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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

May 23, 1997

Chinese missile to threaten U.S. by 2000

By Bill Gertz

China will soon deploy a new mobile strategic missile, with multiple warheads, that poses a significant threat to U.S. forces in the Pacific and parts of the continental United States, The Washington Times has learned.
. . . . According to a classified Air Force report, the newest generation of Chinese strategic missile, known as the Dong Feng-31, "will narrow the gap between current Chinese, U.S. and Russian ballistic missile designs."
. . . . "The DF-31 ICBM will give China a major strike capability that will be difficult to counterattack at any stage of its operation, from pre-flight mobile operations through terminal flight phases," the report says. The report, produced last fall by the National Air Intelligence Agency, is labeled "secret." A copy was made available to The Times.
. . . . The report concludes that China's effort to build an advanced ICBM capability is "steadily increasing."
. . . . "It will be a significant threat not only to U.S. forces deployed in the Pacific theater, but to portions of the continental United States and to many of our allies," it says.
. . . . William Triplett, former Republican counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a China specialist, said Beijing's new missile poses direct and indirect threats to U.S. interests.
. . . . "I'm concerned that this advanced missile technology will reach the hands of terrorist nations, including Iran, at some point down the road," Mr. Triplett said. He noted that Beijing is notorious for exporting its weapons and military technology to several rogue states.
. . . . According to the Air Force report, the DF-31 missile program is in the "late stage" of development, after delays. The new missile is expected to be deployed "about the turn of the century," it says.
. . . . The missile was observed on a launch pad at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Center in mid-October, and a flight test is expected soon, based on the recent completion of silo construction at Wuzhai, the report says.
. . . . The missile will have a range of about 4,960 miles, sufficient to hit targets along the entire West Coast of the United States and in several northern Rocky Mountain states.
. . . . The missile is believed to incorporate "design aspects similar to those of current generation Russian missiles," the report says.
. . . . "These could include upgraded mobility for the transporter-erector launcher [TEL]; advanced materials for the booster and payload, use of penetration aids such as decoys or chaff, and an improved solid propellant," the report notes.
. . . . Decoys and chaff are used in long-range missile warhead configurations to defeat missile defenses, a sign the Chinese are seeking the capability to defeat a limited U.S. national missile-defense system, should one be deployed, experts say.
. . . . Since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the Chinese have made accuracy and defense penetration primary goals of their new missiles, the report says.
. . . . Flight tests of CSS-5 missiles in November 1995 and January 1996 included tests of re-entry decoys along with the dummy warheads, the report notes, adding that the DF-31 is expected to use the same decoys and similar "penetration aids."
. . . . Once DF-31 deployment begins, China is expected to decommission its CSS-3 ICBMs. "China will then be on its way to a ballistic missile force based around road-mobile systems," the report says. "Road-mobility will greatly improve Chinese nuclear ballistic missile survivability and will complicate the task of defeating the Chinese threat."
. . . . The only other nation with a deployed road-mobile ICBM is Russia, which has a force of SS-25 missiles.
. . . . Mobile missiles are extremely hard to find, as shown by the limited success of U.S. military efforts to locate and destroy mobile Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War.
. . . . In October the DF-31 also underwent tests simulating launch from nuclear-missile-submarine tubes, according to the report.
. . . . In a related matter, U.S. intelligence agencies photographed a Belarussian six-axle mobile missile launcher at a production facility in Nanyuan, near Beijing, where the DF-31 launcher is produced.
. . . . The Belarussian launcher, known as a MAZ, is the same as the mobile chassis used for former Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The SS-20 and its components were supposed to be dismantled under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
. . . . "The mobility of the MAZ vehicle is significantly better than that of heavy Chinese vehicles," the report says. "For that reason, the Chinese will probably reverse-engineer the MAZ vehicle to better understand its superior characteristics."
. . . . The better launcher "can then be incorporated into the existing DF-31 TEL [transporter-erector launcher] design to enhance its mobility and performance," the report notes.
. . . . According to the report, it is unlikely the Chinese will convert the Belarussian launcher to a DF-31 launcher. Instead, they probably will adopt some of its features, including all-wheel independent suspension, higher ground clearance, driver-controlled central tire-inflation systems, and large tires.
. . . . "Improved mobility is needed for the DF-31 TEL," the report says. "Currently this TEL is probably restricted to improved surfaces. Improved chassis features will in turn improve off-road capabilities, increasing the number of potential deployment locations. Such improvements will increase system survivability by making the missile more difficult to locate."
. . . . "The DF-31 development program is highly ambitious," the report concludes, noting that developing the advanced missile is presenting Beijing with "substantial challenges."

Copyright © 1997 News World Communications, Inc.

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