Tuesday 3 June 2008

Nuclear Delivery System Modernization

Ballistic Missiles

Cruise Missiles

Ballistic Missile Nuclear Submarines (SSBNs)

Bombers and Dual-Capable Aircraft

In addition to nuclear warhead modernization, China is actively modernizing its nuclear delivery systems which include ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and bombers. In particular, Chinese officials state the goal of deploying newer ballistic missiles is to provide China with a strategic nuclear force that is more reliable, survivable, and would bolster China's ability to deter the use of nuclear weapons against the mainland. The majority of China's existing delivery systems were designed in the 1960s and 1970s and have been in service for decades. In this sense, upgrading China's missile force can be seen as a natural evolution and modernization of China's previous capabilities.

China is modernizing all legs of its nuclear triad:

* ballistic and cruise missiles
* ballistic missile submarines
* strategic bombers


Missile Programs Under Development

The vast majority of China's nuclear-capable missile force is land-based, and much of China's nuclear delivery system modernization has been in this area. China has three ballistic missiles under development, the land-based DF-31 and the DF-41 and the sea launched version of the DF-31 known as the JL-2. The DF-31 and DF-41 were originally intended to replace China's aging DF-4 and DF-5 missiles. The DF-31 and DF-41 were both intended to be road-mobile, solid-fueled missiles and have shortened launch preparation times. Some reports say China had hoped to make both missiles MRV or MIRV-capable. In addition, "China could use a DF-31-type RV for a multiple-RV payload for the CSS-4 in a few years." The DF-31 and JL-2 will also likely employ GPS for improved accuracy. On 19 January 2000 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov announced that Russia and China were close to reaching an agreement on the joint use of Russia's GLONASS satellite-based global positioning system. This would free China from using the US GPS system, which could be turned off by the US in time of war. [John Pomfret, "Russians Help China Modernize Its Arsenal," Washington Post, 10 February 2000, p. A17.]

DF-31 (under development): The DF-31, with a range of 8,000 km, was first tested on 2 August 1999, a second secret test was conducted between the third and fifth of November 2000 near the Wuzai missile and Space Center. The PLA tested the DF-31 for a third time on 12 December 2000. It is thought that the DF-31 will replace the DF-4. However, a 2000 National Intelligence Council report assessed that the DF-31 "will be targeted primarily against Russia and Asia." China may have started to build 10-20 DF-31s in 2000, and the U.S. Department of Defense predicts that the DF-31 will likely begin deployment in 2004 or 2005. [Sources: Seth Faison, "In Unusual Announcement, China Tells of a Missile Test, The New York Times, 3 August 1999; Robert Walpole, "The Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," statement for the record to the Senate subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, 9 February 2000; Jane's Defense Weekly, 20 December 2000, p. 5; Bill Gertz, China Runs 2nd Test of Long-Range Missile, The Washington Times, 12 December 2000, p. 1A; Department of Defense, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, July 12, 2002, p. 27. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2002/d20020712china.pdf]

DF-41 (under development, possibly cancelled): The 2000 National Intelligence Council report also estimated that China would test a longer-range mobile ICBM, probably the DF-41, in the next several years. Originally, U.S. officials expected that China would build approximately 10 missiles, yet some sources indicate that the DF-41 program has been cancelled and the system is not mentioned in the Pentagon’s 2002 report on China’s military power. Even if the DF-41 program has been cancelled (possibly due to limitations in China’s ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads), China is expected to develop a new missile with a similar range (likely the DF-31) to replace the DF-5A. The DF-41 ICBM, with a range of 12,000 km, was intended to replace China's older DF-5(A) ICBM. These new missile systems were believed to use a new 200-300 kT warhead which is reportedly almost identical to the one currently deployed on the JL-1 and DF-21 systems. According to the Hong Kong Standard, China had already conducted laboratory simulations of the DF-41 in 1999. [SIPRI Yearbook 1995 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 378-379; Vipin Gupta, "The Status Of Chinese Nuclear Weapons Testing," Jane's Intelligence Review, January 1994, p. 31; Eric Arnett, ed., Nuclear Weapons After the Comprehensive Test Ban: Implications for Modernization and Proliferation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) p. 5; Pamela Pun, "Top Missile Passes Test Simulations," Hong Kong Standard, 15 October 1999. Duncan Lennow, "A Consistent Policy," Jane's Defense Weekly, 11 August 1999, p. 22.; Department of Defense, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, page 27. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2002/d20020712china.pdf]

JL-2 (under development, not yet tested): China is also developing the Julang (JL)-2 missile, a sea-based version of the DF-31, but is not expected to test the JL-2 until after 2010. If four new SSBNs are built then it is possible that 70 to 80 JL-2 may be built. It is still unclear whether China will have a new ballistic missile submarine for these missiles. [Duncan Lennox, "A Consistent Policy," Jane's Defense Weekly, 11 August 1999, p. 22; Robert Walpole, "The Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," statement for the record to the Senate subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, 9 February 2000.]

