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The Chinese DF-100 Is The Ultimate Cruise Missile

March 8, 2022
Via Chinese state media.

In the space of just ten years no other military in the world has grown its arsenal as much as China’s armed forces. It remains difficult to study and measure the weapon systems the PLA’s branches have accumulated since around 2009 and 2010 until 2019 as these are so plentiful and trustworthy data on them can be speculative at best. The same applies to a new road mobile cruise missile carried in twos by a transporter called the DF-100. From across the Pacific serious US assessments by the Pentagon indicate the DF-100’s that appeared at an immense military parade in 2019 (pictured above) can strike targets beyond the first island chain.

The “first island chain” is a geographical concept that enjoys a lot of mileage in Western media and scholarship when taking stock of China’s adversarial position against the US in the Pacific Rim. The expanse of the island chain sees Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines as a loose barrier to China’s growing military clout and each of these countries are reinforced by longstanding alliances with the US. A problem with the concept is the island chain’s true ability to counter China is hypothetical since Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines have inadequate air and naval forces in varying degrees.

With the arrival of the DF-100, however, the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) have still another potent weapon system that broadens their ability to coerce, deter, and even subjugate a future opponent. In the Pentagon’s own literature, such as its annual report on Chinese military strength, the DF-100 is understood to have an effective range of “approximately 2,000 km” while further details aren’t provided. Yet one well-known think tank considers the DF-100 as a family of cruise missiles derived from the CJ-10/DH-10 (also known as the DF-10A) and it has an air-launched variant for the H-6K strategic bomber. Unlike other Chinese cruise missiles the DF-100 has an air-breathing ramjet engine and is classified as a supersonic, rather than a subsonic, cruise missile.

There are superficial characteristics of the DF-100 that invites comparisons with the Russian 9M729 road mobile cruise missile that has an estimated range of 2,500 km and was introduced in 2017. Both the 9M729 and the DF-100 are vertically launched missiles with nearly the same range. An even more dated comparison is the US Air Force’s own road mobile or ground-launched and nuclear-capable cruise missile system the BGM-109G Gryphon that was phased out in the last years of the Cold War. North Korea now has two known long-range cruise missile systems on large wheeled transporters that are also comparable to the DF-100 but the distinctions among them are noticeable. Regarding North Korea’s success at cruise missiles, one appears to be an anti-ship missile launcher the other is a nuclear-capable subsonic missile launcher with the whole of Japan within range.

According to the Pentagon the DF-100 joins a growing PLARF conventional missile inventory for neutralizing the carrier strike groups and perhaps vital infrastructure for maintaining US forces across the Indo-Pacific. The DF-100 joints the CJ-10/DH-10 long-range cruise missile along with the DF-17, the DF-21, and the DF-26 medium and intermediate-range road mobile ballistic missiles. Regarding the DF-17 in particular, which is armed with a hypersonic glider that carries its warhead, the Pentagon is certain its main role is “striking foreign military bases and fleets in the Western Pacific.” If the PLARF’s selection of missiles appears daunting it’s best to remember these are apart from the PLA’s established coastal defenses and the PLAN’s own missiles. China’s military also possesses combat drones that carry ordnance at extreme ranges.

On its own the People’s Republic is shaping up to be the most heavily armed nemesis the US ever confronted.

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