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640 Project - Anti-Ballistic Missile Programs

The 640 Project was China's anti-ballistic missile program - 640 standing for 1964 Project No.0. China's successful HQ-9 anti-missile intercept test in 2010 attracted international attention. Known as a cutting-edge military technology, missile defense is impossible without decades of theoretical and technical work. In fact, China's construction of a missile defense system began in the early 1960s with the "640 Project".

What did they know and when did they know it? China's offensive nuclear missile capabilities, and the Soviet anti-missile program, both figured prominently in the American ABM debates of the 1960s and early 1970s. Of the Chinese ABM program, there was not a breath.

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) collection of over seventy National Intelligence Estimates on China is the most extensive single selection of intelligence analyses the United States Government ever has released. This partially declassified collection represents the most authoritative intelligence assessments of the United States Government and thus constitutes a unique historical record of a momentous era in China's modern history through 1976. While portions of these estimates remained classified, there is no indication in the parts that were declassified of US awareness of Chinese BMD work.

As early as 1986 reports suggested the possible deployment of at least one Large Phased-Array Radar [LPAR] in the vicinity of Datong or Harbin, though no locale was specified. A 1988 analysis of Chinese strategic force development noted that "A very large phased-array radar system, constructed in West China, is probably the first step in establishing a ballistic missile early warning system (BMEWS) - necessary for a launch-on-warning capability." In 1994 it was reported that phased-array radar had been deployed to provide warning regarding possible Russian attack.

In his 1996 book China's Strategic Seapower: The Politics of Force Modernization in the Nuclear Age, John Wilson Lewis briefly mentions Program 640, enumerating the five sub-projects, but this is just a footnote. Mark Stokes of the U.S. Air Force reported in 1999 that “Under the 640 Program, the space and missile industry’s Second Academy, traditionally responsible for SAM [surface-to-air missile] development, set out to field a viable antimissile system, consisting of a kinetic kill vehicle, high powered laser, space early warning, and target discrimination system components.”

Evan Medeiros of the RAND Corporation wrote in 2002 that “a team of 8-10 scientists … conducted multiple feasibility studies on development of missile defense systems. This work roughly paralleled extensive U.S. and Soviet R&D efforts on missile defenses prior to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Yet China’s program achieved few successes due to the high technological barriers and China’s relativebackwardness. Deng Xiaoping cancelled the program in 1983.”

In 2007 Richard Fisher mentioned that "Chinese sources note that Qian was the inspiration for the 1963 “640 Program,” China’s first attempt to build an anti-ballistic missile defense system, which by the 1970s had expanded to include a sub-program to develop an anti-satellite interceptor. While the 640 Program was cancelled in 1980, the successful completion of a new ASAT program raises the question whether China also has an associated ABM program."

As recently as 2009, Jorge Muniz wrote "Under their anti-ballistic missile defense (ABMD) 640 Program of 1963, the PRC made their first attempts to build a system consisting of a lethal “kill” vehicle, high powered lasers, and a space indications and warnings (I&W) network. Although the ABMD 640 Program was abandoned in the 1980's, the technology developed set the stage for transition into China's High Technology Development 863 Program under Deng Xiaoping."

In early 2010 a series of texts began appearing on Chinese websites, and these were soon tranlated and repurposed onto Western websites. The original provenance of these texts is not known, but they would seem to be too detailed and carefully crafted to be anything other than some brief official history of the program. These texts evidently derive from a common source, as they have many duplicate paragraphs, but as of mid-2014 the underlying authoritative text is not publicly available, nor is a professional translation of these texts.

What is publicly available are machine translations of various redactions, of differing lengths and emphasis. While taken together they paint a coherent picture, such coherence is absent taken individually. One redaction provides excruciating detail concerning the super cannon, while making no mention of the laser project. And so one.

