What Do We Know About China’s Newest Missiles?

Much can be gleaned from open sources, from official announcements to commanders’ online bios.




A 2015 photo of a Dong Feng-26 missile after a parade in Beijing. ICEUNSHATTERED VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

As “great power competition” becomes the lingua franca of American strategy, U.S. policymakers and analysts must build a greater familiarity with the Chinese strategic systems that increasingly worry combatant commanders and which would play an essential role in any Indo-Pacific crisis.

The situation is analogous to the Cold War, when knowledge of Soviet ICBMs was not limited to Sovietologists. Yet unlike in the last century, an extensive amount of information about these systems lies in the open to be analyzed. Instead of awaiting Moscow May Day parades, we can glean a great deal about the systems and their deployments through everything from official announcements to social-media tracking to unit commanders’ bios.

Since 2017, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, the service responsible for China’s conventional and nuclear missiles, has added 10 brigades — more than a one-third increase — and deployed an array of formidable new weapons. These new systems include the intermediate-range DF-26 ballistic missile, DF-31AG and DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles, CJ-100 cruise missile, and DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle. A new nuclear-armed DF-21 variant, speculatively referred to as the DF-21E, may have also been deployed but has not yet been officially unveiled.

We know the most about the DF-26, which is thought to be able to strike ground and naval targets out to about 4,000 kilometers. Publicly revealed in 2015, this IRBM has quickly become one of the PLARF’s most widely deployed systems, equipping at least five brigades so far. These brigades are widely geographically dispersed, with one each in northwest, northeast, and central China, and two more in the southeast, indicating the centrality of the DF-26 to a wide variety of theaters and missions. The DoD has reported both that the PLARF already possesses around 200 DF-26 launchers – a shockingly high figure – and that China continues to manufacture new ones. Hence, it is likely that the number of DF-26 brigades is set to grow still further.

One of the most notable aspects of the DF-26 is its ability to deliver nuclear or conventional warheads. At least one brigade is known to train for both missions. This mix complicates thinking about China’s nuclear deterrent. A U.S. strike on such a brigade risks hitting China’s nuclear arsenal. It is believed that the PLA sees this ambiguity as an advantage, in that it could deter such strikes. But it also risks miscalculation and escalation — which is why the U.S. and USSR kept conventional and nuclear missiles separated.

A fair amount is also known about the DF-31AG, an improved variant of the DF-31 ICBM. First shown in 2017, it has a range of over 11,000 kilometers. The missile is fielded with at least three brigades deployed in central China, and perhaps a fourth. Both the DF-31AG and its predecessor are mainstays of the PLARF’s strategic deterrence role, as outlined in China’s 2019 Defense White Paper.

The PLARF’s newest ICBM, the DF-41, was revealed in 2019. No brigades have been confirmed to have received this system, although the 644 Brigade located in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province is strongly suspected to be the first. There is also evidence that the 662 Brigade may soon receive a silo-based variant of the DF-41 at the Sundian complex in Henan province, where open-source intelligence has shown updates being made to previously identified DF-4 ICBM launch sites.

Map of the Sundian complex in Hainan province. Courtesy Scott Lafoy and Decker Eveleth, Arms Control Wonk Blog.

Evidence of infrastructure buildout, possibly for a silo-based DF-41, has also been observed at Jilantai in Inner Mongolia.

Less is known so far about the CJ-100 ground-launched cruise missile, first revealed in 2019. It may be able to hit land and sea targets out to about 2,000 kilometers, which could complement the PLARF’s anti-ship ballistic missiles and further complicate an adversary’s missile defense efforts. Some evidence suggests that the first unit to deploy the CJ-100 will be the 656 Brigade, whose location in eastern China on the Shandong Peninsula would allow it to target much of Japan. If it has an anti-ship function, it could also hit ships in the East China Sea and beyond the first island chain.

The DF-17, the PLARF’s first hypersonic weapon, was first publicly revealed in 2019. It will be capable of reaching speeds of Mach 5 en route to targets some 1,800 to 2,500 kilometers away. Claims have also been made that it is accurate to “within meters.” Its high speed and ability to maneuver may flummox current air defense systems.

