While it looks like a missile, the Tianlei 500 has a square cross-section to hold more submunitions. Credit: CCTV screen grab.

During the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and Britain, Vulcan bomber 607, which would take seventeen separate in-flight refuellings in radio silence to get it to its target and back, dropped its “iron bombs” in a daring raid on Port Stanley airfield, rendering the runways unusable.

The attack not only disabled the landing strip, preventing Argentina from landing front-line fighters, the 8,000-mile, 16-hour return journey also set a world record for the longest-ever bombing mission.

An incredible military accomplishment of the day, no less, and one that proved critical in the conflict.

Fast forward to the technology of 2020, and China is now touting a new weapon that it claims can destroy an entire airfield in one go.

Not a runway, mind you, but the entire airfield. If the report is credible, this is yet another terrifying weapon that will keep Pentagon planners up at night.

According to The Global Times, China has revealed a type of domestically developed airborne munitions dispenser, a hybrid weapon that lies between an air-to-ground missile and a guided bomb droppable by an aircraft from a safe distance, that can release hundreds of submunitions that cover a large area.

This kind of weapon can effectively paralyze an airfield in one shot, leaving enemy warplanes grounded or destroyed, experts claimed.

Formally classified as a guided glide dispenser bomb, this highly accurate, the Tianlei 500, or “Sky Thunder 500,” weighs 500 kilograms, Global Times reported.

While it looks like a missile, it has a square cross-section to hold more submunitions. This design can also reduce the weapon’s radar cross-section, enhancing the weapon’s stealth capability, making it more difficult to intercept, according to a report by China Central Television (CCTV).

When dropped, the dispenser can open its wings, which can provide extra lift force and controllability and allow it to have a range of more than 60 kilometers, the CCTV report said, noting that this means the aircraft carrying it can safely drop the weapon without entering the enemy’s air defense zone.

Each dispenser can carry 240 submunitions of six types, which when released will cover more than 6,000 square meters, CCTV quoted a senior engineer at the weapon’s manufacturer, China North Industries Group Corp (NORINCO), as saying.

When attacking groups of tanks and armored vehicles, the dispenser can use anti-tank submunitions that can penetrate tanks’ armor from the top, or it can equip regional lockdown submunitions when attacking large facilities like airfields, CCTV reported.

A typical munitions dispenser like this can disable an airfield for an extended period with only one shot, because the sheer number of submunitions means the whole runway will be destroyed.

It is also possible that some of the submunitions will be mines, which will make attempts to repair the runway very risky, a Chinese military expert told the Global Times on condition of anonymity.

This will provide crucial battle opportunities, because it means the enemy would not be able to make any warplane sorties, and the user of the dispenser can seize air superiority and gain tactical and even strategic advantages, the expert said.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.