On Monday, the Qatari army showcased a new ballistic missile system during its 2017 National Day Parade.
The system, mounted on an eight-axle transporter-erector-launcher adorned in desert camouflage, appeared to be a modified China-made SY-400 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) system.
The 400 mm missile system is capable of delivering conventional payloads of around 200 kilograms to a range of 400 kilometers.
Arms analyst Joseph Dempsey observes that the Qatari SY-400 units appear to be modified and carry two larger caliber BP-12A canisters instead of eight SY-400 canisters. (The two canisters are interchangeable in the system.)
The BP-12A is a larger SRBM that may be capable of precisely delivering conventional warheads ranging up to 500 kilograms to similar ranges as the SY-400.
These systems are manufactured by Sichuan Aerospace Industry Corporation (SCAIC).
According to a 2009 U.S. State Department cable, the “SY400 is marketed as a 150-200-km-range system that carries a 200-300 kg warhead, uses a launcher that carries eight missiles, and is capable of achieving an accuracy of 50 meters.”
The U.S. cable noted that Chinese firms “have continued to market short-range ballistic missiles, including the B611M, P12, and SY400, at domestic and international arms shows.”
Before Monday’s parade, the sale of such a Chinese system to the Qatari Armed Forces was not public knowledge.
The SY-400 is comparable to Russia’s own Iskander-E SRBM. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army classifies the system as precision rocket artillery.
The SY-400 was first publicly displayed to prospective customers at the 2008 Zhuhai Airshow. According to a report in Popular Science, the system was “quickly yanked from public view due to its sophisticated and sensitive technology.”
The rationale behind the Qatari Armed Forces’ procurement of the SY-400 remains unclear, but this system makes its first public appearance following a months-long crisis where Saudi Arabia and other Gulf and Arab states cut off diplomatic ties with Doha over what they claimed was its support for terrorism and Iranian adventurism in the Middle East.
The SY-400’s range would allow it to strike ground-based targets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates while based on Qatari territory.