Home / Geopolitics / China’s Missile Arsenal of hypersonic, long range land-attack, air to air , and carrier killer missiles has propelled China as a major military power

China’s Missile Arsenal of hypersonic, long range land-attack, air to air , and carrier killer missiles has propelled China as a major military power

“The greatest military threat to U.S. vital interests in Asia may be one that has received somewhat less attention: the growing capability of China’s missile forces to threaten U.S. bases in the region,” write Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez in a report released last month by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). In the report, they argue that China could use its missile forces to conduct a surprise preemptive strike against U.S. military bases in the region to prevent U.S. intervention in a conflict over Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands. Shugart and Gonzales run two different models of a simulated preemptive attack, keeping in mind what they know about U.S. and allied missile defense systems in the region. In both models, “enough ballistic missiles seemed likely to leak through to cause highly significant damage to U.S. bases and forces in the region.”


Beijing has the largest land-based missile arsenal in the world. According to Pentagon estimates, this includes 1,200 conventionally armed short-range ballistic missiles, two hundred to three hundred conventional medium-range ballistic missiles and an unknown number of conventional intermediate-range ballistic missiles, as well as two to three hundred ground-launched cruise missiles. Many of these are extremely accurate, which would allow them to destroy targets even without nuclear warheads. As a Rand Corporation report noted, Chinese missiles’ “circular error probabilities have decreased from hundreds of meters in the 1990s to as few as five or ten meters today.” Some of them, including the much discussed DF-21D “carrier killer” missile, have maneuverable reentry vehicles that further improve accuracy and allows them to evade missile defense systems.


Some of the results of the attacks include: “Almost every major fixed headquarters and logistical facility struck, with key headquarters struck within the first few minutes of the conflict” ;“Almost every U.S. ship in port in Japan struck pierside by ballistic missiles”; “In most cases, cratering by ballistic missiles of every runway and runway-length taxiway at all major U.S. air bases in Japan”;  “As a result of runway cratering, headquarters destruction, and air defense degradation, more than 200 trapped U.S. aircraft destroyed on the ground in the first hours of the conflict.”


PLA is continuing to improve key capabilities that would be used in theater contingencies, including cruise missiles; short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles; high performance aircraft; integrated air defense networks; information operations capabilities; and amphibious and airborne assault units. The PLA is developing and testing new intermediate- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles as well as long-range, land-attack, and anti-ship cruise missiles, which once operational would extend the military’s reach and push adversary forces further from potential regional conflicts, says annual report to congress.


Indeed, according to PACOM’s Harris, approximately 95 percent of the missiles in the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force arsenal fall in the 500 to 5,500-km range, Harris told a House Armed Services Committee hearing in February — meaning key U.S. facilities throughout Japan could already be within range of thousands of difficult-to-defeat advanced ballistic and cruise missiles. Some regional security experts have even speculated that the Chinese military may be practicing for pre-emptive missile strikes on the forward bases that underpin U.S. military power in the Western Pacific.


China has revealed footage of its next-generation Dongfeng-26 ballistic missile showing improved stability and accuracy, a move analysts say aims to send a message to the United States about its military strength. The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force launched at least one DF-26 missile during the drill. China’s defence ministry in April confirmed the DF-26 had been put into service with the Rocket Force.  “The DF-26 is attached to a brigade under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force that operates in Northwest China’s plateau and desert areas.” “A mobile missile launch from deep in the country’s interior is more difficult to intercept,” the Global Times quoted an expert as explaining. After the missile enters a later stage, its speed is so high that chances for interception are significantly lower.”


The US  recently has called on its international allies — including Australia — to ramp up pressure on Beijing’s attempt to assert control over the international shipping lanes and fisheries through an increased tempo of ‘freedom of navigation operations’ (FONOPS) by their warships.


China’s military conducted a salvo of 10 missile flight tests of DF-21 intermediate-range ballistic missiles  during the transition to the Donald Trump administration. The missiles “can destroy U.S. Asia-Pacific bases at any time,” the dispatch from the official Xinhua news agency reported. The DF-21 is the basis for several types of missiles, including the anti-ship variant known as the DF-21D. Another version is believed to be part of China’s anti-satellite arsenal. The DF-21C is a land-attack maneuvering missile with a range of about 1,000 miles.


