A U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress notes that China has the potential to build "as many as a thousand" new ballistic missiles over the next decade. China is developing new ballistic, cruise, and anti-missile systems, and is investing heavily in advanced guidance systems and satellites to improve missile accuracy. Where possible, foreign technology is being sought to improve China's future missile development. Increasingly, Chinese missile forces will be equipped with highly destructive non-nuclear warheads.
New Long-Range Ballistic Missiles
The PLA has two ICBM development programs and one submarine-launched ballistic missile program that may result in new deployed missiles by 2010. The most advanced, the solid-fueled 5,000-mile-range DF-31 ICBM, which has enough range to hit the western United States, may enter service in the next few years. In late 1998, the DF-31 was reported to be ready for an ejection test from its launch tube. This missile will form the basis for China's next submarine-launched missile, the JL-2. By the end of the next decade, China is expected to field the 8,000-mile-range DF-41 solid-fueled ICBM. Both it and the DF-31 will be mobile. China's new transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), based on a new WS-2400 heavy transport vehicle revealed at the 1998 Zhuhai Air Show, shows influences from the Russian MAZ TEL sold to China. A better TEL, likely operating from a network of mountainside caves, would enhance the survivability of these mobile ICBMs.
Both the DF-31 and DF-41 ICBMs are expected to incorporate multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warheads. For many years, China has been suspected of trying to develop MIRV warheads; in early 1998, U.S. Air Force General Eugene Habinger stated publicly that China was developing MIRVs for its ICBMs. As a result of an investigation conducted by a congressional panel led by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), it was revealed in early 1999 that in the mid-1980s, China had obtained secret data from the Los Alamos National Laboratory concerning the U.S. W-88 nuclear warhead. The W-88 is the smallest and most modern U.S. nuclear warhead and is mounted on the U.S. Navy Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile.
On March 14, U.S.A.National Security Advisor stated "there's no question" that China benefited from nuclear warhead secrets leaked from the Los Alamos labs. One source notes that U.S. W-88 information could have saved China "two to ten years" of effort. Possible evidence that China is developing new smaller re-entry vehicles to carry its new smaller nuclear weapon was gathered by the author at the 1998 Zhuhai Air Show.
The Multiple-Warhead Option.
China has suggested that it may respond to a U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) by increasing the number of missiles or warheads that it could aim at the United States. The addition of smaller nuclear warheads to its arsenal also gives China the option to modify its existing 8,000-mile-range DF-5 ICBMs with multiple warheads as another means of responding to NMD. The DF-5 currently has only one large warhead that is not very accurate. A "bus" that China developed to launch multiple U.S. Motorola "Iridium" communication satellites could quickly be converted to carry up to eight small nuclear warheads. The Chinese Long March CZ-2C/SC space-launcher used to loft ten Iridium satellites to date is a slightly modified version of the DF-5 ICBM. According to press reports, U.S. intelligence services estimate China may have 18 to 26 DF-5 ICBMs. Modifying these DF-5s with an eight-warhead MIRV bus increases the number of nuclear weapons carried by its DF-5s .
Better Medium- and Short-Range Ballistic Missiles
To achieve its regional objectives, China puts great emphasis on its medium- and short-range missile forces. China is improving the 1,125-mile-range DF-21 ballistic missile that entered service in the late 1980s. China's armed forces may have more than 80 of these solid-fueled missiles, which are both road- and rail-mobile. 24 Jane's Defence Weekly, citing Japanese military sources, reports that China recently fielded an advanced version of the DF-21, known as the DF-21X. This new DF-21 may have a new highly accurate warhead that uses navigation satellite data like the U.S. GPS network or radar guidance technology. If this new warhead used radar guidance in a manner similar to the U.S. Pershing II, which correlates images from the missile's radar with digital map pictures in the warhead's computer, it could achieve an accuracy within a radius of 50 meters. This level of accuracy would mean the difference in capability between hitting an airfield or hitting a particular hangar on the airfield. The new DF-21 variant is expected also to have a longer range, perhaps up to 1,800 miles.
Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs).
Especially for missions near Taiwan, China intends to rely heavily on short-range ballistic missiles to overcome the technical superiority of Taiwan's air force. U.S. intelligence estimates that China could deploy up to 650 of the 360-mile-range DF-15 and 180-mile-range M-11 short-range ballistic missiles to areas near Taiwan. The DF-15 is a sophisticated missile that uses warhead shaping to make radar detection more difficult and a second stage to confuse anti-missile radar. But it may soon get better. At the 1996 Zhuhai show, the author was told that satellite navigation technology was being used to improve the accuracy of the short-range DF-15 missile. This solid-fueled missile is both road- and rail-mobile. One Chinese article says that an enhanced guidance system under investigation "can raise impact accuracy by an order of magnitude." For the DF-15, this could mean improved accuracy from a 300-meter radius to a 30-meter radius. Similar guidance upgrades could also be used to improve the M-11, which sources in Taiwan believe will go to Army units, whereas the DF-15 is controlled by the Second Artillery.
