Tags: China's | Missile | Threat | Greater | Than | Believed

China's Missile Threat Greater Than Believed

Sunday, 12 September 2004 12:00 AM

The most comprehensive survey of the PLA’s strategic missile potential was presented in the article “China’s ICBM Forces: Construction and Real Power,” published last year by two Taiwanese experts in the authoritative Taipei-based journal Zhonggong Yanjiu (China Communism Research). But numerous other sources from both Taiwan and mainland China also paint a worrisome picture of China’s military buildup.

The journal article did not detail China’s short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) aimed at Taiwan; China’s DF-21 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with a range between 2,000 km and 3,000 km aimed at American bases in Japan and South Korea; nor China’s cruise missiles and “094 project” – new-generation strategic submarines.

Instead, the journal focused on China’s growing long-range missile capability, notably its DF-5, DF-31 and DF-4 ICBM brigades under the PLA’s 2nd Artillery (Missile Corps). These longer-range missiles by themselves are formidable – and foreboding, as the Taiwanese authors claimed that these missiles are targeting American territory.

The Dongfeng 5 (DF-5) ICBM is a silo-based long-range missile. It uses liquid fuel, has a maximum range of 13,000 km and is capable of hitting any target within the United States. The first generation of these missiles became operational in 1981, with the Soviet Union as their primary target.

By 2000, DF-5 forces of the PLA 2nd Artillery consisted of three brigades.

The first, the 803rd brigade, was established on Oct. 1, 1984, the 35th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Presently, this brigade is located near Huaihua, within the deep mountains of Hunan province, around 750 km northwest of Guangzho. The 803rd is considered the model, never missing its targets. This brigade was equipped entirely with improved DF-5A ICBMs and related equipment by the mid-1990s.

The second brigade is officially known as the 804th and was organized at the end of the 1980s. It is located inside a mountain range in the western part of Henan province, not far from Luoyang (around 700 km southwest of Beijing).

The third, officially known as the 818th brigade, was established in 1996 and is subordinated to Hunan province, like the 803rd. Formation of the 818th was complete in 1999.

By the year 2000, all three brigades had been equipped with improved DF-5A ICBMs.

These DF-5A ICBMs are mounted in stationary silos, which are protected from a pre-emptive strike. Sophisticated engineering and the introduction of sophisticated computer systems have greatly decreased the launch preparation time of these missiles.

The Dongfeng-31 (DF-31) ICBM is a comparatively new weapon of PLA’s 2nd Artillery.

This ICBM uses solid fuel and launches from a mobile launching platform. Its dynamic characteristics are much better than those of the DF-5, but it has a range of “only” 8,000 km. These missiles were demonstrated to the world for the first time on Oct. 1, 1999 (the 50th anniversary of the PRC).

The first unit equipped with DF-31 ICBMs, formed in 1998-99, is officially known as the 813th brigade. It is subordinated to the 2nd Artillery’s 54th base near Luoyang and is located near Nanyang, about 200 km south of Luoyang. The ICBMs of this brigade are capable of reaching Hawaii and Alaska.

In 2001, however, it became known that the range of the DF-31 is actually 10,000 km or even 10,200 km, putting it within striking distance of the continental U.S.

The development of the DF-31 began as early as 1978. At that time the Soviet Union was believed to be the major adversary of China, and the 8,000-km range was considered adequate to reach most of the Soviet Union.

After the USSR disintegrated in 1991, the “northern threat” to China ceased to exist. In September 1994, China and Russia signed a joint statement that they would not use nuclear weapons against each other and in April 1996, China and Russia became “strategic partners.”

After that, America became the major target, even the sole target, of Chinese ICBMs, and the 8,000-km range was insufficient for the DF-31.

Even if this ICBM were located in northeastern Heilongjiang province, near the Russian border, it would be capable of reaching only the northwestern corner of the United States.

This is why, in the 1990s, China developed its DF-31A modification, enabling the missile to have a range of approximately 10,000 km – and capable of striking the entire western portion of the U.S.

The second brigade of the 2nd Artillery, equipped with DF-31 ICBMs, was established in 2000. Officially known as the 820th brigade, it is located at the 51st base of the 2nd Artillery, near Laiwu in Shandong province, about 400 km southeast of Beijing.

It is not known for certain if the range of the DF-31 missiles in the 813th brigade is 8,000 km or 10,000 km, but there is little doubt that the 820th brigade is equipped with DF-31A ICBMs with the range of up to 10,200 km. Multiple sources in Hong Kong and even in China confirm this.

It is possible to conclude, based on the statements of Chinese strategists, particularly those from China Defense University, that the PLA has considerable “hidden” ICBM forces.

These forces are hidden by the fact that China uses Changzheng (Long March, or LM) series missile boosters to launch satellites.

Since the Chinese aerospace industry is capable of producing many dozens of LM-series boosters annually, these same missile boosters could be used, with insignificant changes, as nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

Then there is the DF-4 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). These IRBMs are virtually identical to the LM-1 missile boosters used at the dawn of Chinese cosmonautics in the first half of the 1970s to launch Dongfanghong satellites. It is relatively easy to upgrade the LM-1 booster,

In the 1990s the PLA undertook additional upgrading of the DF-4 IRBM. Officially, this was done to upgrade the LM-1 missile booster and resulted in the emergence of the LM-1D missile booster with improved characteristics.

According to reliable data, the new LM-1D missile boosters are used primarily for upgrading existing DF-4 IRBMs to DF-4A ICBMs with a range of 10,000 km or more. The DF-4A is still a silo-based liquid fuel missile. However, the DF-4A’s major characteristics are close to those of the DF-5/DF-5A ICBM. As a result, the PLA has three additional ICBM brigades: the 805th, 812th and 814th. All three were re-equipped inexpensively with DF-4A missiles in the second half of the 1990s.

According to reliable data and cautious estimates, by 2000 PLA’s 2nd Artillery included eight ICBM brigades Ê namely, three DF-5 brigades, three DF-4A brigades and two DF-31 brigades. Each brigade has 12 ICBMs, so the 2nd Artillery missile corps, by 2000, had at least 96 ICBMs.

This estimate contradicts U.K. and U.S. military analytical organizations that reported in 2002 that China’s strategic nuclear potential comprised 24 DF-5 ICBMs and several DF-31 ICBMs. These Western surveys have underestimated seriously China’s strategic missile and nuclear potential.

Chinese strategists believe that in the case of a U.S. first strike, (a) about 50 percent of Chinese ground-based ICBMs would survive and could deliver a retaliatory strike, and (b) about 80 percent of the surviving ICBMs would reach their targets in the United States. Even assuming a low estimate of 38 Chinese ICBMs, some of them will be MIRVed – with multiple warheads targeting different targets on U.S. soil.

In addition, China has ambitious but realizable plans to add two more brigades outfitted with a number of DF-31 ICBMs before 2010.


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The most comprehensive survey of the PLA's strategic missile potential was presented in the article "China's ICBM Forces: Construction and Real Power," published last year by two Taiwanese experts in the authoritative Taipei-based journal Zhonggong Yanjiu (China Communism...
Sunday, 12 September 2004 12:00 AM
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