China conducted a flight test of a new missile known as the Dong Ning-3 that the Pentagon believes is a missile designed to hit US satellites in space. The DN-3 is known as a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile that destroys satellites with a warhead that rams into orbiting systems at high speeds. The DN-3 is also said to have the capability to intercept ballistic missiles in flight. Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the DN-3 could be capable of hitting satellites more than 18,640 miles away in space—more than enough to reach large U.S. surveillance satellites that occupy orbit 186 to 620 miles from earth.The Chinese Defense Ministry dismissed published reports of the ASAT test as “groundless.”


China is now testing strategic missiles armed with multiple warheads that represent a quantum increase in strategic nuclear lethality. China’s most potent intercontinental ballistic missile, the new DF-41 was flight tested in December 2015 .The DF-5C missile, which is a newer variant of China’s DF-5 ICBM, was launched earlier in January from the Taiyuan Space Launch Center in central China and landed in an impact range in the desert in western China, according to the Washington Free Beacon. Mounted on the missile were 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, each one containing a nuclear warhead capable of leveling an entire city.


China is conducting substantial research into both countering and developing hypersonic, precision-guidance, and boost-glide technologies, with the DF-21D and WU-14 weapon systems as just two recent examples, according Dr. Lora Saalman, Associate Professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission stated in its latest annual report that the China’s hypersonic glide vehicle program is “progressing rapidly” and the weapon could be deployed by 2020. China also is building a powered version of the high-speed vehicle that could be fielded by 2025.


China has allegedly tested a weapon of mass destruction capable of hitting London and other major European or American cities in just 30 minutes. Chinese President Xi Jinping has said the newly formed Rocket Force of the PLA which handles the country’s growing arsenal of missiles has played an “irreplaceable” role in helping Beijing to become a “major power” by warding off war threats.


Inspecting the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Rocket Force, Mr. Xi, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and also chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), described the force as a “core of strategic deterrence, a strategic buttress to the country’s position as a major power, and a cornerstone on which to build national security.” Mr. Xi’s comments came amid growing tensions with the U.S. and Japan over the South China Sea, disputed islands in the East China Sea and efforts by North Korea to ramp up its nuclear capability despite international sanctions.





China’s ‘Guam killer’ missile DF-26

China’s “Guam killer” missile is raising new fears of a growing Chinese threat to major U.S. military installations and stability in the Pacific Rim. Four fin-like flight control surfaces are seen around the missile nose in the report on an exercise in northwest China.  Military analysts said the fin-like flight control surfaces provided better stability for the missile as it neared a moving target, such as a US aircraft carrier. The intermediate-range ballistic missile is also known as the “Guam killer” for its range – 3,000km to 5,741km (1,864 to 3,567 miles) – that puts the US island in the western Pacific within striking distance.


Guam sits 2,500 miles from Beijing, which puts it about 700 miles beyond the range of China’s land-based medium-range missiles. Guam, home to Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Naval Base, has been as a place from where the U.S. could project power across the Pacific while having its forces at relatively safe distance from possible threats, including North Korea and China.


The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that China’s DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile — dubbed by analysts the “Guam killer” and unveiled at a military parade in Beijing last September — allows China to bring unprecedented firepower to bear on the U.S. territory of Guam. The territory sits well within the missile’s range.


“Foremost among China’s military assets capable of reaching Guam, the DF-26 IRBM represents the culmination of decades of advancements to China’s conventional ballistic missile forces,” the commission’s report says. RAND warned that a Chinese missile strike of 100 IRBMs like the DF-26 could close Andersen Air Force Base to large planes for 11 days.


China ‘tests terrifyingly powerful Dongfeng-41 nuclear missile’ which could destroy London in half an hour

The People’s Republic reportedly fired a nuke called the Dongfeng-41, which has the longest range of any missile in the world. It can carry up to 10 warheads over a distance of roughly 7,450 miles in just half an hour before hitting several targets at once. This would mean Beijing could destroy the whole of London – which is slightly more than 5,000 miles from the Chinese capital – or wipe out any city in the West. With a 14,500km estimated range, the DF-41 is the first Chinese missile capable of carrying multiple warheads that can strike any part of the US from anywhere in China.


