload time
  • Good rocket payload
  • Very Good electronics



Cons:

  • No other users of similar rockets
  • Low accuracy
  • Low range for size
  • Longer salvo time



The Pinaka is an Indian development based somewhat on the venerable BM21, and was designed to complement that unit with a longer ranged weapon. The 12round launcher gained popularity in with the Indian army after successful use in the Kargil Conflict, but has seen no major export orders. Electronically, this is by far the most advanced derivative of the Russian BM series, and accepts direct links to fire control centers, along with autonomous action, and can even be controlled remotely from up to 200m away. Furthermore, all systems have manual backup. Most notably, however, the weapon can be fully reloaded in a mere 4 minutes, one of the fastest times of any system on the market.

However, the unit is rather slow to fire, requiring a full 4 seconds between each rocket, which is unusually long for its type. It's also up there with the old BM21 in sheer inaccuracy dispersion being as high as 2% of range. Also, for all its original intent, its range is no better than that of improved Grad rockets, and 40round units of those can put more ordnance on target in the same amount of time. And especially since the Grad is already widely proliferated, the Pinaka has difficulty competing on the export market.





WR40 Langusta 122mm, 40 round

Pros:

  • Large, armored cab
  • Decent variety of improved rockets
  • Good firing range
  • Part of BM21 family
  • Good strategic mobility
  • Good speed
  • Good reload time



Cons:

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Must be reloaded by hand
  • Relatively low accuracy



The WR40 is easily among the best (and without a doubt newest) of the improved Grad rocket systems, and another heir to the legacy left by what is without a doubt the single most proliferated rocket artillery system in the world (over 5000 Grad launchers are in service outside of former Soviet states). The WR40 is notable in that it has an enlarged, fully protected cab that can house a 6man crew, and it has some of the best rockets available. The standard HE unit, at 42 km, has 5% greater range than the closes competing 122mm unit, and the 32km cargo round is exceeded only by the Egyptian Sakr 36. And while its fire control and communications aren't as good as western designs, they are a fair mark above the older Grad systems.

In fact, the WR40's only real weaknesses are endemic to all Grad systems, including inaccuracy and the fact that tubes must be reloaded by hand, though even that has seen some improvement made obvious by the 7minute reload time.





Valkiri/Bateleur 127mm, 24/40round

Pros:

  • Extreme strategic mobility
  • Extremely low crew requirements
  • Very good speed
  • Valkiri an be disguised as a regular cargo truck



Cons:

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Must be reloaded by hand
  • Relatively low accuracy
  • No users of compatible rockets



The Valkiri (24round) and Bateleur (40round) 127mm systems are South African systems similar to the Russian BM21, but with a different rocket. Still, they have many of the same strengths and weaknesses, but the most interesting things are with the Valkiri, which is quite small by far the smallest system listed. At a mere 6400 kg, virtually any notable aircraft can carry it, and at only 2 crew, nothing has lower manpower requirements. But most interestingly, it's specifically designed so that it can be quickly and easily disguised as a regular light cargo truck, which can be quite useful in fooling things like aerial observation. The heavier Bateleur is still transportable in a C130, but loses most of the Valkiri's advantages in exchange for protection against both small arms and mines, and an impressive 1000km road range.

Disadvantages are the same as can be found in any Grad unit, but with the added issue in that South African 127mm rockets, well, aren't used outside of South Africa. So, most potential customers would already be predisposed to an upgraded Grad.





TOROS230/260 230mm/260mm, 6/4round

Pros

  • Very good firing range
  • Comparatively low minimum range
  • Good payload
  • Decent reload time
  • Good strategic mobility



Cons

  • Poor accuracy
  • Limited rocket load
  • Currently no cargo versions
  • No users of compatible rockets



The TOROS system is a Turkish development that equips a relatively light truck unit with eith 6 230mm rockets (120 kg payload, 65 km range) or 4 260mm ones (145 kg payload, 110 km range). These are powerful weapons best compared to the Chinese Weishi series, and provide mainly strategic level bombardment against rear area positions. These are notable in that the weapon can be operated from the cab by a crew of one, which is not possible in many popular systems. It also has a very good minimum range compared to weapons with similar maximum range, allowing a much greater engagement envelope.

Unfortunately, as with the Weishi and ASTROS, the rockets are unique to this system and it does not accept any existing types that potential clients may already have. Furthermore, accuracy is atrocious dispersion averages about 2% of range (the 260mm rocket at max range will disperse more than a WS1B with 70% greater range), which makes this unsuitable for close support or pinpoint targeting. Also, while the HeFrag rocket is powerful, I have yet to see indication of submunition rounds, which this really needs to have in order to make up for the small number of rockets and poor accuracy.





Forward Area Air Defense



This is a list of the top 10 RL FAAD (Forward Area Air Defense) units that are in production and likely to see purchase in 21C. This excludes those that are not at least extremely close to entering service, are no longer in production, or are almost certain to never see foreign sales here. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least. For the purposes of this guide, a unit will be classified as a FAAD system if it has an engagement range of less than 25 km, and maintains all systems needed to track and engage an aerial target on a single self-propelled chassis. There may be fixed or towed variants as well, but it must be predominantly marketed as mobile, and capable of supporting forward combat elements.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing MERAD systems:

  • Speed
  • Deployability
  • Capability against difficult targets (stealth, low altitude, ABM, etc)
  • Weapon types
  • Weapon range/performance
  • Weapon guidance
  • Sensor types
  • Sensor range
  • Electronics & communications
  • Emplace/displace time
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics







PMSS

Pros:

  • Simple
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Decent firing range
  • Highly versatile
  • Commonality with infantry systems
  • Can be remote operated
  • Can fire on the move
  • Low crew requirements
  • Excellent strategic mobility



Cons:

  • Missile armament can be expensive
  • Weak against standoff weapons
  • Vulnerable to US politics



The PMSS (Pedestal Mounted Stinger System) is an automated mount that include 1 or 2 4round packs for Stingers or other shoulder fired SAMs, and maybe a 12.7mm machine gun. These systems can be mounted on a wide variety of chasses with little trouble, including the HMMWV (Avenger), M113 (ATILGAN), and land rover (ZIPKIN), the latter two being Turkish systems featuring a US PMSS mount. All told, nearly 500 of these have been ordered by 11 nations, including, ironically enough Russia (though for evaluation only). These have advantages in that they're relatively simple you just need the pedestal and a vehicle to stick it on. They can also be adapted to virtually any shoulder fired SAM out there. And, since such missiles acquire the targets themselves, minimal additional tracking systems are needed, though this doesn't stop the unit from getting loaded with sensors, including FLIR, EO, and laser rangefinder, and they can get "patched in" to early warning networks so they have a head's up before the target becomes visible. These can be operated remotely to allow crews to remain out of harm's way, and since the system is automated, crew requirements are as low as 2. They also compare favorably to gun based systems in that they have an effective range in excess of 5 km, well beyond most guns. Finally, unlike most systems, these can fire effectively even while moving at decent speeds, as they only need to keep the target in a missile's field of vision long enough to acquire a target lock. Finally, since they can be employed using only passive sensors, the enemy often doesn't even know they're there until the missile is launched, and sometimes, not even then.

On the other hand, there is minimal protection in most versions (though the ATILGAN protects against small arms), and while the units themselves are not expensive, their missile armament is, often driving the real cost up considerably. And, since the core component is provided by the US, that can be withdrawn based on politics. But most importantly, the Stinger is outranged by almost everything aircaft carry, except guns and some rockets and missiles. So, if the PMSS unit is identified, it can easily be engaged from beyond its own firing range.





Crotale NG

Pros:

  • Versatile
  • Very good firing range
  • Multiple tracking systems
  • Effective against highspeed targets
  • Radar guidance



Cons:

  • Lacks active guidance
  • Radars are vulnerable
  • Bulky
  • Relatively expensive



The Crotale SAM system was originally designed by France to meet South African requirements, and the French themselves were so impressed that they bought it too always a good sign. Since introduction, over 450 systems have been sold to 11 nations, most of which still use it. Like the PMSS, the Crotale uses an automated turret that can be mounted on a wide variety of armored vehicle chasses (as well as on ships), and includes all the necessary tracking and engagement systems, and can mount 4, 6, or 8 missile launch tubes. The Crotale is notable in that it is NOT IR-guided, but rather radio command. As a result, it maintains search and tracking radars, as well as backup IR tracking systems. This makes it capable of monitoring air space nad contributing to radar networks, something most contemporaries cannot do. Additionally, the system is not hindered by weather. It also has one of the greatest engagement ranges of any system here, with the latest missiles having demonstrated the ability to hit targets 15 km away.

However, the Crotale turret is rather bulky, making the system difficult to transport in many configurations. And, as with the PMSS, the missiles can be quite expensive, and the system itself is not cheap. Most importantly, the Crotale missile has only semi-active guidance, so if anything breaks its link with the launch unit, it becomes harmless, and the radars themselves can invite anti-radiation missiles and jamming.





TorM1/M2E

Pros:

  • Very good firing range
  • Effective against high speed targets
  • Effective against stealth targets
  • Effective against cruise missiles
  • Radar guidance



Cons

  • Lacks active guidance
  • Radars are vulnerable
  • Limited capability against multiple targets in older models
  • Slow to set up
  • Very expensive



The Russian Tor series are similar to the French Crotale, but using a purpose designed unit with a complete armored turret. Like the Crotale, it is good out to over 10 km (12 in this case), and utilizes a radio command guidance. Over 300 of these have been sold to at least 8 nations. The Tor was specifically designed to engage stealthy aircraft and cruise missiles, and is among the better systems for such units.

It has all the radar and semi active guidance based issues seen in the Crotale, with the addition of one more the original unit could only engage 1 target at a time, and even the TorM1 can only guide its missiles against two. Only the latest M2E, which can engage 4 targets simultaneously, can overcome saturation attacks. Finally, despit its design, the Tor takes 3 minutes to prepare to fire, limiting its ability to protect forward elements. The Tor is also the absolute most expensive unit on this list, with the M1 costing about $25 million.