Currently Deployed Missiles

DF-21/21A (CSS-5): In 2000, China tested a more advanced version of the DF-21, called the Mod 2. Although work is reportedly ongoing, the new model will have a greater range (3,000 km) and improved accuracy through the use of a global positioning system and a "radio-frequency explosive warhead" which is believed to be an electro-magnetic pulse warhead. Some foreign analysts question the need to deploy the DF-21 missiles. The basing and range of the DF-21 missiles constrain China to using these missiles to target non-nuclear weapons states, particularly “Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, or Vietnam, in addition to targets in the Russian Far East and India.” As Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, and Andrew Yang point out, “If it is true, as asserted by (John Wilson) Lewis and Xue (Litai), that China’s target sets for the DF-3 included U.S. bases in the Philippines and Japan, this also runs contrary to Chinese NSAs. The fact that the DF-3 and -4 series missiles are already capable of reaching Russian and Indian targets raises further questions as to the purpose of the DF-21 series in the context of Chinese NSAs.” Nevertheless, the July 2002 tests of the DF-21 Mod 2 included six or seven dummy warhead penetration aids, likely intended to defeat a missile defense system. [Sources: Bates Gill, James Mulvenon, Mark Stokes. “The Chinese Second Artillery Corps: Transition to Credible Deterrence,” in The People’s Liberation Army as an Organization: Reference Volume v1.0.” Ed: James C. Mulvenon, Andrew N.D. Yang. 2001. Page 516. Available at: http://www.rand.org/publications/CF/CF182/CF182.ch11.pdf]; John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China’s Strategic Seapower: The Politics of Force Modernization in the Nuclear Age, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994; and John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988; “DF-21/CSS-5” in China Nuclear Forces Guide. November 2002. Available at: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/china/df-21.htm]

DF-25 (possibly cancelled): The DF-21 was supposed to have been replaced by the DF-25 which uses the first two stages of the DF-31 and JL-2. The DF-25 would have had a range of 1,700 km and would have carried a single warhead, but was reportedly halted in 1996. [Beaver, Paul, "China prepares to field new missile," Jane's Defense Weekly, 24 February 1999, p. 3. Duncan Lennow, "A Consistent Policy," Jane's Defense Weekly, 11 August 1999, p. 23.]

DF-5A (CSS-4): In addition to improving the quality of their ballistic missiles, China is also increasing the number of nuclear armed ballistic missiles. Press reports say that China increased its ICBM force by a third in the first four months of 1998 by building six additional DF-5A. The reports also say China plans to build two more missiles before closing its Wanyuan missile production facility, which would bring the total number of DF-5A to 26. It has also been reported that thirteen of the original 18 DF-5A had been targeted at the United States. The Wanyuan production facility, operated by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), is located approximately 30 miles south of Beijing and is responsible not only for the development of military missiles but also for the Long March 2 space booster. The Wanyuan facility will be moved to a site near Chengdu which will be closer to other defense related industries. The increase in China's nuclear arsenal is expected to continue. National Intelligence Officer Robert Walpole has stated, "By 2015, China will likely have tens of missiles targeted against the United States, having added a few tens of more survivable land- and sea-based mobile missile with smaller nuclear warheads." ["China adds 6 ICBMs to arsenal," The Washington Times, 21 July 1998, pp. A1, A14.; "Wanyuan Production Site Said to be Closing; China Expands ICBM Force," Centre of Defense and International Security Studies website, July 1998; Robert Walpole, "The Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," statement for the record to the Senate subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services, 9 February 2000; Department of Defense, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, July 12, 2002, p. 3, 27. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2002/d20020712china.pdf]

DF-3 (CSS-2): On 17 August 2001 US intelligence agencies reported that China conducted ground tests of its DF-3 (CSS-2) intermediate- range ballistic missile the week before. According to Air Force intelligence, China has deployed about 40 DF-3 refire- capable launchers at six launch complexes throughout China. With a range of between 1,860 and 2,480 miles, the DF-3 is China's primary nuclear missile targeted at Russia and India. The missile is currently being replaced by the newer DF-21/21A. [Bill Gertz, "Chinese Missile Testing," Washington Times, 08/17/01]

