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Chinese AAM aspirations may build on Alenia Aspide

Aspide translates to Chinese LY-60 family on show at Zhouhai

Douglas Barrie/LONDON Andrea Spinelli/GENOA

China appears to be continuing to use the Alenia Aspide medium-range air-to-air missile (AAM) airframe as the basis for a family of weapons, despite the collapse of a "highly sensitive" deal to supply it to the Chinese air force.

The LY-60(N ) missile, which China displayed during the Zhouhai show earlier this month, was effectively identical to the Italian Aspide airframe.

The LY-60 is understood to be a truck-mounted surface-to-air missile system, similar to the Alenia Spada, which uses the Aspide SAM.

Italy and China secretly concluded a deal in the 1988-9 period, covering provision of the semi-active radar-guided Aspide as the basis for a Chinese air force medium-range air-launched missile. Deliveries started almost immediately, with a few "small batches" being provided.

In the wake of the Tiananmen massacre in 1990, the contract was blocked by the Italian Government say sources.

The Aspide airframe, besides forming the basis of the LY-60 SAM, has also been given the PL-11 AAM designator, and been shown in model form fitted to the proposed FC-1 single-engine fighter aircraft.

China almost certainly intended to acquire additional Aspide/PL-11 missiles to meet its medium-range AAM requirement, although the collapse of the Italian deal places a question mark over this programme.

The PL-11 may have superseded the PL-10 semi-active AAM programme, which was an attempted copy of the Raytheon AIM-7E Sparrow. With the entry into service of the Russian Vympel R-27R (AA-10Alamo) semi-active radar-guided medium-range AAM, as part of the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker deal, China's aspirations to produce indigenously a semi-active missile may be primarily intended for the export market.

While the PL-10 and the PL-11 use semi-active radar guidance, China also has intentions to acquire active radar-guided missile technology. Alongside its own efforts it is also aiming to acquire the Vympel R-77 (AA-12 Adder).

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