The Hidden History of 640 Project - Early Chinese ABM Programs

To meet the diverse needs of the time, in addition to direct development and production of missiles, the United States and Soviet Union developed from the 1950s and 1960s means to counter enemy missile weapons, and started construction of big anti-missile systems. However, both failed to quickly make significant progress in strategic missile defense. THough unreported in public for many years, China was also become involved, in order to protect national security against external threats, China was also actively engaged in anti-missile work, and made efforts to build an anti-missile shield.

In 1963, when China's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles was about to get the final breakthrough, Dr. Tsien Hsue-shen, known as the father of "Chinese rocket", proposed the idea of the creation of defenses against hostile forces and strategic nuclear nuclear missiles. This idea soon got the party's top decision-making support. Chairman Mao Zedong said when it comes to this idea, a system to prevent nuclear missile attack is something that not the only the superpowers should be able to grasp. No matter how much time was needed, Chinese people should build their own defense shield, breaking the imperialist nuclear blackmail.

In the 1960s the main task of China's defense industry was to develop nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. This strategy is well understood, although it was difficult to have enough atomic bombs, strategic deterrence effect can be achieved with a few. In the 1960s, China faced the "double nuclear blackmail" from the Soviet Union and the United States, so the Central Military Commission took steps to evacuate major enterprises and undertake the construction of fortifications and other measures prevent America Soviet launch "pre-emptive nuclear strike." This included preparations for indigenous missile defense system. To Chairman Mao Zedong from strategic defense point of view, the positive development of the "two bombs" was needed in order to break the US-Soviet nuclear blackmail and nuclear monopoly. in, they also made a defensive strategic approach.

Chairman Mao also expressed concern about the development of anti-ballistic missile systems in the United States and the Soviet Union. In this situation especially, China also wanted to put forward anti-missile weapons. On 06 February 1964, Chairman Mao Zedong met with Tsien, who proposed to study anti-missile weapons. Mao said "The spear and shield [missile and antimissile missile] exist side by side. . . . We will spend ten years [to build the antimissile missile], if five years are not enough. We will even spend fifteen years, if ten years are not enough."

In order to implement the instructions of Chairman Mao Zedong, the Defense Science and Technology Commission and the relevant units of the organization held a series of important meetings, the establishment of appropriate governing bodies and professional development department, planning to develope China's first anti-missile weapons systems for the 1973-1975 period.

On 23 March 1964, the National Defense Science and Technology Organization convened a ballistic missile defense scientific symposium that included the then Minister Wang Zheng, more than 30 experts of the Academy of Sciences, artillery and other units, and other leading cadres attended the meeting. The meeting tentatively identified anti-missile missiles, super cannons and laser anti-missile systems as three techniques and decided to approach in the first place anti-missile missiles, with five branches of the Department of Defense responsible; super cannon artillery, with the anti-missile Institute is responsible; laser anti-missile by the Academy of Sciences Shanghai Optical responsible. Afterwards the National Defense Science and Technology Commission submitted to Chairman Mao Zedong and the Central Committee "on the enemy missile defense research preliminary observations" report.

Sixteen months after the speech of Chairman Mao later called "640", in mid-1965 the Second Academy set up Institute 26 and made it responsible for Project 640, which became the basis for exploration and research antimissile weapons. Therefore, the anti-missile research they called "640" project, and in the period of time as the country's key tasks.

China decided in 1966 to start the phased construction of a national missile defense system step by step under the 640 Project. In February 1966 China decided to build, step by step in stages, a national missile defense system, and the 640 series of projects started. By 1967, with the Chinese nuclear and ballistic missile tests had been successful, China formally established plans to build a missile defense system, which is the "640 Project." The project initially established projects including anti- ballistic missile interceptor missile, anti-missile super cannon and other aspects.

In October 1967, Defence Science and Technology held a "640 Project" conference, which formally proposed the anti-missile with a nuclear warhead development work proposals. The next ten years, saw "Counterattack One" to "Counterattack III" full system development. Although the final product was fruitless, it made a number of important technical achievements, some of them filling gaps, such as ultra-high-speed missiles and 7010 phased radar technology. Next the "863" program included work on the feasibility and research on missile defense, surveillance, detection, early warning, analysis, and intercept weapons, C3I systems technology.