“Given the number of real reported tests, it is reasonable to speculate the DF-41 will be deployed to PLA Strategic Rocket Force bases in 2016,” said Richard Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington. With the ongoing deployment of the DF-5B multiple warhead equipped ICBM, and the new DF-41, “we will see a period of rapid increases in the numbers of China’s nuclear warheads that can reach the United States”, said Mr Fisher.



China’s PLAN is well prepared with YJ-12 family of anti-ship cruise missiles to take on the US Navy’s CBG

Buried on page 40 of the Pentagon’s 2014 annual report on China’s military power is a brief mention of the YJ-12, a recent addition to China’s portfolio of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). The report notes that, “The new missile provides an increased threat to naval assets, due to its long range and supersonic speeds.


“Faced with the prospect of fighting pitched naval battles in the high seas against multiple carrier battle groups (CBG) of the US Navy in the years ahead, China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) has begun the process of inducting into service in large numbers the YJ-12 family of new-generation, long-range, supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) — both air-launched and warship-launched — with a submarine-launched variant also on the cards. The PLAN like its Russian counterpart, believes that only a salvo of 24 such missiles, launched simultaneously from the sea and air, can successfully overwhelm the multi-tier anti-ASCM air-defence network of a CBG,” writes Prasun K. Sengupta in FORCE.


China’s Hongdu Aviation Industries Group, has developed the 2.5-tonne YJ-12 is powered by an integrated liquid fuel ramjet-based propulsion system. Its shipborne version is launched from hermetically sealed inclined launchers. It will also be air-launched by PLAN’s fleet of H-6M bombers. The YJ-12 has a range of 250km while cruising at Mach 2.5 speed, and contains a 300kg warhead, plus a solid-fuel rocket booster. Four long, narrow air-intakes are attached to the body in an ‘X’ configuration. Length of the missile is 7 metres, along with a 2-feet diametre. Its primary on-board target-seeking sensor is a monopulse, X-band synthetic aperture radar with a range of 20km.




A new Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile DF-21  is bad news for US aircraft carriers

In a time when China wants full control of the disputed South China Sea, Beijing has developed a potential carrier-killer: an anti-ship missile called the Dong Feng-21 (CSS-5) that could deal catastrophic damage to US vessels. According to Hendrix, the missile is particularly challenging for the US Navy both because of its range and method of attack. The DF-21 strikes a target at hypersonic speed from a nearly vertical angle. It can also conduct defensive maneuvers that make the missile incredibly difficult to intercept.


“American power and permissive environments were assumed following the end of the Cold War, but the rise of new powers, including China and its pursuit of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategies and capabilities to include the carrier-killing 1,000 nautical mile (nm) range Dong Feng-21 anti-ship ballistic missile, now threatens to push the Navy back beyond the range of its carrier air wings,” Hendrix wrote


“The USN is very concerned about the DF-21D, which is one reason it’s working so hard on ship-borne anti-ballistic missile technology,” Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, wrote for The National Interest.


New Chinese Air-to-Air Missile makes high value Air assets vulnerable

In November 2016, a Chinese J-16 strike fighter test-fired a gigantic hypersonic missile, successfully destroying the target drone at a very long range. The VLRAAM is one of the world’s largest air to air missiles. Its other advanced features include an AESA radar, a infrared/electro-optical seeker and satellite navigation midcourse correction.


The missile PL-XX, is a very-long-range missile designed to strike enemy aircraft loitering just beyond the edge of an air battle. The point is to shoot down the tankers, airborne early warning planes, and other support aircraft that U.S. combat jets rely upon during wartime. In air-to-air combat, AWACS systems can communicate with friendly aircraft, extend their sensor range and give them added stealth, since they no longer need their own active radar to detect threats.The US E3 AWACS has proved to be a key to victory for the United States in the 1991, 2001, and 2003 campaigns. However long range of PL-XX makes these AWACS vulnerable  which may necessitate their operation far away from its range degrading their effectiveness, shifting the air battle in China’s favor.


