Wendell Minnick – Defence News March 21, 2011
China is developing a ballistic missile that will pose a “great threat” to Taiwan and regional neighbors and further complicate U.S. military action should it become involved in a confrontation with Beijing.
Tsai De-sheng, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau director-general, revealed during a legislative hearing on March 16 that China was developing the Dong Feng 16 (DF-16) ballistic missile. A Taiwan defense source said China has already fielded up to a dozen Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) in Qingyuan, Guangdong Province, and is preparing the groundwork for its first anti-satellite (ASAT) missile brigade in Hunan Province.
News of the DF-16 and additional advancements in the DF-21D and ASAT programs increases the threat to regional and U.S. military forces. No technical details about the DF-16 were given, but the admission follows mainland Chinese media reports in mid-February that the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. was set “to complete research, production and delivery of this new generation of missile by 2015,” said the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency on Feb. 17.
China’s Global Times subsequently reported the new missile was a medium- to long-range conventional missile with a strike range of 4,000 kilometers. Whether this is a reference to the DF-16 or another missile is uncertain.
“By deploying a new 4,000-kilometer-range, intermediate-range ballistic missile by 2015, the Chinese military is also trumping the U.S. Navy’s early answer to the DF-21D ASBM – the UCAS-D unmanned combat air vehicle, which was expected to be deployed in the early 2020s,” said Richard Fisher, senior fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
The DF-21D ASBM has been dubbed the “aircraft carrier killer” and considered a game-changer for U.S. military power in the region. Though skeptics have suggested China’s ASBM efforts face technical hurdles that make it difficult to target a U.S. warship, others suggest China has made significant progress in deploying new communications and intelligence-gathering satellites to facilitate the targeting of U.S. warships with ASBMs.
In 2009 and 2010, China deployed a record number of surveillance satellites into lower Earth orbit. These included seven Yaogan-class satellites, including the Yaogan 7 and 11 electro-optical imagine satellites. These satellites can electronically capture high-resolution digital images and transmit to ground stations via China’s Tianlian satellite network, said Ian Easton, a researcher with the Project 2049 Institute.
In 2010, China launched a threat-satellite Yaogan 9 constellation capable of triangulating and targeting radar-emitting aircraft carrier strike groups.
New Cruise Missile Threat Besides the threat from the new DF-21D, China has begun fielding a new generation of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). These can be launched from submarines, surface warships, land-based mobile launchers and a new variant of the H-6K/M medium-range bomber. The new H-6K/M and submarines will allow China to hit targets as far way as Guam.
At the 2010 Zhuhai Airshow, several Chinese defense companies displayed how a combination of ASCMs launched simultaneously from a variety of platforms, aided by satellites and UAVs, could locate and destroy an aircraft carrier.
Chinese sources indicated operational tests have linked these satellites to anti-ship missiles for targeting U.S. warships, Easton said. The question for the U.S. is how to protect bases in the region now that Chinese missiles can reach Guam.
Roger Cliff, a China defense analyst, who co-authored the recent Rand report, “Shaking the Heavens and Splitting the Earth,” said the U.S. must begin improving the survivability of air bases in the Western Pacific.
“This entails hardened runways, improved runway-repair capabilities, and hardened shelters for aircraft, including large aircraft such as AWACS, tankers, etc., as well as active missile defenses such as PAC-3 and THAAD.”
Cliff also recommends new systems to counter China’s anti-access/area denial strategy, such as a long-range, stealthy cruise missile; a supersonic, anti-ship cruise missile; stealthy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs that can act as communications relays; long-range air-to-air missiles; truly mobile ground-based aircraft and cruise missile defense systems; and carrier-borne, long-endurance unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
STOVL Needed if Runways Destroyed The F-35B short take-off and vertical landing aircraft will also become a necessity since Chinese missiles could destroy runways at Kadena and Anderson air force bases. Taiwan is also pushing for the release of retired AV-8 Harrier jump jets to compensate for what specialists expect will be the annihilation of Taiwan’s air bases during a war.
China has about 1,300 DF-11/15 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at the island. Taiwan is pushing forward on the procurement of new F-16C/D fighters from the U.S., but critics are questioning their survivability during a war with China.