In order to strengthen the leadership and collaboration of China's "640 Project", changes were made for the progress of the division of labor. In 1967, the then Ministry of Machinery Industry 7 (also known as the Aerospace Industry) Second Institute was renamed the Anti-ballistic Missiles and Anti-Satellite Institute, responsible for developing anti-ballistic missile interceptor missile system, with its affiliated 210 Institute to develop anti-missile super cannon. From the beginning 1970s the Second Institute embarked on anti-satellite weapons technology.

In January 1969, the state called in all of the "640 Project" units to Beijing to determine the specific arrangements for the project, a formal decision of the whole project subsystems, they are "Counterattack" series ABM interceptor missile, "Vanguard" series of anti-missile super cannon and two land-based missile early warning radar stations. In addition, the meeting also decided to accelerate the construction of the "640 Project" dedicated test base, and trial for anti-ballistic missile interceptor missile small nuclear warhead. After this meeting, "640 Project" entered the stage of rapid development.

The international political situation was very unfavorable to China. Beijing's potential opponents were not just the United States, but also the Soviet Union. At that time China was the most likely enemy medium-range missile attacks, such as R-12 or R-14 missiles. At that time defense against these missiles seemed to be relatively easy compared with the subsequent, more advanced missiles. But when China was in a period of internal and external problems, the lack of modern weapons made it difficult to respond effectively to the enemy's missile threat.

Project 640 was "high, big, fine, sharp" (in the language of Zhang Aiping), but given the technical difficulties, at that time China's technical level and production conditions did not have the ability to support the large and complex system development work in 640 Project development projects. The 640 project continued more than ten years and achieved a number of important research results, some of which technology filled gaps, with research teams working for the development of Chinese missiles with positive significance.

In order to break through the "640 Project" technical difficulties, major projects were: anti-missile system precision tracking phased array radar, missile launchers, missile autopilot, radio control device, solid rocket motor casing, with a digital computer control and command, etc. The Project made a lot of achievements. These included the development of counter-One interceptor, the completed Practice IIB satellite design, anti-satellite ONE weapon system design and some of the equipment development and testing - these tests were successful.

However, in China's technological and economic conditions at that time the "640 Project" from the outset faced a large number of technical difficulties, financial barriers, even political obstacles. In China, due to technological backwardness and poor and weak national strength, it was difficult to imagine how to support such a huge project. But also in the "640 Project" at the beginning also suffered from the interference of the Cultural Revolution.

In 1972, the international situation changed, the two superpowers signed the "Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty," and since the they conducted limited missile defense program. This turn of events in the international arena seemed to make it no longer necessary for China to spend a lot of resources on the missile defense program. After 1976, the "640 Project" began to slow down the pace of development. By 1980, the country began to shift the focus of work to economic construction, and the "640 Project" was terminated. In 1982, the Department of Space 640 project planning meeting formally decided to discountinue work. Retaining the work on laser damage and nuclear electromagnetic pulse technology, the rest of 640 research projects were terminated.

Although the project did not achieve more significant results, but there are some important progress, and accumulated a number of important technologies. With the "640 Project" eventually many large systems failed, but the land-based 640-5 Project - 110 Tracking Radar was ultimately preserved. But the network was no longer used for missile warning duty, but was used to implement outer space exploration, space tracking and remote sensing work. It can be said, "640 Project" although already history, had huge and irreplaceable significance, with some technology still plays a role today.

Afterwards the news of work on China's anti-missile system almost disappeared. But in recent years China's interest in this regard seems to be restored, which is particularly striking in China in 2007, with the destruction of the decommissioned "FY-1C" weather satellite. At that time, sources said, the capability to destroy the Fengyun satellite is similar to that needed to intercept a missile.

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Page last modified: 02-04-2015 19:11:35 ZULU