Without these planes, Stealthy fighter jets would have to fly with their radars constantly on to search for enemies,making them detectable, coordination of the air battle would become more difficult and less efficient, controlled by individual pilots already flying their own combat missions. Deprived of the ability to refuel in midair, targets deep behind enemy lines would become off-limits and fighters would patrol at shorter ranges.



Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer estimate in Popular Science  at about 19 feet, and roughly 13 inches in diameter. The missile appears to have four tailfins.  Reports are that the size would put into the category of a very long range air to air missile (VLRAAM) with ranges exceeding 300 km (roughly 186 miles), likely max out between 250 and 310 miles.(As a point of comparison, the smaller 13.8-foot, 15-inch-diameter Russian R-37 missile has a 249-mile range).


“Additionally, the VLRAAM’s powerful rocket engine will push it to Mach 6 speeds, which will increase the no escape zone (NEZ), that is the area where a target cannot outrun the missile, against even supersonic targets like stealth fighters,” write Jeffrey and Singer.


Its large active electronically scanned (AESA) radar, which is used in the terminal phase of flight to lock onto the target. The AESA radar’s large size—about 300-400% larger than that of most long range air-to-air missiles—and digital adaptability makes it highly effective against distant and stealthy targets, and resilient against electronic countermeasures like jamming and spoofing.


The VLRAAM’s backup sensor is a infrared/electro-optical seeker that can identify and hone in on high-value targets like aerial tankers and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) radar aircraft. The VLRAAM also uses lateral thrusters built into the rear for improving its terminal phase maneuverability when engaging agile targets like fighters.


China developing hypersonic, precision-guidance, and boost-glide technologies

China in Aug 2018 announced that it has successfully tested its first cutting-edge hypersonic aircraft which could carry nuclear warheads and penetrate any current generation anti-missile defence systems. China has also tested DF-17 its first hypersonic glide vehicle-equipped missile intended for operational deployment around 2020.


Chinese DF-ZF (previously designated as the WU-14) is a hypersonic glide missile delivery vehicle that has been flight-tested by the Chinese seven times, on 9 January, 7 August and 2 December 2014; 7 June and 27 November 2015; and again in April 2016. The strategic strike weapon is extremely advanced and can travel at 10 times the speed of sound, or 12,231.01kph. Also, American defense officials said the vehicle, which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, demonstrated a new capability during the latest test: that it was able to take evasive actions. It has several control surfaces to ensure stability and maneuverability. Glide vehicles are lifted to the high upper atmosphere by ballistic missiles and then glide at speeds five times faster than the speed of sound


DF-ZF could be used for nuclear weapons delivery but could also be used to perform precision-strike conventional missions (for example, next-generation anti-ship ballistic missiles), which could penetrate “the layered air defenses of a U.S. carrier strike group. Once operational, these missiles would make current strategic missile defenses systems obsolete, they will be able to avoid triggering early-warning systems or detection by radar as well their speed shall complicate interception.


Also, American defense officials said the vehicle, which speeds along the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, demonstrated a new capability during the latest test: that it was able to take evasive actions. “At a minimum this latest test indicates China is likely succeeding in achieving a key design objective: building a warhead capable of withstanding the very high stress of hypersonic maneuvering,” Rick Fisher, a China military expert, told the WFB. “It is likely that the test vehicle will form the basis for a missile launched weapon.”


“The Wu-14 is designed to penetrate US missile defense systems, meaning the PLA is capable of defending China’s territorial sovereignty. But such a test is only a nuclear deterrent. Neither China nor the US wants to declare war over the South China Sea issues,” said Professor He Qisong, a defense policy specialist at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.


Analysts suspect that the WU-14 will first be used in shorter-range roles as an anti-ship missile. China has already believed to have developed advanced capabilities for precision ASBM strike against U.S. aircraft carriers and other naval forces operating in the western Pacific, at ranges between 1,500 and 2,000km, under its sea-denial strategy.


China is also believed to be developing capability on an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) variant that adopts a boost-glide for long range precision strikes – at least out to 8,000km – against a broad range of targets, including ships at sea. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center has testified to Congress that China’s hypersonic glide vehicle will be used to deliver nuclear weapons. A variant also could be used as part of China’s conventionally-armed anti-ship ballistic missile system, which is aimed at sinking U.S. aircraft carriers far from Chinese shores.




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