PantsirS1

Pros:

  • Gun and missile armament
  • Can fire all weapons on the move
  • Large missile load
  • Excellent firing range
  • Versatile design
  • Radar search & tracking
  • EO & IR backup
  • Very good electronics



Cons:

  • Radars are vulnerable
  • Missile guidance easy to break
  • Expensive



The PantsirS1 is the long awaited replacement for the Tunguska, and utilizes a similar automated turret that can be mounted on a variety of tracked and wheeled chasses. To date, at least 5 nations have procured over 210 of these units, which means it has already outsold its predecessor with just a few years on the market. The Pantsir is notable in that it has a whopping 12 ready to fire missiles, 50% more than the next closest competitor and the gun itself can come close to the range of units like the PMSS. However, it's most notable in that it is probably the only unit capable of effectively firing both guns and missiles while on the move (though probably only at modest speeds, say 30 km/h). And while the radar is not quite up to par with that of the TorM1 on lowRCS targets, it can detect the average aircraft an impressive 36 km away, the greatest distance of any unit listed. Similarly, the missiles have been stated as being effective to 20 km (take it with a grain of salt!), which would still, even if notably overstated, put this as the longestranged unit on this list. And, like the Tor, the Pantsir can engage up to 4 targets simultaneously. Perhaps most interesting is that the Pantsir can do something that few eastern systems can, but is common in western units: it possesses an onboard datalink system that can share information among up to six launchers, generating a miniature integrated defense network.

The main weaknesses of the unit are endemic to all similar systems, the main being that the SACLOS guidance is easy to disrupt, though that's admittedly not as big a deal with the short range of engagements. Moreover, while it has much greater range, the radar is not as effective as those on other systems like the Tor in tracking stealth targets, and with everything held on the small turret, a single anti-radiation missile will completely disable the entire unit, if not destroy it.





Tunguska M1

Pros:

  • Gun and missile armament
  • Can fire guns on the move
  • Good firing range
  • Radar search & tracking
  • Decent electronics



Cons:

  • Radars are vulnerable
  • Missile guidance easy to break
  • Expensive



The Tunguska was developed as a response to the deficiencies of the venerable ZSU234 in light of new, armored aircraft like the A10 and AH64. It was found that a 30mm weapon required only 33-50% as many shells to achieve the same kill probability, while doubling effective range. In order to further improve the unit, 8 launchers for the SACLOS 9M311 missile were added, which doubled even the 30mm gun's range (8 km vs 4). The unit became reasonably successful, and over 200 have been sold to 3 nations so far, and the introduction of the Pantsir does not seem to have halted marketing of the Tunguska. Upgrades for the current TunguskaM1 increased missile range to a respectable 10 km, which outranged most antitank missiles. The unit's guns are fully stabilized, and while it must stop to fire missiles, it can use the guns while on the move. The radars, while inferior to most others on this list, are more than sufficient considering the missile range, and the Tunguska can patch into early warning networks to receive targeting information much like many western units do.

The Tunguska system is almost identical to the Pantsir, save being a generation behind. This means it's heavier and bulkier, such that it's only been employed on a standard armored chassis, and the missile guidance is even easier to disrupt due to the requirement that it must be done manually. And just like the Pantsir, this is expensive.





ZSU234MP "Biala"

Pros:

  • Direct upgrade of ZSU234
  • Inexpensive
  • Passive detection and tracking
  • Both gun and missile armament



Cons:

  • Weak ammunition
  • Very poor speed
  • Weak against standoff weapons



The Biala is the newest upgrade of the venerable ZSU234, though certainly not the only one. With some 2500 of these still serving in over 30 nations, that's a lot of potential requests for upgrade or replacement. The two things that make the Biala stand out are that it has new guns and ammunition, and replaces the radar with a passive sensor suite (specifically EO). This means that this is has the greatest ambush potential of any unit here, as the only indications of attack would be tracers (if even used) and the effects of the rounds slamming into their target. The new guns fire subcaliber rounds that increase effective range to 3.5 km, and it mounts launcher for 4 shoulder-fired SAMs on top of the turret twice as many as the latest Russian upgrade. The Biala also has decent electronics, and like most western units, can receive targeting information from other units to improve its own reaction time.

Of course, the Biala is limited by the original design. The 23mm shells were already anemic in the 1970s, and their poor hitting power has not been significantly improved in this design, just the range. The ZSU is also ungodly slow = it's 50 km/h road speed hasn't been respectable since the 1960s and is wholly insufficient for keeping up with modern armored formations conducting mobile warfare. On the other hand, if it were used to cover defensive forces . . .





Type 95

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • EO & IR tracking
  • Radar backup
  • Gun and missile armament
  • China will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Weak ammunition
  • Anemic sensors
  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Poor speed
  • Weak against standoff weapons



Believed to be at least partially derived from the older Italian SIDAM25, this is a quad25mm AA system that, despite having some missiles, may be the cheapest unit here (only the K30 and Biala might cost less). The Type 95 combines 4 enhanced 25mm AA guns with a launcher for 4 shoulder fired SAMs to provide modest point defense. It combines IR, EO, and Radar tracking to provide an allweather day/night capability similar to other world AA systems (the first Chinese unit to do so).

However, its sensors are all anemic, and its missiles actually outrange the EO and IR units, while the radar itself is only good to 11 km by far the shortest range of any listed radar. Also, like the Biala and older ZSU234, the 25mm guns on this aren't particularly powerful, and planes tend to shrug off multiple hits. Also, its speed is the second worst of any unit here, with only the Biala being slightly slower. As such, it has difficulty keeping up with advancing forces.





K30 Biho

Pros:

  • Radar tracking
  • IR & EO backup
  • Highly accurate
  • Relatively inexpensive



Cons:

  • Relatively low speed
  • Poor firing range
  • No missile armament
  • Weak against standoff weapons



The South Korean K30 Biho is an inexpensive antiaircraft system employing two radarguided 30mm cannons. Ir has a modest radar (17 km search, 7 km tracking) system backed up by FLIR and optical sensors, which is relatively standard in this day and age. Most importantly, it's one of the more inexpensive systems here, with adequate, but not expensive, electronics systems, mostly Korean components, and no missiles to drive up the cost.

Of course, without missiles, the 3km range of the guns is by far the shortest of any unit on this list, with the next closest competitor beating the Biho by 33%. It's also not particularly fast. While its 60 km/h is fine for defensive operations, it simply cannot keep up with modern armor when advancing.





Machbet

Pros

  • Upgrade of M163
  • Gun and missile armament
  • Cheap
  • Radar tracking



Cons

  • Made in Israel
  • Extremely poor gun range
  • Weak ammunition
  • High rate of fire uses up ammunition very quickly
  • Weak against standoff weapons



The Machbet is pretty much the only upgrade to the M163 PIVADS (Product Improved Vulcan Air Defense System) and older M163 VADS. The PIVADs was already virtually obsolete by the time it was introduced, though about 10 nations still maintain them, with active and stored units numbering at least 1000. This is an upgrade only unit, as no one would procure this as new. But, for those who can't afford anything better, it is cheap, and does maintain a radar tracking system. Also, the Israeli upgrade stuck a quadpack of Stinger missiles on, compensating for the weaknesses of the gun. The Israelis did take a cue from others and allowed their upgraded unit to use tracking and targeting information from other sources for improved reaction and situational awareness, something the unit badly needed.

As I hinted, the VADs was never an effective air defense system, due largely to the choice of armament. The 20mm Vulcan's original ammunition was good to a whopping 1.2 km, and even improved ammunition design implemented in the PIVADS only got it up to 2.6 km. As such, these guns have the worst range of any weapons on this list. Add to that, it has the weakest shells of any of these weapons, though the extreme rate of fire helps compensate for that, but not without imposing its own issue in that the unit burns through ammunition FAST. And finally, the unit is made in Israel, which is quite significant considering 4 of the 10 other nations with stocks of the M163 are Islamic and, politically, simply are not going to buy this, or even sell to anyone else so Israel can upgrade.





PZA Loara

Pros

  • Excellent tracking capability
  • Radar tracking
  • EO & IR backup
  • Highly accurate
  • Based on T72 hull
  • Good electronics



Cons

  • Relatively expensive
  • Relatively slow
  • No missile armament
  • Weak against standoff weapons



The PZA Loara is a higher end Polish system that complements the Biala. Okay, actually the Biala is there because the Loara was too expensive. Regardless, this is a decent system employing a pair of the venerable Oerlikon 35mm AA guns, and is effective out to 4 km. Interestingly, with the ability to track up to 64 targets at once, this is the best unit of its type in that area, and in Polish service, these are used almost like command vehicles, providing targeting information to less advanced AA units. Furthermore, the Loara can itself take information from other radar networks. It's supposed to be quite accurate as well, and I've heard (though not confirmed) of it being able to engage artillery shells in flight, which would also make it effective against cruise missiles. Also, and a big seller for many nations, the Loara uses the hull of the PT91 or T72, making it very easy for many former Soviet clients to adapt to.

Unfortunately, it carries no missiles, giving it one of the shortest engagement ranges of any units here. It's also one of the slowest, and while sufficient for keeping up with slower current tanks (like those from Russia and Poland), it can be outpaced by modern armor in a highspeed battle. Also, as noted by the Polish military, it's not cheap.







Medium Range Air DefenseEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL MERAD (Medium Range Air Defense) units that are in production and likely to see purchase in 21C. This excludes those that are not at least extremely close to entering service, are no longer in production, or are almost certain to never see foreign sales here. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least. For the purposes of this guide, a unit will be classified as a MERAD system if it has a range of greater than 25 km, but less than 60 km, with a minor exception of also including units with lesser range that are employed in a battery format (a single guidance unit controlling multiple launch vehicles).



Key Things to Look At When Choosing MERAD systems:

  • Capability against difficult targets (stealth, low altitude, ABM, etc)
  • Missile options
  • Missile guidance
  • Missile performance
  • Sensor types
  • Sensor range
  • Electronics & communications
  • Emplace/displace time
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics







Pechora2M

Pros:

  • Dirt cheap
  • Direct upgrade of a massively proliferated system
  • Based on a combat proven system
  • Very effective against low flying targets
  • Capable of engaging ground units (!)
  • Powerful warhead
  • Some ABM capability



Cons:

  • Takes awhile to set up
  • Still based on a very old system
  • Big and bulky missiles
  • Sluggish missile



The S125 Pechora (NATO: SA3 Goa) has had a long history of combat and success starting with its use against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, literally hundreds, if not thousands, of batteries were sold to 35 nations, 24 of which still operate the weapon, and successes have continued to appear even against advanced western aircraft (F16s in Iraq, F117s in the Balkans, etc). The 2M was first introduced in 1999 as an upgrade for Egypt’s 53 batteries, and at least a dozen nations have since purchased to modernize their entire force. Since many customers each have, like Egypt, literally dozens of fire units, the sheer number of units sold is off the charts, probably eclipsing everything else here combined. The 2M is built around three major changes: the first, of course, is a more advanced engagement system that includes both a radar, and IR/EO backup, along with a host of new communications and enhanced survivability features. These not only allow passive engagement and circumventing dense ECM environments, but also provide vastly improved performance against low flying, and even ground targets (hey, the warhead is big and powerful, so whatever works). In fact, the 2M’s capability against small, low flying targets is supposed to be well above average. The second is a revamped missile that has improved propulsion, makes use of modern electronics to improve effectiveness and shelf life, and incorporates an advanced, powerful warhead, which can take out almost any target if it gets within so much as 20 meters (about 4 times the lethal burst radius of the average missile). The third is probably the most significant – the original Pechora was essentially fixed, and between taking it down and setting it up again, it literally took hours to relocate a launch site. The 2M, however, mounts a pair of missiles on a light truck that acts as a TEL (transporter erector launcher), and takes about 1/6th as long in that area. All told, the Pechora is an extremely cost effective system that provides a decent capability (superior to the latest HAWK21 in most respects) against modern aircraft out to 3035 km, as well as cruise missiles, soft ground targets, and even gives a modest ABM capability. But most importantly, it is extremely cheap, and allows current S125 users to get a relatively modern air defense system at bargain basement prices.