Details have finally begun to emerge about the DF-17’s deployment. The South China Morning Post reported last year that it had been deployed to southeast China—likely for use in a scenario involving Taiwan. This would make sense, as the PLA would presumably be eager to add its newest missile, with its touted superior accuracy and ability to penetrate missile defenses, to its substantial arsenal of conventional missiles already aimed at Taiwan. This appears to have been confirmed by a barrage of reporting in late 2020 indicating that the DF-17 had been delivered to the new 627 Brigade in eastern Guangdong Province, opposite southern Taiwan.

Reporting from the 2019 National Day Parade provides further hints. DF-17 personnel in the parade came from the PLA’s “first conventional SSM missile unit,” which could describe both the 613 Brigade in Shangrao, as well as Base 61, the primary PLARF base tasked with striking Taiwan. Media reporting showed that the DF-17 formation in the parade was led by Col. Lu Ercan. Lu is deputy commander of the 614 Brigade in Yong’an, Fujian, which is subordinate to Base 61 and which also reportedly received an unidentified new missile in 2018. All of this makes it likely that at least one DF-17 brigade will be stationed in southeast China under Base 61. Circumstantial evidence suggests Shangrao (613 Brigade) or Yong’an (614 Brigade) as possible other locations, but solid evidence remains elusive.

Finally, the newest DF-21 nuclear MRBM variant, tentatively designated DF-21E, has been reported to have been deployed in the DoD’s annual report to Congress. This report says the missile may have a range of about 1,750 kilometers, similar to the earlier DF-21A. However, it has not been publicly revealed in an official way by the PLA nor have there been any known public sightings to use in open-source intelligence.

Piecing together scattered Chinese media reports on recent brigade developments, it appears that at least three brigades are known to be equipped with previous variants of the DF-21: the 651 Brigade, equipped with the nuclear DF-21A, and both 624 and 653 Brigades, equipped with the conventional, anti-ship DF-21D. All may have received a new missile system in 2019 or 2020. This is particularly surprising in the case of the latter two brigades, which received their DF-21Ds less than ten years ago. 624 Brigade had recently moved to a new base on Hainan Island, presumably to provide the South China Sea with anti-ship ballistic missile coverage. While there is no firm indication of what new missile these brigades are equipped with, the DF-26 or the upgraded DF-21E are both distinct possibilities. If the latter, this would suggest that the DF-21E also features a swappable warhead capable of conventional and anti-ship missions, as it would seem likely that the Hainan-located brigade would retain its anti-ship mission.

The rundown of China’s latest missiles shows not just an immense gain in capability, but also how much can be gleaned about them from open-source intelligence. It is crucial to keep an eye on both in the years ahead.

Ma Xiu is an analyst currently researching the PLA Rocket Force at BluePath Labs, LLC.

Source: Defense One “What Do We Know About China’s Newest Missiles?”

Note: This is Defense One’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean whether I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

China may outmatch American military in missile development and shipbuilding, says US Defence Department report

  • China has already achieved parity with – or even exceeded – the United States in several military modernisation areas,’ says Pentagon

  • China is likely to double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade, according to the report

Robert Delaney

Mark Magnier

Robert Delaney and Mark Magnier in the United States

Published: 3:54am, 2 Sep, 2020

China may have surpassed American military capabilities in the area of missile development and shipbuilding, and is likely to double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade, the US Defence Department said in an annual report to US lawmakers.

China has already achieved parity with – or even exceeded – the United States in several military modernisation areas,” including shipbuilding, land-based conventional ballistic and cruise missiles, and integrated air defence systems, said the report, which was made public on Tuesday

Source: Excerpts of SCMP’s report “China may outmatch American military in missile development and shipbuilding, says US Defence Department report”, full text of which can be found at https://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/3099809/china-may-outmatch-american-military-missile-development-and

Note: This is SCMP’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

China’s missile force is growing at an unprecedented rate

The nation appears to have introduced 11 new missile brigades since May 2017.

P.W. Singer and Ma Xiu

February 25, 2020

Vehicles with long-range DF-26 missiles during a military parade in Beijing, China, in September 2015.Ge jinfh

China’s long-range missiles play a central role in the country’s military plans. And, in the event of armed conflict between that nation and the US, they’re the weapon the American military worries the most about.

Despite their pivotal role in Chinese war-fighting strategy, the service responsible for those missiles, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), remains perhaps the most opaque branch of Beijing’s military. While its new fleet of expanded-range missile systems—from the DF-31 and DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to the hypersonic DF-17—have debuted in parades, there are still a number of profound changes happening in the PLARF that are relatively undisclosed.