New Cruise Missiles
As seen in the case of short-range ballistic missiles, the Second Artillery and other PLA services are likely to have their own land-attack cruise missiles now in development. The Pentagon has noted that land-attack cruise missiles for theater and strategic missions are a "relatively high development priority" for China and that initial versions "should be ready early in the next century." China has been investigating combined GPS/Inertial and Terrain-Contour Matching (TERCOM) guidance systems to give high accuracy to its cruise missiles. China could gain insights for this guidance technology by studying U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles reportedly obtained from Afghanistan. Russian and Israeli cruise missile companies are another likely source of advanced cruise missile guidance technology.
China's first new land-attack cruise missile is reported by one source to be the 240-mile-range YJ-22, an advanced development of the C-802 anti-ship cruise missile but with a straight wing and a probably better engine. A long-range strategic version of this cruise missile, similar in capability to early U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles, likely will enter service after 2005. Both new cruise missiles probably will be carried by multiple platforms, such as trucks, aircraft, ships, and submarines.
New Supersonic Tactical Missiles
China is developing ramjet engine technologies to confer supersonic speeds on its missiles that complicate interception. In addition, ramjets offer the potential to increase the range of a smaller missile. China's existing ramjet-powered missiles are large and cannot travel great distances, but the purchase of the Russian Raduga SS-N-22 ramjet-powered anti-ship missile could give China a new source of cruise missile ramjet technology. China is reported to have purchased co-production rights to the ramjet-powered, Mach-2 speed, 125-mile-range Zvezda Kh-31P missile, which was designed by the Russians to counter the radar of U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missiles and the U.S. Navy Aegis ship-defense radar. Attacking radar systems is essential to destroying an opponent's anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.
New Conventional Missile Warheads
Although many new Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles have the option of carrying a small nuclear warhead, China is placing great emphasis on developing powerful non-nuclear warheads. Mounted on new, much more accurate ballistic and cruise missiles, such warheads make possible long-range precision strike missions without recourse to nuclear weapons, thus reducing the prospect of nuclear retaliation. China is developing Radio Frequency (RF) weapons that simulate the electromagnetic pulse created by nuclear explosion, which has the effect of wiping out computer and electronic systems. An RF-armed missile might be able to disable a communication grid on a warship without causing great casualties. China is also interested in building cluster munitions for ballistic or cruise missiles that could disable airbase runways. Such cluster warheads eventually could arm the new version of the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile.
Anti-Missile, Anti-Satellite, and Space Warfare
China's government loudly protests U.S. anti-missile plans but says almost nothing about its own anti-missile or anti-satellite programs, or its space warfare plans. The PLA is aware of the need to defend against opposing missiles and the need to exploit the U.S. military's high dependence on reconnaissance and communication satellites. PLA literature on future warfare acknowledges the need for a range of systems to deny the enemy's use of space. Engineering reports thought to be co-authored by the head of the China Aerospace Corporation's 2nd Academy, which manufactures surface-to-air missiles, indicate that China may be developing anti-missile or anti-satellite systems.
According to Chinese officials interviewed at the 1998 Zhuhai Air Show, China will complete in two years a new version of the FT-2000 surface-to-air missile that could have an anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) capability. The FT-2000 is designed to home in on the emissions of electronic warfare aircraft like the U.S. EA-6B Prowler. The next version of the FT-2000 will be radar-guided and similar in performance to the Russian Fakel S-300PMU, which China purchased in 1991. These missiles may be related to China's HQ-9 surface-to-air missile program, which sought to marry guidance and command technology from the Russian S-300 and missile-seeker radar from the U.S. Patriot missile. A U.S. source has told the author that China does indeed have an example of the Patriot; at the 1997 Moscow Air Show, an official with a Russian missile design bureau told the author that the HQ-9 will use the same guidance frequency as the Patriot.
Last year, the Pentagon reported to Congress that "China already may possess the capability to damage, under specific conditions, optical sensors on satellites that are very vulnerable to damage by lasers" and that, "given China's current level of interest in laser technology, it is reasonable to assume that Beijing would develop a weapon that could destroy satellites in the future." China has invested heavily in its own laser programs but may also benefit from foreign technology. China is recruiting Russian laser technicians, and Chinese engineers appear to be familiar with current U.S. military laser developments and with the potential for lasers to destroy or disable targets.
To support civilian space activities, such as its manned space program, and also for military purposes, China is trying to develop a global space-tracking capability. The Pentagon notes that China already has a good space tracking capability; in 1987, it began to operate a space tracking station on the islands of Tarawa in the South Pacific state of Kiribati. China is also reported to be entering into space tracking ventures with Brazil and France.
