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The US Is Very Worried About Chinese Missiles

June 8, 2020

The DF-17 hypersonic missile. Via Chinese media.

The immense military parade held in Beijing last October 1 showcased the advanced state of the PLA’s military technology. Gone was any trace of its outdated equipment as only the newest weapon systems appeared like supersonic drones and the world’s first road mobile hypersonic missile (pictured above). With its budget still growing each year the PLA now boasts a sophisticated missile arsenal that overmatches the US military in Asia. It’s not surprising how Washington, DC is trying to compel Beijing’s acceptance of a treaty for putting limits on nuclear-capable missiles.

The Pentagon’s last report on the PLA in 2019 offered a sobering update on the rocket force, which controls China’s missile arsenal, and singled out the DF-26, a road mobile intermediate-range missile, as a grave threat to the US’ presence in Asia. Once it entered service in 2016 the Pentagon noted the DF-26 is suited for conventional and nuclear precision strikes in three regions–the western Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean. This means the PLARF can neutralize any naval forces either stationed in East Asia or concentrating to block a maritime choke point. The US Navy in particular sees choke points such as the Malacca Strait as a means of disrupting China’s economy, which is reliant on imported energy supplies, during a probable future conflict.

In a report on new Chinese military technology published in late 2019, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also delved into the DF-26 IRBM. According to the report’s authors the DF-26’s origins date to 2008 and after several years it was unveiled in 2015 and has since been test launched from 2016 until 2019. With an estimated maximum range of 4,000 kilometers and a “maneuvering warhead” the DF-26 is believed to be capable of evading theater anti-missile defenses such as THAAD and may have a secondary role as a ballistic anti-ship missile. The Congressional Research Service agrees with this assessment in its latest report on Chinese naval modernization published in April this year. Two PLARF road mobile missiles, the DF-21D and the DF-26, are the most potent weapons against the US Navy’s largest surface combatants and even carriers. This is aside from a rapidly growing selection of anti-ship cruise missiles being adopted by the PLAAF and PLAN.

Below is a tabulation of the PLARF’s entire missile arsenal based on the Pentagon’s own findings. The figures presented are in line with China’s nuclear posture, where a small batch of silo-based ICBMs are maintained as newer road mobile ICBMs are slowly introduced, while conventional missiles are mass-produced for the ground forces. The cruise missiles in the tabulation are limited to road mobile systems in either a coastal defense or precision strike role. The hypersonic DF-17 first unveiled during the October 1 parade is a bit of an outlier with its characteristics still up for interpretation. This particular missile is believed to have two stages, a standard airframe married to a glide vehicle, and its role is seen as a short to medium-range precision strike against critical infrastructure and their defenses. The trajectory of the glide vehicle, whose speed exceeds Mach 4, is supposed to evade and overcome even the most sophisticated anti-missile defenses.

ICBM 90 90 DF-5B, DF-41, DF-31AG
IRBM 80 80-160 DF-26
MRBM 150 150-450 DF-21
SRBM 250 750-1500 DF-11, DF-15, DF-16
G.L. CRUISE MISSILES 90 270-540 YJ-12B, DF-100

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