However, when it’s all said and done, the 2M is still based on a very old system. For one thing, the missile is quite sluggish, and against high performance aircraft may still miss more often than might be desired, especially at longer ranges (single shot hit rate drops to about 50% after 20 km). It’s also very big only 2 missiles per launcher, with long reload times that result in limited ability in sustained combat. And, while a vast improvement, these still take quite some time to set up and take down compared to most modern systems.





Skyguard/Spada 2000

Pros:

  • Proven design
  • Widely proliferated
  • Commonality with air launched missiles
  • Includes guns and missiles
  • Easily transported



Cons:

  • Takes time to set up
  • Most components are trailer mounted



The Skyguard 2000 and Spada 2000 are a pair of upgraded systems based around the Aspide 2000 missile. The Aspide is an improved AIM7 Sparrow produced by Italy, and like the Sparrow was adapted to a ground launched role, where it has found an enduring home even as the air launched version fell out of favor. Unlike the Sparrow, however, these also saw service in land based systems, of which over 40 fire units are operated by 4 foreign customers. While all of these have already been upgraded, another 9 nations employ the Aspide on ships, and might consider a ground based version. Similarly, dozens of others would see these as a good transition because they’re already familiar with the Sparrow. Also, these systems are often employed as two tier weapons, including both the 28km Aspide and 35mm AA guns for work up close. All components are also light weight and easily transported.

However, all components are also mounted on trailers, which entails two issues: these take longer to set up than many other units, and are far less capable of quickly relocating if their position is compromised.





BukM12/M2E

Pros:

  • All systems on a single vehicle
  • Reload vehicles can fire missiles
  • Excellent range
  • ABM capability



Cons:

  • Missiles are large and bulky
  • Onboard radar underpowered
  • Expensive



The BukM12 (SA17) is a development of the Buk system (SA11), which itself was developed to replace the dated Kub (SA6). All 3 systems have significant commonality, making it easy to upgrade older units to newer standards. The M12 was actually a stopgap upgrade that provided half of the advances of the recently fielded M2 system (also SA17). To date, about 20 M12 and M2 units may have been procured by 2 nations (not yet confirmed), with a further 5 clients operating about 50 more M1 fire units that could be upgraded as well. These are most notable in that they’re the only systems here where each launcher has all the systems needed to engage a target, and can thus operate independently. However, the missile reload vehicles are also capable of firing themselves, and between those and older versions, it’s common to see only 1/3 of launchers actually equipped with radars as a costcutting measure. These have exceptional range for their class, 50 km with the upgraded missiles and 34 with the older ones, and the new missiles have a modest ABM capability to boot.

However, the vehicle’s onboard radar can only track targets out to the maximum range of the missile, and thus needs higher support from a more powerful radar (mounted on the same chassis) in order to maximize its effectiveness. Furthermore, the missiles are large and bulky, so only 4 can fit on the launcher. And, though this was with slightly older versions, there have been complaints that these are too susceptible to western electronic countermeasures, leaving some doubt as to their effectiveness.





SLAMRAAM/NASAMS

Pros:

  • Highly versatile
  • Commonality with airlaunched missiles
  • High mobility
  • Active guidance
  • Very good range
  • Multiple missile options
  • Good electronics



Cons:

  • Expensive
  • US politics



These are two systems based around the same missile, differing mainly in the radars and communications equipment used. To date, at least 6 nations outside the US have procured these, totaling 20+ fire units. Essentially, these systems use the venerable AIM120 airtoair missile adapted to fire from ground launchers. This provides good medium range coverage for mobile forces, with an unusual advantage over most systems in its category in that it uses an active seeker. As with the airlaunched version, the missile is launched in the general direction of the target, and given midcourse updates as it progresses, only switching to its onboard seeker once it gets within several kilometers of the target. As such, the target will know it’s being tracked, but may not be aware it’s been engaged until mere seconds before impact. SLAMRAAM also has 3 missile options: the basic missile is based on the AIM120C and has a range of 33 km, while the SLAMRAAMER has an ESSM body with an AMRAAM seeker, and is good to 40 km. Finally, the AIM9X can be used for point defense out to 10 km. SLAMRAAM is quite versatile and be launched from a number of platforms, including an HMMWV, the NASAMS box launcher (itself towed, fixed, or truckmounted), and even a modified launcher for the older HAWK missile (see HAWK 21 below). In fact, a current program is going so far as to work on firing the missile from modified HIMARS rocket launchers, allowing the artillery system to provide its own air defense! And, like any good US system, these are fully capable of integrating into, and sharing targeting information with, other air defense networks such as the Patriot and older HAWK.

Of course, like any good western system, it costs an arm and a leg, and, of course, US politics can be a killer here, regularly striking down potential buyers.





SPYDER

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Commonality with airlaunched missiles
  • High mobility
  • Active guidance
  • Multiple missile options



Cons:

  • Lower range
  • Made in Israel



The SPYDER (Surfacelaunched PYthon and DERby) could really be considered a SLAMRAAM Lite option. It follows the familiar line of using modified airtoair missiles in a groundlaunched platform. Following Israel’s trademark “good enough” mantra, the system is very inexpensive compared to its peers that throw in everything but the kitchen sink, and two foreign customers have shown interest by procuring 21 fire units. In fact, the cheapest option gives you an entire battery for less than the cost of a single TorM1 launch unit, which is quite impressive. Of course, if you want the mediumrange version, it does cost more. All components are mounted on a light truck chassis that is both fast and easy to transport, and all missile options have active guidance with both lockonbeforelaunch and lockonafterlaunch capability.

The main issue is that most versions sold so far are actually rather short ranged, with 15km being advertised, and probably about 25 km for the Derby. The SPYDERMR, which is not yet fielded, is supposed to extend this, but will cost quite a bit more, and lose the lockonbeforelaunch capability. This also, as said, lacks many of the advanced features of other units, and being made in Israel, it automatically carries a stigma that will prevent a large number of potential customers from even considering it as an option.





HAWK21

Pros:

  • Upgrade of a proven system
  • Very good range
  • Powerful warhead
  • Inexpensive
  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Some ABM capability
  • Multiple missile options
  • Very good electronics



Cons:

  • Trailermounted
  • Big, sluggish missile
  • US politics



The MIM23 HAWK was a US mediumrange missile similar to the Soviet S125 Pechora. And, despite initial version being overly complex and horribly unreliable, about 25 customers eventually bought it as problems were gradually fixed. Upgrades continued throughout the 1990s, culminating in the final HAWK21, which actually bears significant commonality with the joint US/Norwegian NASAMS system, including the same radar and control units. This system was designed to provide extended and expanded performance, including capability against some ballistic missiles. Though many users have, or are going to, retire these, that leaves open transfers to other nations, and 2 current users have already upgraded about 20 fire units to this standard, and another six might be considering. In addition to providing modern radar and communications equipment, the HAWK21 also uses the improved MIM23K missile, which utilizes an improved engine to reach a respectable 45 km engagement range, and has an improved warhead that grants a much larger blast radius (probably around 15m, or 3 times the average SAM/AAM). Finally, as mentioned in the SLAMRAAM section, the HAWK21 can employ a modified launcher that hold 8 SLAMRAAM missiles and/or AIM9X. Since it uses the same fire control system, there is no modification needed to do this other than the modified launcher design, which is also still capable of carrying the basic HAWK missile.

Of course, there are drawbacks. The HAWK’s systems are all trailer mounted, which results in longer setup and take down times, increasing relocation time over more modern systems. The missile is also, as with so many other older units, rather big and sluggish. And while its overall hit probability is high, it drops significantly at the extreme range (both long and short) due to lower ability to cope with agile targets.





Akash

Pros:

  • Highly accurate
  • Versatile
  • Inexpensive



Cons:

  • Rather short range
  • Less advanced electronics
  • Unproven



The Akash is India’s foray into medium range SAMs, and is based at least in part on the design of the Russian Kub (SA6) missile. This incorporates a ramjet propulsion that allows the missile to maintain its speed and powered flight for its full 30 km engagement range, allowing it greater terminal agility than some other missiles. The system has already been integrated to a number of wheeled and armored chasses, and is expected to be relatively inexpensive as it achieves full rate production.

However, for all the hype, the missile is constantly compared, by its own developer, to weapons that have over 50% greater range, while in its own class, it’s overshadowed by units that have much more capable and useful active guidance systems. It’s also nowhere near as sophisticated as some other systems, displaying something closer to the Israeli “good enough” philosophy. And, of course, the system is unproven, while most competitors have either seen direct combat, or are descended from something that has.





LSII

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Commonality with air launched missiles
  • High mobility
  • Active guidance
  • Multiple missile options



Cons:

  • Lacks advanced electronics
  • Dated missile technology



The LS (Lie Shou) II is essentially the Chinese equivalent of the US SLAMRAAM. It incorporates surface launched versions of the PL12 and PL9 missiles onto the Chinese equivalent of the HMMWV, with a radar system to provide long range detection and tracking. In fact, aside from the obvious performance gap, the main difference is the LSII only has 4 missiles per launcher, instead of the 6 on its American counterpart. And it has most of the same advantages, along with being very inexpensive, as expected from a Chinese unit, and it certainly has added value to any of the numerous customers who already use Chinese aircraft and missiles.

On the other hand, the LS II is hindered by the simple fact that its missiles are a generation behind. The PL12 is considered on par with the AIM120A AMRAAM, not the C/D variants seen on the SLAMRAAM, and the PL9 is similarly a bit behind the latest dogfighting missiles. While there is room for upgrades, that does pose a problem.





