Air-Launched Weapons

Images indicate possible precision-guided version of China's KD-20 LACM

10 August 2017
An image appearing on the PLAAF-affiliated 'Blue Sky' website showing a Xian H-6K bomber being loaded with two KD-20 LACMs with nose covers: an indication it uses an optical seeker. Source: Blue Sky web page

Key Points

  • China may have developed a new optically guided version of the KD-20 land attack cruise missile
  • Such a weapon would allow aircraft like the H-6K bomber to conduct attacks from greater stand-off ranges

An image appearing on a People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)-linked webpage suggests that China has developed a new optical precision-guided version of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) CJ-10K/KD-20 land attack cruise missile (LACM).

In mid-July the 'Blue Sky' web page, sponsored by the Society of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, featured an image of a Xian Aircraft Corporation H-6K bomber being loaded with two KD-20 and two YJ-63/KD-63 LACMs in which the KD-20s appear to have a protective cover partially covering their nose. This feature is used on some missiles to protect their optical or infrared (IR) seeker windows while in storage or being loaded.

The PLAAF's possible use of a new terminally guided version of the KD-20, perhaps designated the KD-20A, was first suggested by PLAAF analyst Hui Tong in his English- and Chinese-language blogs. He has also noted that as early as 2013, the PLAAF had upgraded the original 180-200 km-range KD-63 TV-based terminal guidance system with a model based on an imaging IR (IIR) seeker.

For guidance, the KD-20 – which is estimated to have a range of 1,500 km – has previously been reported to use an inertial navigation system (INS) aided by a terrain-contour-mapping radar altimeter, and possibly a global navigation satellite system (GNSS). An IIR-seeker-equipped KD-20 could enable the H-6K to conduct strikes from beyond the range of most ground-based air defences.

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