DF-4 (CSS-3): The DF-4 missiles were deployed beginning in 1980. The DF-4 will likely be replaced by the newer DF-31 missiles, but the Department of Defense predicts that China will try to retain its DF-4 missiles until 2010. [Department of Defense, Annual Report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, July 12, 2002, p. 27. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2002/d20020712china.pdf]

These developments aside, China has had problems with its ICBM development program. In January 2002, the Washington Times reported that China's military carried out a failed launch test of the re-entry vehicle for the DF-31. The launch took place on January 3, 2001 at 7:14 pm Beijing time (7:15 am EST). One US official stated: "It got off the ground, but there was a midflight explosion. They were testing a re-entry vehicle and used a space launcher [as the booster]. Obviously, this was a setback for them." The DF-31 is a intercontinental ballistic missile in the final stages of development. The DF-31 has been successfully flight-tested several times before. [Washington Times, January 4, 2001.]

For more on miniaturized warheads and MRV/MIRV capabilities, see [CHINA'S NUCLEAR WARHEAD MODERNIZATION]

Intelligence Reports of Chinese Modernization

According to the CIA and DIA, China is committed to the modernization and expansion of its ballistic missile force. In remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, DIA director Lieutenant General Patrick M. Hughes stated:

"China's strategic nuclear force is small and dated, and because of this, Beijing's top military priority is to strengthen and modernize its strategic nuclear deterrent. Numerous new missile systems are under development, along with upgrade programs for existing missiles, and for associated command, control, communications and other related strategic force capabilities. While the pace and extent of China's strategic modernization clearly indicates deterrent rather than 'first strike' intentions, the number of Chinese strategic missiles capable of hitting the United States will increase significantly during the next two decades." [Statement of the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Patrick M. Hughes before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Current and Projected National Security Threats, 2 February 1999.]

Speaking to the same committee, CIA director George Tenet, stated:

"China is increasing the size and survivability of its retaliatory nuclear missile force, even though it is unlikely to make the resource commitment needed to approach the force levels of either the United States or Russia."[Statement of the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threats, 2 February 1999.]


According to a 1998 Pentagon report on China's military capabilities, China is also developing land attack cruise missiles (LACMs) for theater warfighting and strategic attack. One design is said to be based on Silkworm/Styx anti-ship cruise missile design and will have a range of 300 km. According to the Department of Defense January 2001 report, Proliferation Threats and Response, "China's research and development of LACMs is being aided by an aggressive acquisiton of foreign technology and subsystems, particularly from Russia." In addition to development of cruise missiles, Beijing is pursuing warhead designs. Tim McCarthy, senior research associate at the Monterey Institute of International Studies' Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that Chinese engineers are working on a nuclear warhead for its cruise missile. More recent reports have indicated that the Chinese Air Force plans to equip its modern aircraft with nuclear-tipped air-to surface cruise missiles, and that China has also imported Russian technicians for the development of a new long-range nuclear-capable cruise missile.["Cruise Missiles Becoming Top Proliferation Threat," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1 February 1993, pp. 26-27; UPI (Washington), in Executive News Service, 1 February 1993; Holly Porteous, "China's View Of Strategic Weapons," Jane's Intelligence Review, March 1996, pp. 134-135; Barbara Opall, Defense News, 15 December 1996, pp. 1, 48.]

A 1998 Pentagon report said "the first LACM to enter production probably would be air-launched from bombers and could be operational early in the next decade. A second generation, longer-range LACM probably would be fielded several years away." This second generation LACM will have both tactical and strategic attack roles and thus may be a nuclear capable system. Jane's reports that the range of this second generation nuclear-capable LACM will be 2,000 km while the conventional version may have a range of 1,500 km. [Future Military Capabilities and Strategy of the People's Republic of China, Report to Congress, Pursuant to Section 1226 of the FY98 National Defense Authorization Act.]

However, Jane's Defence Weekly, writes that China's first LACM is ground launched. The Hong Niao-1 (HN-1) has a range of 600 km and can carry a 300 to 400 kg conventional warhead or a 90 kT nuclear warhead. The HN-1 is believed to use inertial guidance with terrain comparison or GPS updates. An improved version, the HN-2, is believed to have entered into service in 1996 with an increased range of 1,500 to 2,000 km. The HN-3 is being developed with a range of 2,500 km, and may enter service after 2005. [Duncan Lennox, "China's new cruise missile programme 'racing ahead'," Jane's Defence Weekly, 12 January 2000, p. 12.; “Land-Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM) Hong Niao /Chang Feng” in China Nuclear Forces Guide. August 2002. Available at: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/china/lacm.htm]