KS1A

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Excellent range
  • Big warhead



Cons:

  • Very bulky missile
  • Weak against maneuvering targets
  • Lack of advanced electronics



The KS1A almost appears to be a mating of the venerable HQ2 (Chinese SA2) and the US HAWK. The missile and guidance bear more than a passing resemblance to the latter, even if the former was the basis. This unit was not adopted by the PLA in any significant numbers (dumped in favor of license built Russian weapons), but remains a potential export unit. Its main claims to fame are based on its huge missile, which can reach out to 50 km, and has a very big, very powerful warhead that can still take out an aircraft even if it doesn’t get closer than a few dozen meters. And, of course, the system is Chinacheap.

However, the KS1A represents an early Chinese attempt, and has taken forever to go through due to working to correct unsatisfactory performance. Most problems, however, are factors of its missile. For one, the huge missile cannot be carried on any launcher in significant numbers, so the mobile KS1A launcher only carries 2, and it takes awhile to reload. More importantly, the missile itself is sluggish, and has trouble dealing with agile, maneuvering targets.





LY60

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Based on Aspide missile
  • Airtoair version available
  • Good electronics for an eastern design
  • Above average number of radars increases redundancy



Cons:

  • Poor range
  • Relatively large footprint
  • Poor singleshot hit probability



The LY60 is yet another Chinese design, this time utilizing a missile based on the Italian Aspide as the basis. Now, supposedly the system is more resistant to jamming than many contemporaries (which ones, however, I’m not told). The Chinese also, somewhat ironically, adapted this in the airtoair role as the PL10. The LY60 also took an unusual step for allowing multipletarget engagements without an advanced radar: a typical battery has 3 fire control radars for only 6 launchers, which allows it to engage 3 targets at once without needing a pricey multichannel guidance radar.

The biggest issue for the LY60 is its short range only 18 km. This makes it the worst in that area by a fair margin. It’s dated technology also results in a rather low chance of a singleshot kill (6070%), thus practically requiring at least 2 missiles fired at any target. And finally, while the large number of radars increases redundancy, that also results in another two vehicles needing to be transported for deployment.

















Long-Range Air DefenseEdit

This is a list of the top 10 RL LORAD (LOngRange Air Defense) units that are in or near production, and likely to see purchase in 21C. This list really doesn't exclude much outside a handful of units no longer in production that do not have significant current upgrades (hey, just finding these 10 took some digging). The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least. For the purposes of this guide, a unit will be classified as a LORAD system if it has a range of greater than 60 km.



Key Things to Look At When Choosing MERAD systems:

  • Capability against difficult targets (stealth, lowaltitude, ABM, etc)
  • Missile options
  • Missile guidance
  • Missile performance
  • Sensor range
  • Electronics & communications
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • COST
  • Politics





S300PMU1/2

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Excellent range
  • All components are fully mobile
  • High missile speed
  • Moderate ABM capability
  • Containerized missiles
  • Multiple missile options in later versions.
  • TVM guidance in latest versions
  • Russians will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Lack of advanced electronics
  • Outdated guidance system in earlier models



In terms of number of units sold, the S300 complex is the world’s most exported modern air defense system – though this is deceptive in that one customer (China) is responsible for over 1/3 of all sales. All told, well over 100 fire units are operated by 11 countries outside the former Soviet Union, and that number continues to grow. The S300 is notorious as the best the east has to offer, and is at least equal to the US Patriot in most areas. One of the more interesting factors is that the missiles have an extremely high initial velocity (hypersonic in fact), which greatly reduces reaction time for closer targets, and also results in them being able to hit targets an impressive 150 km away. As with the Patriot, the upgraded PMU systems have an increased capability of dealing with some ballistic missiles. The later PMU1 and PMU2 also allowed multiple types of missiles, including two smaller and shorterranged weapons that could be used for closer targets as a costcutting measure. A special advantage of the S300 is that its storage containers and launch containers are one and the same, and the missiles themselves can go 10 years without so much as a checkup. Thus, it’s much faster and easier to press stored missiles into active service.

However, unlike current western systems, the S300 isn’t as able to fully patch into advanced air defense and early warning networks, and in particularly cannot share guidance information. Furthermore, all models prior to the PMU1 upgrade use semiactive radar homing, which is a less reliable method that is more prone to jamming and loss of guidance. The PMU1 and PMU2, however, correct this deficiency by incorporating Patriotstyle TVM guidance.





Patriot PAC2/3

Pros:

  • Advanced electronics
  • Modular system
  • Very good strategic mobility
  • Multiple missile options
  • Good range in later models
  • Full ABM capability
  • TVM guidance
  • Most widely used SAM system



Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Most components are trailermounted
  • PAC3 has limited range



While the S300 can claim the award for greatest number exported, it doesn’t even come close to the Patriot in number of users – the Patriot, with 16 export customers, has 50% more, though it’s 75+ fire units aren’t quite up to the sheer number of S300s. The Patriot is most notable for its modular design, which has allowed it to be upgraded and customized to a degree and with such ease that many other systems simply can’t match. It also introduced the TrackVia Missile (TVM) guidance system, which is a variation on active radar homing that also has the missile sending its information back to the guidance center, and open to further instructions. This is more effective against jamming and targets that dip below the horizon, and much more versatile than regular active homing. Furthermore, a wide variety of missiles are available, including the standard missile, a missile specifically designed to take out jammers (MIM104B), expanded version specialized for engaging cruise missiles (GEMC) and TBMs (GEMT), and finally the PAC3 antiballistic missile, which is small enough that 4 of them can be fitted into a single launch cell (thus, a typical arrangement is 3 larger missiles and 4 PAC3). While the original missile had a stated range of only 70 km, later models have rectified this to 100, and even 160 km according to some sources. Finally, and this is a real killer, the Patriot system can be integrated into an air defense network to a degree most competitors can’t even hope to match – to the extent that it can use information from external sources, such as AWACS, to guide its missiles.

But, the Patriot is not without its faults. Especially if the amazingly expensive PAC3 missile is procured, this is an extremely expensive system, and while it allows for improved strategic mobility, the fact that all components are mounted on trailers reduces the unit’s ability to respond to ground threats. Also, the PAC3 missile, being hittokill, is not only expensive, but also very limited in engagement range, and is wholly insufficient for providing air defense on its own. Of course, that may be just as well considering it costs 23 times as much as the standard missiles.





S300VM

Pros:

  • Full ABM capability
  • Decent range
  • Multiple missile options
  • Mounted on armored chassis
  • Containerized missiles
  • Launch vehicle has its own radar
  • Russians will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Large missile is sluggish
  • Specialized
  • Lower range against air targets in older models



The S300V, despite its designation, should not be confused with the S300. Though it came out of the same program, it is a completely different system using different missiles and radars for a different role. That role is ABM, and the original S300V was the first specialized conventional ABM system. The older S300V was never exported, and because of its more specialized nature, only 2 export customers have bought the VM, with one of those only acquiring a single unit for evaluation. The other, however bought 12 units, giving this a solid 3rd place. The S300V fires very big missiles that have much shorter ranges than those of the S300, but much, much more powerful warheads that can ensure the destruction of a ballistic missile even without kinetic impact. The system utilizes two different missiles – either 2 very large, longrange ABM units, or 4 smaller missiles with slightly shorter ranges that are also effective against aircraft. In the original S300V, these had modest ranges for their size (100 and 75 km, respectively), though the VM has improved that significantly. Also, the original had to have a different specialized launch vehicle for each type, though this appears to be rectified in the VM.

Still, the S300VM has issues. It’s still highly specialized, and far less capable against high performance aircraft and smallRCS targets than similarpriced competitors. And the missiles themselves, optimized against targets with a predictable flight path, are not as agile, and thus easier to evade. As a result, most customers have preferred the S300, which while less effective against ballistic missiles, is far more so against other targets.





THAAD

Pros:

  • Can engage ballistic missiles at all phases of flight
  • ASAT capability
  • Excellent range and altitude



Cons:

  • Highly specialized
  • Extremely expensive



THAAD is the US’s new antimissile wonder toy, and to date, one relatively firm customer has already appeared outside the partner nations, seeking 2 fire units. Complementing MEADS/PAC3, THAAD is a highly specialized longrange system that overcomes the main weakness of others like the PAC3 and S300VM, which is that they can only engage missiles during their terminal phase, and only if the missile is heading toward their general location. Thus, if a missile is hitting a more distant target, they will not be in range. To date, THAAD and its naval counterpart, the SM3, are the only systems in the world that overcome this deficiency. THAAD, through its high altitude capability (150 km 5 times that of conventional SAMs), is capable of engaging these outside the terminal phase, and even during the boost and midcourse phases for shorterranged weapons. And with a long rang e to go with it (estimated at 200+ km), the system need only be placed somewhere the missile is expected to fly near. A side effect is that THAAD is also capable of engaging some loweraltitude satellites.

Of course, all of this comes at a cost. A phenomenal ones at that, with each fire unit costing several billion. Also, being highly specialized, and with missiles that cost more than some aircraft, the THAAD is not suited for engaging anything aside from its primary target of ballistic missiles. This makes it unnecessary for most nations.





S400

Pros:

  • Exceptional range
  • Multiple missile options
  • Advanced electronics
  • ABM capability
  • High missile speed
  • Containerized missiles
  • TVM guidance
  • Russians will sell to anyone



Cons

  • Underpowered radar
  • Deceptive stats
  • Expensive



The S400 is considered by many to be the biggest, baddest air defense system on the block. And, while it hasn’t seen any firm export sales yet, there is at least one committed future customer, and a number of potentials. The big selling point of the S400 is its super longrange missile, which is stated to be effective out to 400 km. Naturally, this isn’t going to be effective against combat aircraft or cruise missiles, so a number of smaller missile options also exist. These include two smaller interceptors in the 80120 km range class, which can be fitted with 4 missiles to a tube just like the US PAC3, the big 400km missile, and a derivative of the S300PMU missile that’s good to over 200 km. It can also fire all previous S300 missiles. Like the Patriot, multiple missile types can be loaded on the same launcher, with a common configuration being four of the smaller missiles in one tube, and 3 larger ones in the others. The S400 is stated as meeting the full treaty limits for an ABM role (capable of engaging a 3500km MRBM), and its big missile gives it a powerful weapon against highvalue strategic targets like AWACS and ELINT aircraft. Also, the big missile is stated at being capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 12, which leaves minimal reaction time, even at long distances.

On the other hand, the system’s tracking radars are currently insufficient for making full use of the big missile (range of only 300 km), and only in future upgrades will this be rectified. Furthermore, the 400km stats are deceptive in that, with the exception of ballistic missiles, it’s not likely to find many suitable targets at that range to begin with. And for ballistic missiles at that range, there's a decent chance it won't be able to make it in time due to lack of early warning from the radar. In other words, the 400km range is probably more a publicity stunt than a reality. It’s also extremely expensive due to the radar and electronics requirements, as well as the significant number and variety of missiles.





