Sorting out Chinese missile programs is no easy task, given both the impressive diversity of these programs and the serious paucity of public information. This challenge is compounded by the relative lack of analytical attention to the question, as well as by the absolutely bewildering array of designations that are attached to each missile.
There are at least four sources of designation nomenclature for Chinese missiles:
- Service Designation - the publicly disclosed name apparently used by the Chinese military once a missile enters operational service [eg, YJ-8].
- Builders Designation - the publicly disclosed name used by the enterprise developing the missile, both prior to and following acceptance for operational service [eg, C-801].
- NATO Designation - the mnemonic names long familiar from their application to Soviet missiles [eg, SARDINE.
- DIA Designation - the alpha-numeric type designations, again familiar from application to Soviet systems [eg SS = surface to surface] , stylisticlly modified by the insertion of the modifying letter "C" [for China] at the appropriate point in the alphanumeric sequence [eg CSS-N-4].
The Chinese alpha-numeric service designators follow a reasonably rigorous pattern not too dissimilar from that used in the United States, and one which is a model of clarity by comparison with the practices of almost all other countries. The application of the "HY" designation is somewhat confusing to Westerners, since the other Chinese missiles using the "HY" designator are large coastal defense cruise missiles. The confusion is entirely of Western origin, since the Chinese characters for the Hai Ying [Sea Eagle] anti-ship missile and the Hong Ying [Red Tassel] anti-tank missile are readily distinguished. A rather more substantial source of obscurity arises in the case of the "PL" designation used for air-to-air missiles, which some sources elaborate as Pili [Thunderbolt] while others suggest Pen Lung [Air Dragon]. Although the service designators tend to follow a complete numerical sequence, this is evidently no more the rule in China than in America. The diversity of designation categories for some types of missiles, notably anti-tank and anti-aircraft, and may reflect industry rather than service designations, though this requires some further explanation.
Expansion Translation Mission CY anti-submarine FL Feilong Flying Dragon anti-ship - air-launched FM Feimeng Flying Midge surface-to-air / light HJ Hongjian Red Arrow anti-tank HN Hong Nu Red Cherry man-portable air defense HY Hai Ying Sea Eagle anti-ship HY Hongying Red Tassel anti-tank HQ Hongqi / Hungchi Red Leader surface-to-air KS Kaishan surface-to-air LY Lieying Falcon surface-to-air PL Pili
air-to-air QW Qian Wei Advance Guard man-portable air defense SY Shang You Water Eagle anti-ship - sea-launched YJ Ying Ji Eagle Strike air-to-surface
Further complicating matters, the thrifty Chinese are not content to use a single missile for a single purpose, but are known to cleverly deploy the same missile in a variety of launch modes. This parsimony with respect to hardware imposes a penalty with respect to nomenclature, since the virtually identical missile will acquire a new set of designators once it is applied to a new mission or launch mode. Hence, the ship-launched CSS-N-4 SARDINE becomes the CSS-C-8 SACCADE when launched from the shore [in case you are wondering, SACCADE is "the movement of the eye from one fixation point to another" -- and SARDINE is "a small fish"].
Matters are further complicated by the fact that the readily accessible public record fails to disclose the fact of the existence of a variety of designations which are almost certainly in use by either the Chinese military or their observant counterparts in other countries [eg, the Chinese service designation for the SARDINE remains obscure, as does the NATO name for the CSS-N-5].
CHINESE WESTERN Service Builder Land-Launched Sea/Air Launched DIA NATO DIA NATO HY-1 SY-1 FL-1 CSS-C-2 SILKWORM CSS-N-1 SCRUBBRUSH HY-2 SY-1 C-201 CSS-C-3 SEERSUCKER CSS-N-2 HY-3 C-301 CSS-C-6 SAWHORSE HY-4 C-201 CSS-C-7 SADSACK YJ-1 C-801 CSS-N-4 SARDINE YJ-2 C-802 CSS-C-8 SACCADE YJ-6 C-601 CAS-1 KRAKEN YJ-8 C-801/2 CSS-C-8 SACCADE CSS-N-4 SARDINE YJ-16 SY-2 FL-2 C-101 CSS-C-5 SAPLES CSS-N-5 YJ-62 C-611 FL-4 FL-7