China is also developing low observable technology for its cruise missiles. Seek Optics Technical Co. Ltd. has developed materials which can be used to make cruise missiles as well as aircraft, tanks and warships more stealthy. The material named SF18, which can be used on cruise missiles, reportedly "absorbs radiation in the 2GHz-18GHz band. The reflex loss of the material reaches -10dB and their relative absorption ration exceeds 60%." In addition, plans for China to use the Russian GLONASS satellite-based global positioning system may enable China to improve the accuracy of its cruise missiles without relying on the US GPS system.[Zhang Yihong, "Beijing develops new radar-absorbing materials," Jane's Defense Weekly, 24 February 1999, p.3]

It has also been reported that China has purchased complete missile designs and manufacturing tooling from Russia for the AS-15 "Kent," Kh-65SE or AS-16 cruise missiles. China has also bought AS-17 "Krypton" missiles and is negotiating with Russia to build them under license. All of these missiles could carry nuclear warheads. Most recently, the first lot of 24 SS-N-22 Sunburn anit-ship cruise missiles was shipped to China on 16 May 2000. China has purchased two lots of the Sunburn for their Sovremenny-class destroyer, the Hangzhou, from Russia. The second lot is to be delivered at the end of this year. While the delivered missiles are conventionally equipped, Russia does manufacture nuclear equipped Sunburn missiles. This has led to some speculation that "Russia could provide or China could develop, technology that would enable the missiles to deliver a Chinese nuclear warhead." [Duncan Lennox, "A Consistent Policy," Jane's Defense Weekly, 11 August 1999, p. 23.; "Craig Smith, "New Chinese Guided-Missile Ship Heightens Tension," The New York Times (online version) 9 February 2000; "First Lot of Moskit Missiles Shipped to China," ITAR-TASS News Agency, Moscow, in English 1303 GMT 16 May 2000, in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 26 May 2000.]

The US may have also unwittingly aided China's cruise missile program. There are at least six reported cases where US Tomahawk cruise missiles have crashed without exploding. Some of these were believed to have been recovered and shipped to China. Because of this, "a wide range of advanced technologies associated with cruise missile design may therefore have been available to China. These include: INS/GPS guidance; computer software; electronics; power supplies; airframe; wings; fuel system; and small turbofan engines." [Duncan Lennox, "China's new cruise missile programme 'racing ahead'," Jane's Defence Weekly, 12 January 2000, p. 12.]


A new SSBN nuclear submarine, the 09-4, may be under development, with deployment predicted before 2010. Russia is reportedly providing China with assistance in building its second generation of nuclear submarines. The new submarine is expected to incorporate significant improvements over the Xia in areas such as quieting and sensor systems, sonar, and propulsion. China intends to outfit the 09-4 submarine with 16 JL-2 SLBMs. The land-based version of the JL-2, which is known as the DF-31, was first flight tested in 1999 but has encountered significant technological problems and is still under development. A 1999 National Intelligence Council report estimated that the JL-2 is expected to be tested within the next decade and will probably be able to target the United States from launch areas near China. Some reports indicate the JL-2 will be MIRV-capable. China reportedly plans to produce an SSBN fleet of four to six submarines parallel to improvements in submarine and missile technology, but these plans could be delayed due to technical problems with solid missile fuel and the submarines' nuclear reactors.

[Sources: Robert S. Norris, "Nuclear Arsenals of the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China: A Status Report," presented at the 5th ISODARCO Beijing Seminar on Arms Control, Chengdu, China, November 1996, p. 6; "British, French, and Chinese Nuclear Forces," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November-December 1996, p. 67; Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume 5, p. 373; Paul Godwin and John J. Schulz, "Arming The Dragon For The 21st Century: China's Defense Modernization Program," Arms Control Today, December 1993, p. 6 "Foreign Missile Developments and Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015," National Intelligence Council, September 1999.]



Although China's bombers have been in service for over 30 years, they are unlikely to defeat adversaries with modern air defenses. Chinas 30 Qian-5 (A-5/FANTAN) and 100 Hong-6 (B-6/BADGER) bombers are believed to be intended to deliver nuclear weapons. The Qian-5 has a limited range of 400 km and can only carry one nuclear bomb, while the Hong-6 has a range of 3,100 km and can carry up to three bombs.

China is in the process of developing its first indigenously produced fighter/bomber, the H-7. The H-7, which was flight tested in 1988, has the capability to deliver a 10 kT-3 MT nuclear bomb, although some sources indicate the H-7 will not have a nuclear role. Until recently, it was believed that the H-7 would be a PLAAF bomber, but according to a 1995 RAND study on the Chinese air force, the H-7 will be a PLAN bomber. No more than 20 will be built and will not be ready to be deployed until the late 1990s. Production problems may delay that date even further.

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