SAMP/T

Pros

  • High commonality with naval counterpart
  • Good range
  • Active radar guidance
  • Very good against lowaltitude targets
  • ABM capability
  • Multiple missile options
  • Excellent electronics
  • System allows for wide dispersion



Cons

  • Radar is underpowered
  • Greater altitude restrictions
  • Expensive
  • Subject to multinational politics



The SAMP/T (SolAir Moyenne Portée Terrestre, French for surfacetoair medium range land) is essentially a groundbased PAAMS system. It includes many of the same radars and control systems, along with the same missiles. As a result, it eases interservice logistics for nations that employ PAAMS or Aster in a naval capacity. As expected, it has the benefits of PAAMS in that it is much more capable against cruise missiles than many contemporaries, and is one of the few longrange weapons that has active terminal guidance, which also allows it to engage targets below the radar horizon. As with the Patriot, its modular system is easily upgraded, and can be integrated into existing defense networks to share tracking and targeting information. Furthermore, SAMP/T can use both the cheaper and shorterranged Aster 15 (30 km) for closein work, and the 120 km Aster 30 for longreach. And just to make it a bit more survivable, the system supports high dispersion, with launchers located as far as 10 km from the control center. Finally, the Aster has a modest ABM capability, which will be improved considerably with the introduction of the next Block upgrade for the Aster 30 missile.

However, SAMP/T is not without restrictions. The current radar is stated to only be good out to 100 km, so it cannot take full advantage of the Aster 30’s range. Furthermore, the Aster 30 itself is only rated to an altitude of 20,000m (as opposed to the standard 30,000), which is not high enough to reach many reconnaissance and even some combat aircraft, which can overfly the system with impunity. And, missileformissile, this is the most expensive nonABM unit out there, with only specialized ABM weapons costing more. Finally, with a number of nations involved in development and production, there’s a greater chance for a political hold to be placed on sales due to one or more members objecting.





Barak 8

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Commonality with naval system
  • Highly effective against lowaltitude targets
  • Active guidance



Cons

  • Rather short range
  • Made in Israel



The Barak 8 is a second evolution of the Barak naval point defense missile. The original weapon fulfills a similar role to the US RAM as a short range antimissile system. An expanded version of the missile was developed to provide an inexpensive fleet air defense armament that could be patched into existing systems. And, from that, a requirement for this missile to be deployed in a landbased system is also being met. In many respects, the Barak 8 could be considered a less capable and much less expensive SAMP/T. Its active seeker and origins in a point defense antimissile system give it many of the advantages inherent to the Aster 30, while it also has the same advantage of commonality with its shiplaunched counterpart. The system’s cost also makes it one of the most affordable longrange air defense units out there.

Of course, the low cost should signal something, and, at only 70 km, the Barak 8 is the shortest ranged weapon on this list. It’s “good enough” sensors and electronics are also more likely to need upgrading in the near future if going against truly modern militaries. And, of course, it carries the “Made in Israel” stigma with it wherever it goes.





HQ9

Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Very good range
  • China will sell to anyone
  • TVM guidance
  • Passive version for hunting AWACS



Cons:

  • Underpowered radar
  • Less sophisticated design
  • Less advanced electronics
  • FT2000 version is overspecialized



The HQ9 (export: FD2000 & FT2000) was China’s foray into copyin –er, developing; yes, developing; a longrange SAM. It originally ran a similar guidance system to the US Patriot. However, it wasn’t until they got a chance to copy the Russian S300’s engine and aerodynamic design that it actually became satisfactory. The HQ9 has the good range of the S300 system, being effective out to 200 km, and all the advantages of the Patriot’s TVM guidance. There’s also the interesting FT2000 version, which runs passiveonly sensors and missiles designed to engage AEW and other electronic warfare aircraft. Since all components are passiveonly, the only warning comes from detection of the incoming missile, at which point it’s usually too late for such large and sluggish aircraft. And yes, it’s a less expensive system, though for a reason.

That reason is that the HQ9 is based off of older versions of the Patriot and S300, so its seeker and performance are inferior to the newest versions. And many things couldn’t be copied effectively, including advanced battle management and data sharing systems. Also, as with so many longrange SAMs, it has an issue with radar range, as the engagement radar is only effective out to 125km. However, the main radar can still guide the missiles, but the weakness leaves the system more open to disruption. Finally, the FT2000 variant is a hard sell because of its extremely limited use – it’s incapable of engaging anything that’s not continuously emitting.





Arrow II

Pros:

  • Extremely fast
  • Excellent altitude
  • Very good range
  • Multiple kill methods
  • Mobile
  • Relatively inexpensive



Cons:

  • Highly specialized
  • Made in Israel
  • US has a stake too



The Israeli Arrow ABM program was among the first pure ABM systems to reach maturity, and remains unique compared to the other systems in its category. That is because most other systems were built around either having a dual capability against both aircraft and ballistic missiles, or were upgraded from antiaircraft systems. The Arrow II, on the other hand, was designed specifically to destroy ballistic missiles, with a high degree of accuracy, and early enough that biological and chemical warheads would not harm the population (the only other system on this list that can claim that is THAAD). This is another hidden weakness of other ABM systems – at the altitudes the missiles are engaged, there is still a danger of leaking biological or chemical agents affecting the population. As such, the Arrow II has twice the capability of most other longrange missiles, and can strike down a ballistic missile at an altitude of 60,000m. Along with that, the Arrow, like THAAD, is designed to strike targets at a significant distance – 140+ km, allowing significant coverage from a single system. It is also, despite the shorter range and significantly lower altitude, almost as fast as the THAAD (over Mach 9). As such, when combined with its altitude capability, the system has not one, nor two, but three opportunities to engage an incoming missile before it strikes, allowing for phenomenal overall success rates. Also, and completely unlike any other SAM out there, the Arrow II is dualmode. While designed to try for a kinetic kill like THAAD or the PAC3, it also retains a large, directed blast fragmentation warhead, so even if it doesn’t hit, it can still detonate with a 40m lethal burst radius. Finally, the Arrow II is relatively inexpensive, and is about the only ABM outside of Russia that doesn’t not cost significantly more than a regular SAM.

Of course, the tradeoff is that the Arrow II is of minimal use against other air targets, especially cruise missiles and high performance aircraft. It is designed solely for shooting up at max speed and hitting an incoming missile on a known flight path. And, of course, the politics involved are horrible. Developed in cooperation with both Israel and the US, the buyer has to approve of, and be approved by, both nations, which is extremely difficult. As a result, though a handful of the system’s Green Pine early warning radar have been sold abroad, the complete system has yet to see export.





AAD (Ashvin)

Pros:

  • Very good range
  • ABM capable
  • Active radar guidance



Cons:

  • Highly specialized
  • Unproven



The Indian AAD (Advanced Air Defense) system is part of India’s indigenous ballistic missile defense program. The lower of the two tiers, and the only one with any chance of export, the AAD uses a powerful SAM to engage missiles at altitudes below 30,000m using a kinetic hittokill weapon, which includes active terminal guidance. The Ashvin is a proposed development of the system for regular air defense, which would have a range of 150 km, and be the second longest ranged SAM with pure active guidance (after the SM2ER Block IVA).

Of course, the system is highly specialized, and neither the AAD nor Ashvin will be fully effective against the other’s targets. Also, the full capability of the system has yet to be proven, as so far only ballistic missile interceptions well within the missile’s range have been attempted.











Large FightersEdit

This is a list of the top 10 large fighter aircraft (MTOW greater than 20,000 kg) that are in or near production, and likely to see purchase in 21C. Since fighters are such a huge investment, they are often acquired as used or upgraded, and as such older units are listed here too. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least. Units that have virtually no chance of being exported, like the F/A22, are excluded.





Key Things to Look At When Choosing heavy fighters:

  • Radar and other sensors
  • RCS (how well it stands out to opposing radars)
  • Avionics
  • Payload
  • Number and type of weapon stations
  • Missile options
  • Multirole capability
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Presence of supermaneuverability capabilities
  • Number of engines
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • Acquisition cost
  • Operating cost
  • Age (for used/upgraded aircraft)
  • Politics





F16 Fighting Falcon

Pros:

  • Everyone uses them
  • Reliable
  • Very good avionics
  • Excellent payload for size
  • Very agile
  • Can perform almost any mission type
  • Relatively low RCS
  • Good number of weapon stations



Cons:

  • Single engine
  • Difficult to fly
  • Subject to US politics



The F16, along with derivatives like the Japanese F2, is the world’s most popular fighter. Period. With over 2100 aircraft serving in the air forces of an impressive two dozen export customers, there are more F16s in international service than the next two fighters combined. Not surprisingly, it has become the benchmark for many things, and with good reason. The F16 was one of the first true multirole aircraft, and even to this day, few planes have appeared that can perform the staggering number of mission types the F16 can do with anything approaching its level of effectiveness. With its vast array of sensor and targeting pods, and the ability to fit almost every western airtoground weapon in service, the F16 is truly a jackofalltrades. Furthermore, its impressive agility (coming from a high thrusttoweight ratio and a good wing loading) has led to it being the international standard in a dogfight, against which all comparable aircraft are compared. Yet another advantage of the plane is its impressive payload. Though usually listed in the 7800 kg range (already impressive), it has a theoretical maximum of nearly 9300 kg, which is on par with aircraft that are 25% larger. The latest Block 50/52+ and Block 60 aircraft are also the equal of most current aircraft in electronics and sensors. All told, while not the cheapest, or the best performing, the F16 is one of the best and most popular investments an air force can make.

Of course, it’s not without weaknesses. The F16 is a compromise that is more expensive than smaller aircraft, but lacks the powerful radars of larger planes like the F15 and Su27. And since it’s more of a jackofalltrades, competitors are often able to market themselves based on a favorable comparison in a handful of areas, even when they’re not truly superior. Furthermore, while it has the benefit of reducing maintenance costs, the single engine of the F16 can be a liability, as any damage or engine failure is likely to result in the loss of the aircraft. Finally, and this is a littleknown and hidden disadvantage: the F16 is harder to fly and more unforgiving of errors than many contemporaries. As such, for air forces that can’t afford good training and practice for their pilots, it is a less attractive option.





