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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Overview Chinese Ballistic Missiles

The Chinese ballistic missile program is an amalgam of Soviet technology, Western experience, and Chinese ingenuity. The technology associated with China's program is directly linked to Soviet assistance, but the intellectual core of the program owes much to the Chinese scientists who spent considerable time in the West. A central figure in Chinese rocketry is Dr Qian Xueshen (Ch'ien Hsueh-shen), who obtained his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1938 after attending the California Institute of Technology in 1935. During World War II, he was director of the rocket section of the United States National Defense Scientific Advisory Board. The Korean War and the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy led to a time of considerable official harassment, and Professor Qian was repatriated to China in 1955. Qian and a number of other scientists trained in the United States and Europe were instrumental in developing the PRC's nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

Before 1960 direct Soviet military assistance had included two TU-16 jet medium bombers, 13 TU-4 propeller driven medium bombers, plans for a Golf class conventionally powered guided missile submarine; SS-1, SS-2 and SS-3 surface-to-surface missiles and launch equipment, technology for developing the SS-4 and a small number of SA-2 surface-to-air missiles. Additionally, the Soviets probably provided assistance in constructing the missile test range at Shuangchengtzu.

In the 1970s the nuclear weapons program saw the development of MRBM, IRBM, and ICBM capabilities and marked the beginning of a minimum deterrent force. China continued MRBM deployment, began deploying the Dongfeng-3 IRBM, and successfully tested and commenced deployment of the Dongfeng-4 (CSS-4) limited-range ICBM.

Chinese classification of missiles according to range differs from that in common usage in the United States:

  • up to 1000 km = Short-range
  • 1,000 - 3,000 km = Medium-range
  • 3,000 - 4,800 km = Intermediate-range
  • 3,000 - 8,000 km = Long-range
  • over 8,000 km = Intercontinental-range

China's deployment practices since MRBMs first became operational in the late 1960s have been carefully conceived, indicating an awareness of the need for the survivable second strike force. The survivability of the Chinese ballistic missile force has been sought by dispersal, careful use of terrain features, mobility and, more recently, hardened silos.

In the 1970s average rates of construction of missile systems were 10-12 launchers per year, but operational missile systems (around 70-80 launchers) in 1975 were of extremely poor technical and combat capabilities with respect to survivability, reliability, accuracy and combat readiness. An extraordinarily high concentration of combat-ready launchers was created, with over half of the missile systems were concentrated at two bases), which sharply increased their vulnerability to enemy strikes. Beginning in the late 1970s, China deployed a full range of nuclear forces and acquired an incipient nuclear second-strike capability. The nuclear forces were operated by the 100,000-person Second Artillery Corps, which was controlled directly by the General Staff Department.

In 1986 China possessed a credible minimum deterrent force with land, sea, and air elements. Land-based forces included ICBMs, IRBMs, and MRBMs. The sea-based strategic force consisted of SSBNs. The Air Force's bombers were capable of delivering nuclear bombs but would be unlikely to penetrate the sophisticated air defenses of modern military powers such as the Soviet Union.

China reportedly has received technology related to missile programs from Russia in recent years. China probably will have the industrial capacity, though not necessarily the intent, to produce a large number, perhaps as many as a thousand, new missiles within the next decade. Most new missiles are likely to be short-range or medium-range, road-mobile, and fueled by solid-propellants. All of them are expected to have greatly improved accuracy over current systems, and many will be armed with conventional warheads.

Work on the development of warheads with a conventional high-energy explosive warheads has been a characteristic feature of the Chinese missile program since the beginning of the 1980's. Chinese military planning has focused primary attention to the preparation for and conduct of local wars in which the launch of nonnuclear versions of strategic missiles would not only have a direct effect on the important political and military targets, but also serve as a warning of the possible escalation of the conflict to the nuclear level.

2002 estimatesIISSNTI
DF- 7 M-7CSS-80na
DF-11 M-11 CSS-7 175200
DF-15 M-9 CSS-6 160300
DF- 3A CSS-2 7040
DF- 4 CSS-3 2012
DF-21 CSS-55048
Various "authoritative" estimates of medium range missile inventories are wildly inconsistent. Not surprisingly, the IISS time series is not helpful, since it explicitly assumes that total SRBM deployments have remain constant about 330 missiles throughout the 2001-2004 timeframe. Most other published estimates suggest that the number doubled over that period, from about 250 to about 500.

In February 1999 a classified Pentagon report stated that the Chinese had stationed 150 to 200 M-9 and M-11 missiles in its southern regions aimed at Taiwan. According to the report, China had 30 to 50 short-range ballistic missiles in its southern areas in 1995. By 1999 the number had increased to 150.

Taiwan officials report that the number of missiles in China's three southern provinces rose from 30-50 missiles in 1997 to 160-200 by 2002. Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian said in mid-July 2001 that China was increasing its missile deployment at a rate of 50 to 70 missiles a year. In 2002 the US Defense Department reported that the mainland deployed 350 M-series ballistic missiles against the island, with the annual increase estimated at about 50 units.