Space Information Systems
As it seeks the means to deny space to future adversaries, China is seeking also to exploit outer space more effectively for military missions. China is developing new military satellites for high-resolution imaging, radar imaging, signal intelligence (SIGINT) collection, navigation, and communication. At the 1998 Zhuhai Air Show, China announced it would launch six reconnaissance satellites: four imaging satellites and two radar satellites. When in orbit, this network will give China coverage of Asia twice daily for regular imaging and once daily for radar images. Radar satellites can penetrate cloud cover and are very useful for finding naval formations at sea. As does the U.S. military, China probably also will seek to integrate access to commercial satellite imaging into its military operations. China has long been a customer for images from French commercial satellites and is developing signal and electronic intelligence satellites which can also also be used, in conjunction with information from imaging satellites, to provide targeting data for missiles, aircraft, and submarine missions. Not content to rely on foreign navigation satellites, such as GPS or its Russian counterpart (called GLONASS), China is developing its own navigation satellite network. At the Zhuhai Air Show, China announced that a future navigation satellite network will be based on small satellites--which are less expensive, easier to launch, and can be replaced quickly.
HOW CHINA'S MISSILES THREATEN AMERICA AND ASIA
China's growing missile forces pose a future threat to the United States and to U.S. forces and allies in Asia. It is not certain how fast China's intercontinental missile forces will grow, nor is it certain that they will grow to rival the U.S. missile arsenal. But in the next decade, they will increase in sophistication and survivability. In the next decade, the potential of scores to several hundred new, well-concealed Chinese mobile ICBMs will make more difficult the task of defending America from nuclear missile attack. China can be expected also to use its larger ICBM force as a political weapon to constrain American actions, especially support for U.S. friends and allies.
Combining Missile and Sensor Technology
China's most profound challenge to the balance of power in Asia is the PLA's developing "reconnaissance-strike complex" of highly accurate ballistic and cruise missiles, combined with multiple layers of long-range sensors. Over the next ten years, China will build more capable imaging and radar satellites, and perhaps electronic intelligence satellites. Reconnaissance data from satellites will be added to data from future AWACS, electronic intelligence aircraft, long-range radar, and signal intelligence-gathering systems to provide precise targeting data for ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as air and naval platforms. Weapons systems will be guided to their targets with a high degree of accuracy with the help of either Chinese or foreign navigation satellites. The challenge for China will be to fuse these sensors to provide useful reconnaissance and targeting data for its developing cruise and ballistic missiles. China also will have to develop new doctrine, tactics, and inter-service cooperation to enable such long-range missile strike missions. China clearly has some way to go before it can boast of such a capability, but it is working to achieve this goal.
By 2005, China's developing missile forces will pose a grave threat to Taiwan. Chinese satellites and AWACS aircraft likely will be able to provide constant targeting data for missile strikes by satellite-guided DF-15s, M-11s, and new cruise missiles to attack airfields, secondary airfields, ports, military command posts, and major government buildings. Missiles and cruise missiles armed with Radio Frequency warheads could attack communication and power grids to sow chaos among the population. The same range of targets in Japan could be attacked by future long-range cruise missiles and DF-21 missiles armed with terminally guided high explosive or Radio Frequency warheads. American military facilities in Japan and Okinawa also would be vulnerable to new DF-21 missiles and future long-range cruise missiles.
China also views missiles as a tool for political intimidation. China fired ten DF-15 missiles near Taiwan in July 1995 and March 1996, and could have fired 20 to 30 missiles in March. 42 The 1995 missile firing affected Taiwan's stock market and caused some panic. In 1996, the missiles were sent just outside Taiwan's two major ports, Keelung and Kaohsiung. Both demonstrations were intended to illustrate Beijing's anger over its perception that President Lee Teng-hui was seeking an "independent" Taiwan that would never unite with the mainland. This attempt to intimidate Taiwan backfired by increasing the re-election margin of President Lee in the March 1996 elections, but China's use of missiles and the U.S.-China military confrontation of 1996, in which the United States deployed two aircraft carrier groups to deter China, may have unnerved the Clinton Administration. By October 1997, the Administration announced a new policy that set new limits on American support for Taiwan: the "three no's."
From this concession, China's political and military leaders very likely drew the lesson that missile intimidation can work. Late last year, China reportedly held missile exercises that targeted Taiwan and U.S. forces in Asia. And in early March, it was reported that China might now have 100 to 150 short-range missiles in areas near Taiwan, with possible plans to increase that number to 650 by 2005. In 1994, the United States sold Taiwan the Patriot PAC-2 system, which has a limited anti-missile capability to defend only a small area. To meet the threat of increased numbers of Chinese ballistic missiles and new cruise missiles, Taiwan will require much more capable missile defense systems.