F35 Lightning II

Pros

  • Very stealthy
  • Internal weapons carriage
  • Advanced avionics
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Multiple variants



Cons

  • US politics
  • More geared toward strike than aerial combat
  • Relatively low payload
  • Must trade stealth for payload



The F35 is the slated replacement for most of the F16, F/A18C/D, AV8B, and A10 inventories in the US military. That requires a very good multirole aircraft, or three. And there are three – a standard landbased version, one for amphibious operations with a lower payload and STOVL capability, and a carrier based version with greater range and payload. By all counts, the F35 is proving a decent successor to these planes, and the current 10 partners and customers in the JSF program have a combined requirement for as many as 1000 aircraft, with several additional buyers likely to sign on. This is because the JSF is the only true stealth aircraft available on the market right now. Others may be stealthy, but only the JSF has internal weapons carriage, and it is thus one of the more survivable planes on the market. Combat performance outside of stealth features, while not exceptional, is still decent, and the plane is interesting in that it’s much less expensive than most of its true contemporaries.

However, the JSF has put a lot into its stealth features, such that significantly smaller aircraft like the Rafale and F16 can actually carry more. Also, for maximum stealth, it can only carry a pair each of 2000lb bombs (1000lb in the F35B) and shortrange airtoair missiles. This, along with avionics and other features, makes it clear that the plane, despite its designation, is more of a strike aircraft with a secondary airtoair capability than a true multirole platform.





Su27 series

Pros

  • Very agile
  • Supermaneuverable
  • 2D thrust vectoring in later models
  • Powerful radar
  • Rear radar coverage
  • Large number of weapon stations
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Twinengine



Cons:

  • Relatively low payload
  • Less advanced avionics
  • High RCS
  • High operating costs
  • Some issues appear in hot climates



The Su27 series, which includes the Su30, Su33, Su34, and Su35, is the most popular heavy fighter in the world today. With some 800+ units serving in 12 nations, it beats the next closest contender in its weight class by 33%. One of the most noticeable features of the Su27 is the little finger stretching behind the aircraft between the engines. No other plane in service has this, and it is a rearwardlooking radar array. Thus, the Su27 is the only aircraft in service with a full detection capability to the rear (even if its power and range are rather modest). The Su27 forwardlooking radars are also quite capable, with excellent detection and tracking ranges. The Su27 was also among the first aircraft to display true supermaneuverability (the capability to perform maneuvers that are aerodynamically impossible), and one of the few to do so without thrust vectoring. In fact, the MiG35 and F22 are the only aircraft that have currently displayed the capability of doing all the maneuvers the Su30 and later models can. And, of course, a good Su30 costs about as much as a good F16, despite being in a higher class. Most variants also have a very good number of weapons stations, with 12 hard points for a wide variety of ordnance.

On the other hand, the Su27 series, like most Russian aircraft, is rather anemic on payload. While its 8000 kg load is certainly not pathetic, it is low for a 30,000 kg aircraft (and downright sad for the 35,000 kg Su30). In fact, the F16, with only 55-60% the Su30’s MTOW, can do better. Ouch! Most Su27 variants are also huge neon signs on radar, with some sources estimating a whopping 12-13m2 (10 times that of a modern F16). As such, several smaller fighters, including some nonstealthy ones, can detect most Su27 variants at longer ranges than the Su27s can detect them. Also, the dreaded hidden disadvantage: like many Russian aircraft, the Su27 series is a real pain to operate and maintain, and will cost much more per flight hour than western counterparts. Over the life of the aircraft, this extra cost can easily be in the tens of millions. Finally, and this one is the most interesting (though not necessarily a huge issue), customers have found problems with operating the aircraft in hotter climates – specifically, the HUD (Heads Up Display) tends to fog over in such conditions.





F4 upgrades

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Very good ground attack capability
  • Twinengine
  • Good airframe growth potential
  • Good number of weapon stations
  • 2seater as standard
  • Combat tested



Cons

  • Outdated design
  • Planes are old
  • Poor range in most models
  • Expensive to operate
  • Large RCS



The F4 is one of those old geezers that just won’t stay down. First deployed in the 1960s, over 600 remain on active duty in 7 nations, though even most of those are being replaced as we speak. But, that leaves options for cashstrapped nations. Several highquality upgrades of the aircraft are available, including the F4E Kurnass 2000 (Israel), F4 2020 Terminator (Turkey, based on Israeli design), F4E Peace Icarus 2000 (Greece), and F4F ICE (Germany). All of these involve installing a new, modern radar, new avionics, and capability for modern airtoair and airtoground missiles. Other upgrades, which have been shelved but could be proposed again, looked at replacing the engines with more modern turbofans that would improve speed and range. The plane is a very good upgrade candidate because its size means that there is significant internal space to work with, made even more so by utilizing miniaturized electronics and mechanical components that were not available during production and early upgrade runs. It’s also a good multirole platform because, in addition to a solid radar, it has a decent payload (better than the Su27/30) and a good number and variety of weapon stations. Also, and this is of note, the F4 only comes in a 2seat variety. This actually imparts significant advantages in dogfighting and airtoground combat in that there is a second pair of eyes to look around. It also means that the plane doesn’t need a second variant for training.

However, the design is old, and the one thing that hasn’t been improved, the engines, results in the F4 being very poor in range when compared to modern contemporaries. A 50% boost would be needed just for it to rate decent. While achievable by giving new turbofans to replace its obsolescent turbojet engines, this has been regularly knocked down by the US for fear of competing with new aircraft sales. Also, the age of the airframes (the last plane was built in 1981) means that even with a full overhaul, they will still be far more expensive to operate than newer aircraft. Finally, the RCS for the F4 is HUGE, and as opposed to the neon sign that’s the F15 or Su27, this would be an entire red light district. Virtually anything with any radar will see most F4 variants before the F4 sees it.





MiG29

Pros:

  • Extremely agile
  • Supermaneuverable
  • 3D thrust vectoring in MiG35
  • Inexpensive
  • Very good interceptor
  • Twinengine



Cons:

  • Very poor range
  • Limited airtoground capability
  • Poor payload
  • Limited number of weapon stations in earlier variants
  • High operating cost
  • Lower reliability
  • Lack of advanced avionics
  • Lack of inflight refueling in basic models



The MiG29 is an interesting entry. The aircraft is highly vaunted in the press and among many analysts, yet it clearly has not been as successful in export as the hype would suggest. Still, with 600 planes serving in 18 air forces outside the former Soviet Union, it gets around. One thing that should not be forgotten about the MiG29 is that it was designed as an interceptor, as evidenced by its high speed and rate of climb. In this role, it is indeed a superb aircraft. It is also an extremely agile plane and excellent dogfighter. And, with the Su27, it was among the earliest planes to demonstrate supermaneuverability, and can do so without fancy gimmicks like thrust vectoring or canards. And, for the latest MiG35 version, it is also the only aircraft in service with full 3D thrust vectoring, giving it the widest range of maneuvering options among any aircraft. All told, it is very good at aerial combat within a limited radius.

Now, of course, come the host of issues. First off, the plane is unreliable – an F16 maintains 50% greater mission readiness compared to the MiG29, and the latter, due in part to its twin engines and in part to its Russian construction, is also significantly more expensive to operate. Together, these fully cover the difference in price between the F16 and MiG29. Then, there is the weapon load. Early MiG29s had only 6 underwing and 1 fuselage station, though this was upped to 8 underwing in later models, and finally a respectable 11 total in the larger MiG35. Worse, the payload is downright pathetic. At 3500 kg, the basic plane is beaten by ones half its size, and the F16 has more than double that. Later models improve this to 4000 kg (SMT) and 5500 kg (K, M), which is still rather poor for a mediumsized fighter. Even the MiG35’s 6500 kg is rather poor when you consider that the plane itself is 35% heavier than the older models due to increased size. And, in range, the MiG35 is only barely adequate, really needing a 30% boost to compare to western contenders. And the older ones are even worse, with only 75% of the MiG35’s range. This is made even worse in the fact that many MiG29s don’t have inflight refueling capability (it’s an option, not standard). Naturally, payload restrictions, along with naturally less capable avionics, also means that the MiG29, even in later versions flaunted for the capability, are of only modest effectiveness in ground attack. So yes, the MiG29 is cheaper than western contenders, but many find it doesn’t pan out as well for the investment, and so it’s usually found in smaller numbers among cashstrapped air forces that can’t afford anything better.





F15 series

Pros:

  • Highly customizable
  • Twinengine
  • Excellent speed
  • Agile
  • Excellent radar
  • Excellent range
  • Excellent payload
  • Large number of weapon stations
  • Twoseater as standard in later variants
  • Unmatched combat record



Cons

  • Expensive
  • No airtoground capability in early models
  • US politics
  • Large RCS



The F15 is basically the fighter pilot’s version of a Ferrari or BMW. This is a hot rod in every sense of the word. It was ironically built to counter the thenhorribly overestimated MiG25, and has become one of the best allaround aircraft of its age. The US has historically been very picky on who it sells these to, and only 5 foreign customers have ever bought them. Still, with an average of over 100 planes per customer, it has been quite a significant export success. This plane just does everything well. It’s the fastest true fighter (MiG25 and MiG31 are interceptors), has established world records in rate of climb, and the strike version has the second highest payload (11,000 kg) of any multirole aircraft in service (the F111 is higher, but the last of those will disappear by the end of the year). And it boasts an impressive range as well, which is a significant advantage in that the plane requires less external fuel to fly the same distance, which provides it an edge in BVR combat and sudden encounters. Despite all this power, the F15 is still an agile and capable dogfighter, and has a completely unmatched combat record of 104:0. The size of the planes and nature of US upgrades also means that it is highly customizable in engines and avionics, which makes for both easy upgrading and tailoring the unit to the operator’s needs. And with modern avionics, as are available in later models, it remains one of the best airtoair combat platforms. Finally, the recently unveiled F15SE represents the only modification of an older aircraft that exhibits significant stealth features, including an internal weapons bay.

Of course, there are drawbacks. The older versions (A/B/C/D) were designed under the adage “not a pound for airtoground” and are pure dogfighters with no airtoground capability whatsoever, though they could admittedly be modified for some limited options. The F15E, of course, rectified that quite well. The thing is also a giant money pit. The F15 is one of the most expensive aircraft on the market to procure, and it isn’t cheap to maintain either (though it’s still not Russian). Finally, like so many large fighters, it has a very big RCS, over 10m2, and that makes it quite visible. However, the F15SE drops this considerably, which makes it quite deadly.