In July 2003 the Department of Defense report, Chinese Military Power, set the number of missiles aimed at Taiwan at 450 and, and reported the rate of increase had increased from an estimated 50 to 75 per year. In December 2003 Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian said there were 496 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan. He said China had deployed 96 missiles each in Leping and Ganxian of Jiangxi Province, Meizhou of Guangdong Province, as well as 144 in Yongan and 64 in Xianyou of Fujian Province.

2008 estimatesIISSUS DOD
DF- 7 M-7CSS-80-
DF-11 M-11 CSS-7 500725
DF-15 M-9 CSS-6 225375
DF- 3A CSS-2 217
DF- 4 CSS-3 017
DF-21 CSS-53355
In a classified report to Congress in 1999, the Pentagon reportedly estimated that the number of PLA ballistic missiles deployed near Taiwan would reach 650 by 2005. In 2004 the Taipei-based Society for Strategic Studies projected that Beijing was expected to have as many as 600 ballistic missiles deployed against Taiwan by 2005. According to DIA estimates as of late 2005, China's SRBM force totaled some 710-790 missiles, increasing at an average rate of about 100 missiles per year.

In September 2004 Taiwan Defense Minister Lee Jye said that the PRC was likely to have 800 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan before the end of 2006. He noted that China already had 600 short range missiles within range of the island. Lee's estimate was less than that put forward by Taiwan vice president Annette Lu, who said that China's SRBMs targeting Taiwan would reach 800 by 2005.

As of early 2009 it was reported that Taiwan estimated China had more than 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan and that it was continuing to expand its arsenal. In early 2009 the US Defense Department reported that "By September 2008, the PLA had deployed between 1,050 and 1,150 CSS-6 and CSS-7 SRBMs to units opposite Taiwan. It is increasing the size of this force at a rate of more than 100 missiles per year, including variants of these missiles with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads." China had increased its inventory since 2007 of CSS-6s (from 315-355 to 350-400), of CSS-7s (from 675-715 to 700-750), and of DH-10 cruise missiles (from 50-250 to 150-350). According to DOD, China continued to augment its missiles within striking distance of Taiwan at the "rate of more than 100 per year", rather faster than the 75 per year seen earlier in the decade. The estimated 725 DF-11s deployed by 2008 was roughly twice the number that would have been anticipated for that timeframe five years earlier, while the 375 DF-15s deployed by 2008 was slightly more than the 325 that would have been anticipated for that timeframe five years earlier.

China has deployed a very large force of modern solid-propellant SRBMs in the vicinity of Taiwan, and according to Taiwanese government officials, China has recently started to deploy a new SRBM known as the Dong Feng 16 (DF-16/CSS-11 Mod 1). China continued to maintain regional nuclear deterrence, and its long-term, comprehensive military modernization is improving the capability of its ballistic missile force to conduct high-intensity, regional military operations, including “anti-access and area denial” (A2/AD) operations. The term A2/AD refers to capabilities designed to deter or counter adversary forces from deploying to or operating within a defined space. By 2013, China deployed the nuclear armed CSS-2, CSS-5 Mod 1, and CSS-5 Mod 2 for regional nuclear deterrence. China was also acquiring new conventionally armed CSS-5 MRBMs to conduct precision strikes. These systems are likely intended to hold at-risk or strike logistics nodes, regional military bases including airfields and ports, and naval assets. Notably, China had likely started to deploy the DF-21D, an ASBM based on a variant of the CSS-5.

China is strengthening its strategic nuclear deterrent force with the development and deployment of new ICBMs. China retains a relatively small number of nuclear armed, liquid-propellant CSS-3 limited range ICBMs and CSS-4 ICBMs capable of reaching the United States. It is also modernizing its nuclear forces by adding more survivable, road-mobile delivery systems. Both the road-mobile, solid-propellant CSS-10 Mod 1 and the longer range CSS-10 Mod 2 ICBMs have been deployed to units within the Second Artillery Corps. The CSS-10 Mod 1 is capable of reaching targets throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of Canada and the northwestern United States. The longer range CSS-10 Mod 2 will allow targeting of most of the continental United States. in 2013 the National Air and Space Intelligence Center reported that "China may also be developing a new road-mobile ICBM capable of carrying a MIRV payload, and the number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 15 years."

China has conducted an experimental flight of a hypersonic missile delivery vehicle designed to travel several times faster than the speed of sound. Western media had played up the significance of the hypersonic missile delivery vehicle test since The Washington Free Beacon news website quoted an anonymous Pentagon official as saying that the test was conducted with the aim of sending warheads through US missile defenses. In an article on the test, the website reported that the new hypersonic missile was detected traveling at extremely high speeds over China. US Pentagon spokesman Jeffrey Pool told the website, 'We routinely monitor foreign defense activities and we are aware of this test.'

The Ministry of National Defense issued a statement on 15 January 2014 dismissing media reports that China's recent ultrahigh-speed missile test flight was aimed at delivering warheads through the missile defenses of the United States. 'It is normal for China to conduct scientific experiments within its borders according to its plans. The tests were not aimed at any nation nor any specific target,' the ministry said in a written reply to China Daily.

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Page last modified: 09-08-2018 20:04:25 ZULU