Why Chinese HJ-12 Missiles Are the Best Response to Ukrainian Armored Offensives

As Western nations pledge tens of billions of dollars worth of new weapons to support Ukraine’s war effort and its plans to capture Russian-held territories, U.S. and particularly European sources have claimed that the Russian Military could receive assistance from China in the form of lethal weapons transfers.

The vast array of munitions China might potentially give, from guided rocket artillery to air-to-surface missiles, could alter the balance of power in the region, but at the significant risk to China that its weapons systems will be captured and studied by Ukraine and its Western sponsors.

Such supposition, however, contradicts Beijing’s neutral stance in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which is consistent with the attitudes of the vast majority of non-Western nations. Only Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have joined the West in imposing sanctions against Russia, while only North Korea, Belarus, and Iran have materially supported Moscow. 

China’s HJ-12 anti-tank missile system is substantially less visible than artillery, attack drones, or cruise missiles, but it is one of the weapons with the greatest potential impact should China decide to send arms. However improbable, this option currently appears.

Chinese HJ-12 Missiles
Chinese PLA Ground Force Personnel with HJ-12 Anti-Tank Missile

China North Industries Corporation’s (NORINCO) HJ-12 has won one export contract to equip the Algerian Army. Production of the HJ-12 began in 2014, and the HJ-12 was first exported in 2014. It is commonly regarded as the most capable missile system of its type in the world, competing for distinction with the U.S. Javelin and the French MMP.

Once Ukrainian forces recovered huge amounts of Javelin missiles, the Russian Army published guidance on how to employ them to its personnel, gaining extensive expertise in combating Javelin-armed battalions.

According to numerous estimations, Ukraine is the largest Javelin operator in the world. Similar to the HJ-12, its soft launch mechanisms allow it to be fired from within buildings, with fire-and-forget capabilities and the ability to acquire targets prior to launch.

This enables operators to take cover immediately after firing and provides them time to reload before engaging a second target. Should the Russian Army want to obtain additional Javelin-type missiles following the deployment of those acquired in Ukraine, the HJ-12 would be its most formidable alternative.

Ukrainian Personnel with Javelin Anti Tank Missile
Ukrainian Personnel with Javelin Anti Tank Missile

As Ukraine prepares to field one of the greatest armored forces in the world, Russia’s requirement for anti-tank missiles is crucial. In response to this threat, Russia appears to have already deployed its latest anti-armor ammunition for its tank guns to the frontlines.

Before the commencement of conflict in February 2022, Ukraine fielded the largest tank force in Europe, with well over 800 vehicles, and has subsequently retrieved several hundred additional tanks from storage while receiving hundreds more from the West.

Western armor transfers have contributed to the multiplication of the T-72 fleet and delivered new tank classes, including the British Challenger 2, German Leopard 1 and Leopard 2, and the American M1A1 Abrams.

Although Russia has rapidly scaled up production of its T-90M battle tanks, capable of competing with the newest Western tanks in Ukrainian fields, an increasing number of units appear to be employing Cold War-era vehicles such as T-72As and T-62Ms. Consequently, a high-end anti-tank guided missile such as the HJ-12 might serve as a crucial asymmetric weapon against superior armored troops.

The HJ-12 is optimized for penetrating explosive reactive armor, has a very long optimal firing range of 4 kilometers, and can engage less well-armored targets at even greater ranges at the price of accuracy and penetrative power.

The missile system combines very complex capabilities with a relatively light weight of approximately 22 kilograms, allowing ground forces to maintain high mobility. Similar to the Javelin, these missiles are meant to strike enemy vehicles from above, where their armor is weakest.

The missile system marks the conclusion of decades of anti-tank missile development in China and is substantially more capable than its Russian counterpart, the Kornet.

The ability of the HJ-12 to be camouflaged among infantry formations has the potential to change the battlefield and severely limit Ukraine’s capacity to mount armored assaults into the Russian-held Donbas and Crimea.