Eurofighter Typhoon

Pros:

  • Very stealthy
  • Excellent avionics
  • Twinengine
  • Very agile
  • Supercruise
  • Supermaneuverable
  • Good payload
  • Large number of weapon stations



Cons:

  • Ungodly expensive
  • Limited airtoground capability
  • Multinational politics



The Eurofighter Typhoon has seen some modest exports. So far, 2 nations outside of the original 4 partners have procured 87 aircraft. Yet, the Eurofighter remains, at the same time, a testament to multinational R&D projects and an example of how they can go wrong. The plane itself is a solid performer in airtoair combat, beating out everything except the F22 in simulations. It has good radar, is probably the second stealthiest current combat aircraft, and is well armed. Its 7500 kg payload is decent for its size, and the number of weapon stations (13) is extreme. The aircraft is also very agile, and boasts a supercruise capability lacking in most of the other entries here. And, despite lacking any thrust vectoring, it is supermaneuverable, though it can only perform a few such maneuvers.

However, the Eurofighter is also the most expensive plane on the market, which is somewhat scary when you consider that this is a less capable version that was instigated due to cost concerns. The big problem, however, is that the Eurofighter was pressed into service without all its intended avionics, particularly those for airtoground capability. And, the real pain, providing the full intended capability will significantly increase the cost of the aircraft. As a result, few customers are expected to do so. It can still use many guided munitions, but is less effective with many cheaper weapons. And, of course, with 4 nations having significant stake, it’s not difficult to run into a snag based on one of them objecting.





F/A18E/F

Pros

  • Commonality with F/A18A/B/C/D
  • Very good avionics
  • Agile
  • Carrierborn
  • Twinengine
  • Large number of weapon stations
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Excellent multirole capability



Cons

  • Relatively low payload for size
  • Limited range



The F/A18A/B/C/D, despite its shortcomings, found a home in 6 nations, who bought nearly 300 aircraft between them. To date, one of those has also acquired the F/A18E/F, which maintains high commonality with its predecessor, to complement the smaller planes. The E/F is an enlarged unit that incorporates radarreduction technology, improves payload, and increases range. Bringing it to the call of a heavy fighter also allowed for more powerful radar and advanced avionics. The plane still retains the agility and multirole capability that made the original Hornet so popular, and in fact improves it. This was necessary as the F/A18E/F replaces the A6 strike aircraft, the F14 interceptor, and the KA6 tanker. And all of this with a price tag that’s well below all nonRussian competitors, so it is a decent buy, especially as a complement or replacement for the smaller C/D model.

However, while it did improve it, the aircraft still has rather anemic range – only 80% of the average. Furthermore, its payload is a bit light considering its size. In fact, it’s about equal to its Russian counterparts (smaller Su27 family), which is unusual for a US plane. And, of course, it’s still not cheap to operate.





MiG31

Pros:

  • Powerful radar
  • Excellent speed
  • Twinengine
  • Twoseater as standard
  • Excellent engagement range



Cons:

  • Highly specialized
  • Expensive
  • High operating costs
  • Poor payload
  • Low range



The MiG31 is basically an attempt to fix most of the weaknesses of the MiG25. It runs better, more modern engines, a structural redesign for sustained highspeed flight, a much higher fuel fraction, a second seat, and a powerful radar that made it one of the first Russian aircraft that was able to operate without the assistance of ground control. To date, there has been one unconfirmed sale of 24 aircraft and one nearsale of 8. The MiG31’s biggest advantage over other aircraft (it has no competitors anymore) is its very long range missiles (R33 & R37) that put it in the class of a Phoenixarmed F14. With the retirement of the F14, no aircraft in the world can even come close to the MiG31’s engagement range. It also improves on the MiG25’s speed. The MiG31 is capable of going Mach 2.83 without damaging the engines and airframe, while the original MiG25 was usually limited to Mach 2.5. The MiG31 also has better lowaltitude performance, being one of the few aircraft that can break Mach 1.2 at sea level. While not a frontline combatant, the MiG31 could probably be effectively used as a hitandrun fighter against strategic assets like AWACS and cargo planes, using its speed and engagement range to get in, fire a shot, and get out before it can be intercepted itself.

However, the MiG31 is in many respects already obsolete. It’s the only pure interceptor still being offered on the market, and attempts to expand its role have only been marginally successful due to its limited payload and specialized avionics. It has minimal capability against combat aircraft due to poor agility, and its only option in such cases is to run. Also, despite a wellaboveaverage fuel fraction, excessive fuel consumption means it still has a rather unimpressive range – only a bit better than the MIG35. This also combines with the high maintenance cost of the engines and airframe (even for a Russian aircraft) and high complexity to make this one of the most expensive planes on this list to operate.





Rafale

Pros:

  • Good payload
  • Very agile
  • Supermaneuverable
  • Supercruise
  • Twinengine
  • Very good avionics
  • Stealthy
  • Very large number of weapon stations
  • Very good payload



Cons:

  • Limited airtoground capability
  • Very expensive
  • Problems with modernization costs
  • French politics



The Rafale is the result of France’s pulling out of the Eurofighter program, and is a less stealthy, though also less expensive aircraft that is otherwise similar in performance. The Rafale boasts a good radar, solid electronics, and exceptional agility including some supermaneuverability, which puts it as a solid highend fighter. It’s also rather stealthy, if not quite so much so as other western offerings. Most notable, however, is that the Rafale has a whopping 14 weapon stations, the most of any aircraft here, and in the case of the upgrade Rafale B, can haul an impressive 9500 kg of external fuel and weapons, putting it well above most contemporaries.

However, like the Eurofighter, the Rafale does not have full airtoground capability yet. The problem is that France has relied on export sales to cover costs of future developments and upgrades. And, well, the Rafale has not been an export success. Aside from payload, the Rafale doesn’t really beat out its competitors. Dollar for capability, the F16 is seen as a better investment due to its far superior multirole capability, and is only truly beaten in a closerange dogfight, and even then, mock engagements have not been as favorable to the Rafale as one would think (3:1 against Block 25). And while the Eurofighter is only a little more expensive, it’s much more capable in aerial combat. And the F35 is far superior for anyone preferring ground attack or needing a less costly stealth aircraft. Furthermore, none of these are inferior to the Rafale in avionics, while many are stealthier. As a result of limited export, France has also negotiated hard to get as much as it could on potential sales, helping to further drive away customers.






Small FightersEdit

This is a list of the top 10 small fighter aircraft (MTOW less than 20,000 kg) that are in or near production, and likely to see purchase in 21C. Since fighters are such a huge investment, they are often acquired as used or upgraded, and as such older units are listed here too. The ordering of the units is based on their relative level of RL export success, from most successful to least. Units that have virtually no chance of being exported, like the F/A22, are excluded.





Key Things to Look At When Choosing light fighters:

  • Radar and other sensors
  • RCS (how well it stands out to opposing radars)
  • Avionics
  • Payload
  • Number and type of weapon stations
  • Missile options
  • Multirole capability
  • Agility
  • Speed
  • Presence of supermaneuverability capabilities
  • Number of engines
  • Reliability
  • Logistical requirements
  • Ease of transition
  • Acquisition cost
  • Operating cost
  • Age (for used/upgraded aircraft)
  • Politics





F5 upgrades

Pros:

  • Dirt cheap
  • Agile
  • Reliable
  • Good payload for size and age
  • Large number of weapon stations for size
  • Twinengine
  • Very small
  • Combat tested



Cons:

  • Limited avionics
  • Limited range
  • Relatively slow
  • Ancient design
  • Old airframes



The F5 probably gets the award for second most exported fighter in current service, after the F16. The F5 was always seen as an inexpensive aircraft that allowed those on limited budgets to pad their forces, and one that could be exported even to questionable allies without fear. As such, it was extremely successful in export, and despite its age, over two dozen nations still fly the F5, with more than 1100 examples in or near operational condition. Not half bad for a plane that first flew over half a century ago and hasn’t been produced in over 20 years. The plane has always been a rather solid performer, with a decent weapon load allowing for 3175 kg on 7 stations, which is quite a bit better than its closest analogue, the MiG21. The twinengine plane is relatively agile and has a level of reliability that has been lost in the rush to load advanced systems on modern aircraft. Capable upgrades for the F5 include the Brazilian F5EM, Israeli F5T, and Singaporean F5S. All have incorporate improved radar and 4th generation avionics, as well as the capability to fire modern BVR missiles like the AMRAAM and Derby, and provide a decent capability at bargain basement prices. Additionally, since many users are replacing their F5s, that leaves it as an option for nonoperators to acquire used aircraft and upgrade them, for a fraction of the cost of buying new.

Of course, the last F5E rolled off the assembly line in 1987, so with the exception of Iranian copies/derivatives, every single plane is either near or over its original service life, meaning higher operating costs than there might otherwise be (it still may be less than contemporary aircraft though!), as well as potential reliability issues. Furthermore, this is a small plane that was not originally intended to carry a radar, and the space for such additions is limited. Also, being an older design, range is not particularly impressive. And finally, again related to age, the aircraft is rather underpowered compared to modern units, and some modern fighters can supercruise almost as fast a the F5E can go on full afterburner.





MiG21 upgrades

Pros:

  • Dirt cheap
  • Agile
  • Very small
  • Combat tested



Cons:

  • Lack of weapon stations
  • Single engine
  • Poor payload
  • Limited range
  • Ancient design
  • Old airframes
  • Poor visibility



As the MiG21 is the closest analogue to the F5, it’s not surprising that it was also similarly exported, and about 20 nations still keep some 1000 aircraft in service. Like the F5, many are getting replaced, and a flood of secondhand units are likely to enter the market soon, leaving a significant option for upgrading. The MiG21 handles similarly to the F5, but came with more space for avionics, and made an effective shortrange interceptor. Later versions, upgraded by Russia (MiG2193, MiG21 Bison, & MiG2197) or Israel (MiG21 LanceR & MiG212000), can match the F16 in airtoair combat in some situations. This is because the plane is still small, fast, and agile, and can mount a decent radar. All of these upgrades also include the capability for modern missiles.

The MiG21 is, however, rather limited. It has only 5 stations for external stores, and most models have a payload wholly insufficient for anything beyond a quartet of airtoair or small airtoground missiles. In bombs, it can carry up to a whopping 2 1000lb class weapons. In fact, with only 1500-2000 kg total payload, it’s only about half that of the comparable F5, which also boasts nearly twice as many weapon stations (the MiG21’s centerline can only hold fuel tanks). Furthermore, the MiG21’s cockpit is not well designed, and the plane has very poor visibility, limiting its effectiveness in WVR combat. Worse, many models suffered a severe performance drop below 5000m, though this has been rectified in later models. Finally, like the F5, the MiG21 has not been produced in over 20 years (ended in 1985). As such, almost every plane has exceeded its original service life, making them more expensive to operate than similar modern aircraft, as admittedly few as those are.





MiG23 upgrades

Pros:

  • Dirt cheap
  • Agile
  • Very small
  • Variable geometry wings



Cons:

  • Poor payload
  • Limited range
  • Old airframes
  • High maintenance
  • Single engine



While nowhere near as heavily exported as the MiG21 (due more to politics than interest), the MiG23 nonetheless remains in over a dozen air forces, with some 600 still in service. The MiG23 was designed as a response to the F4, and was the first Soviet fighter to feature BVR missiles and a decent radar. It was also one of the most agile aircraft of its time, actually outperforming contemporaries like the Mirage III/V/Kfir and F4. It also remains something of an anachronism, as it is the only swingwing aircraft still in significant widespread service – the only others are both used by only a single nation, and suffering from maintenance issues. The variablegeometry wings allow the plane to adapt to its maneuvering requirements in flight, rather than suffer the compromise of normal aircraft. As such, it has greater ground maneuverability and lowspeed performance compared to contemporaries, without sacrificing high speed performance. To date, only one major modern upgrade of the MiG23 exists: the MiG2398 from Russia. This offers an improved radar and the capability to fire modern airtoair missiles like the R77, and at only $1 million per aircraft, gives you a solid 3.54th generation platform at an exceptional price.

However, like the MiG21, the MiG23 is not very effective in ground attack. Its 6 weapon stations are only good for 3000-3500 kg (which is about right considering it’s twice the size of the MiG21), and even with a capability for modern weapons, the MiG23 just can’t run effectively in a strike mission. Also, like the MiG21, these haven’t been built since 1985, so unless they’ve been sitting in storage, all planes have exceeded their rated service life. This exacerbates the already high maintenance cost that’s naturally associated with the complex variablegeometry system. And, while notably better than most, this still has the anemic range associated with older aircraft.





J7 upgrades

Pros:

  • Dirt cheap
  • Agile
  • Very small
  • Combat tested



Cons:

  • Lack of weapon stations
  • Single engine
  • Poor payload
  • Limited range
  • Poor visibility
  • Single engine



The J7 was originally supposed to be just a license built MiG21 (China was involved in development), but the souring of relations in the 1960s led to the USSR pulling support, and when they offered a deal a few years later, it turned out that incomplete schematics were delivered. Undaunted, the Chinese reverse engineered the plan, made some modifications, and . . . waited until 1980 to mass produce it due to quality issues! It needed updating in a bad way, and got it in the form of the F7M, which had a new wing and vastly superior performance, and had an unexpected advantage – most of the oldest J7s are younger than the newest MiG21s, and were also dirt cheap. This resulted in immediate and enduring export success, and 16 nations currently operate 550 J7s, with production only ceasing 2 years ago. The plane performs similarly to the MiG21 in most respects, but is much better on the avionics front, with western radars and computers being common in even new build units. The J7 can naturally accept similar upgrades to the MiG21, though no named upgrades appear to be on the market.

It does, however, have most of the disadvantages of the MiG21, with the only exception being that the airframes are much younger and therefore less expensive to operate. Also, while still poor, the J7’s payload is superior, and it can carry 4 1000lb class bombs to the MiG21’s 2.





Mirage III/5 upgrades

Pros:

  • Dirt cheap
  • Agile
  • Reliable
  • Good payload for size and age
  • Very small
  • Combat tested
  • Single engine



Cons:

  • Tailless delta
  • Limited range in older variants
  • Ancient design
  • Old airframes



The Mirage III was the first in a long line of aircraft that would be built around the tailless delta design. This design maximized fuel load and high speed performance, and is noted for its rugged simplicity. Naturally, it was a rather successful unit in export markets, and can be considered the European counterpart to the F5, boasting similar age, size, and payload. Between the Mirage III and its derivatives (Mirage 5/50, Kfir), some 320 aircraft still serve in 7 air forces. As with the F5, early variants had no radar, but from the Mirage 5 on, the nose was extended to accommodate this. Upgrades are mostly provided by Israel, who did significant upgrades to its Kfirs, many of which can also be implemented on older versions.

Of course, the Mirage III is old, and the youngest planes came out in the early 1980s. As such, they’re showing their age. Also, the tailless delta design is not without flaws – it reduces the availability of some control surfaces, and greatly increases the space needed for takeoff and landing, as well as limiting low speed performance. Also, in the Mirage III (but rectified in the 5 and Kfir), the aircraft has the limited range endemic to all aircraft of the era.





Mirage 2000

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Extremely agile
  • Reliable
  • Large number of weapon stations



Cons:

  • Limited payload compared to competitors
  • Limited range
  • Tailless delta
  • Single engine



The Mirage 2000 was a major evolutionary step up from the Mirage III/5, and intended to finally match the F16 (which had regularly beaten the Mirage F1) in foreign sales. An unexpected advantage of modern engineering was that the plane was able to overcome many of the problems associated with a tailless delta design, creating a superior combat platform that could outperform the F16 in many airtoair combat scenarios. It also had nearly 60% more payload than the older models, and the number of weapon stations were increased to 9, putting it on par with other multirole aircraft there. As a result, it sold well, and some 250 still remain in service with 8 foreign customers. Available upgrades have incorporated Rafale components to keep the plane quite viable, and it remains one of the best lightweight fighters.

Still, the Mirage 2000’s 6300 kg payload doesn’t hold up well against the F16, either relative to price, relative to total weight, or as an absolute. As a result, it is far less capable on ground attack, and much more limited in the number of missions it can perform. Additionally, range is somewhat limited for a more modern aircraft, and it only has about 80% of the endurance of many competitors.





Mirage F1 upgrades

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Agile
  • Reliable
  • Combat tested



Cons:

  • Limited payload compared to competitors
  • Limited range
  • Old airframes
  • Single engine



The Mirage F1 was the original replacement for the Mirage III, before being supplanted by the Mirage 2000. It was a modest success internationally, and 7 air forces still have over 150 in operation. The plane has been favored by users for its agility and high speed, and has a decent ground attack capability to boot. While no major ones are offered that I know of, it’s also open to upgrades, with decent growth potential in the air frame. The plane has seen extensive combat over the years with its various operators, and is generally well regarded against contemporaries, though less so against modern aircraft.

However, as the Mirage 2000 and F16 increasingly pushed it out, F1 production ceased in 1983, so no plane is less than 27 years old. Furthermore, most planes have been through a war or two, greatly accelerating airframe wear, and even imparting damage. As such, these show their age. Also, as with so many older aircraft, range is rather poor, and payload, while decent, is still only on par with the similar sized Mirage 2000, thus being a bit anemic compared to contemporaries.





JAS 39 Gripen

Pros:

  • Small
  • Very agile
  • Excellent ground maneuverability
  • Very good payload for size
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Low operating costs
  • Very good avionics
  • Good number of weapon stations
  • Rapid reaction



Cons:

  • Limited range
  • Single engine



The JAS 39 Gripen is a Swedish designed light fighter and interceptor that benefits from the unique Cold War defense requirements of Sweden. The nation’s total defense strategy required a plane that could launch at a moment’s notice, and fly off of roads and unprepared surfaces less than 800m long. As a result, the plane is uniquely suited for operations in third world nations that lack sufficient airport facilities. The Gripen, being relatively small and rugged, is also both cheaper to acquire and less expensive to operate than contemporaries. It retains very high maneuverability and excellent western avionics, and its ability to haul 5300 kg on 9 weapon stations is impressive for a plane of its size. The newer Gripen NG increases MTOW by 2000 kg, most of it for greater fuel and payload, and ups that to 6300 kg on 11 hard points. Sales have been modest, but encouraging, and currently 66 aircraft have been sold or leased to 4 nations.

However, the JAS 39, even in Gripen NG configuration, is still relatively light on range, though nowhere near as bad as some of the older aircraft here. It’s biggest problem, however, is that it competes against larger aircraft that are much more impressive in their payload and multirole capabilities. As such, even though it’s great for its size, the size itself only helps in lowering cost, and it’s been routinely passed over for planes like the F16, Eurofighter, and F35.





JF17 Thunder

Pros:

  • Very cheap
  • Small size
  • Agile
  • Decent avionics
  • China will sell to anyone



Cons

  • Anaemic payload
  • Limited range
  • Restricted agility
  • Relatively slow
  • Single engine



The JF17 Thunder (aka FC1 Fierce Dragon) is a joint Sino-Pakistani development for a very small, lightweight fighter to replace the outdated J7. The plane superficially resembles a shrunken F16, and is most notable in its cost. 22.5 JF17s can be purchased for the cost of a single western fighter, and 1.52 for the cost of a Russian plane. As such, it will replace the J7 as an aircraft of choice for smaller nations with limited budgets. To date 62 aircraft are believed to have been ordered by 4 export customers, with at least 1 more likely to add a few dozen more.

Or course, the JF17 is not that great overall. For one thing, while agile, it’s hurt by the fact that it’s only rated at 8.5g, when 9g is the standard (and human limit) for all 4thgeneration and later aircraft. This means, while it has some agility, it cannot perform maneuvers as hard or sudden as many contemporaries. Furthermore, it also has a lower thrust/weight ratio than many other modern aircraft (one of the few recent ones less than 1:1). And the payload (3629 kg), while very good compared to things like the J7, MiG21, and MiG23, is rather pathetic compared to just about everything else. For example, the similar sized Gripen beats it by 46%. And, like in so many Sino and Russian aircraft, its range is rather weak, as evidenced by a low fuel fraction of only 0.25. It’s also a bit on the slow side, being unable to break Mach 2.





J10

Pros:

  • Decent avionics
  • Highly agile
  • Inexpensive
  • Good number of weapon stations
  • Good low altitude performance
  • China will sell to anyone



Cons:

  • Relatively low payload
  • Single engine



The J10 (FC20 in Pakistan) is China’s attempt at a truly competitive fighter aircraft in the class of the US F16 and Russian MiG29. Currently, a single hard order of 36 planes has been recorded, with that customer likely to purchase over 70 additional aircraft over the next several years. While the jury’s still out on this one, it’s probably superior to earlier MiG29 models, and even later ones in some areas (better multirole platform), but its only weapon against the F16 is price, which is quite low. In fact, while similarly priced compared to the MiG29SMT, the J10’s good air to air combat capabilities and superior ground attack ability might make it a dangerous competitor for the popular Russian aircraft. The J10 is also reasonably fast, especially at low altitudes, where it’s Mach 1.2 performance is on par with the best.

However, while better than the MiG29, the J10’s payload (6000 kg on 11 stations) is relatively anemic compared to western aircraft, with the similar sized F16 beating it by over 30%. Beyond that, however, it’s still too early to evaluate it, since any other issues have likely been covered up by the Chinese.

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.