But by tracking more subtle public announcements and news stories, it appears the number of missile brigades in the PLA has jumped from 29 to 40, an increase of more than 35 percent, in just three years.

To understand this expansion, a bit of context is necessary: The PLARF’s predecessor, the Second Artillery Force, officially formed in 1966, and by the end of the decade, it fielded roughly eight strategic missile regiments, which were later upgraded to brigades. Three more were added in the 1970s. Beginning in the late 1980s, the Second Artillery Force began fielding new short- and medium-range missile types, requiring the addition of new brigades. Four new brigades stood up between 1980 and 2001, three of which were equipped with these new missiles.

The first decade of the 2000s saw faster growth: Eleven new units stood up between 2001 and 2010, at least eight of which were equipped with the latest missiles, including the DF-31 (the PLA’s first road-mobile ICBM), the CJ-10 (its first land-attack cruise missile), and the DF-16 SRBM, as well as the improved DF-21C. Similarly, when the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile began to come online in the late 2010s, two of the next three brigades may have been equipped with it.

New brigades are usually equipped with the PLA’s most advanced missiles. BluePath Labs

Why build so quickly recently? A review of available information on Chinese news and web sources about the 11 new brigades offers some hints as to the direction and reasons behind this expansion.

Recent brigades by date.BluePath Labs

Of these, the 644 Brigade, established in July 2017, is perhaps the most intriguing because it offers a glimpse into the kinds of new weapons that these brigades will likely carry. This unit test-fired a new missile in April 2016, and again at some point in late 2017, prior to it officially entering service. Both the DF-41 (the newest ICBM) and the DF-17 (which carries a hypersonic glide vehicle called the DF-ZF) were tested in April 2016 and late 2017. Given this timeline, and the previous pattern of new brigades being created to accommodate new missiles, this unit is likely one of the first equipped with those two new missiles.

Further, this unit was reported to have been given the unit title “New Generation 1st Dongfeng Brigade.” Such honorifics are occasionally conferred upon units that are the first to achieve a major milestone: The 1st Dongfeng Brigade was the first unit equipped with a Dongfeng missile, the 1st Conventional Brigade was the first equipped with a conventional missile, and the 1st Cruise Missile Brigade was the first to deploy a cruise missile. The deployment of the PLA’s first hypersonic missile would certainly qualify for such an honorific. On the other hand, the brigade’s location in Hanzhong, close to existing ICBM formations, may indicate a DF-41 or DF-31AG unit.

These units are likely important developments for the PLARF, and as such the public information on these brigades is limited, especially compared to the amount of information about American equivalents. However, we can say that the new units appear to be evenly distributed geographically, indicating that it is modernizing across the board, as opposed to a singular focus on a specific region.

Locations of new brigades established since 2017. BluePath Labs

Further, it appears that these brigades are continuing the trend of being equipped with the latest missile systems; there is at least one DF-26 brigade, as well as three brigades with unidentified new model missiles. Most interestingly, at least one of them appears to be equipped with a missile system that came online in the last two years, likely the DF-41, DF-17, or DF-31AG. This would indicate that the PLARF is not only growing new units rapidly but is equipping these new brigades with its most advanced weapons.

What’s more, two of the brigades are equipped with dual-use weapons systems (DF-26, DF-21C) that have both nuclear and conventional war applications, with the others likely equipped with the DF-41, DF-31AG, and DF-17, all of which are nuclear or nuclear-capable.

This fits within what China laid out in its 2019 Defense White Paper, which noted that the strategic requirements of the PLARF include “enhancing…nuclear deterrence and counterattack [and] strengthening intermediate and long-range precision strike forces.”

The new units and the evidence on the ground tells the tale of a growing force, with growing capability well beyond what is glimpsed in parades.

Ma Xiu is an analyst with BluePath Labs, a DC-based consulting company that focuses on research, analysis, disruptive technologies, and wargaming.

P.W. Singer is Strategist at New America and author of multiple best-selling and award-winning books on national security.

Source: Popular Science “China’s missile force is growing at an unprecedented rate”

Note: This is Popular Science’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

What Can US Expect from China in Dealing with North Korea

China is now the only country that has great influence on North Korea. In fact, Kim Jong-il went to China to get its support before he announced his choice of Kim Jong-un as his successor and Kim Jong-un cannot maintain his leadership now without Chinese support.

Obama is clever to tell North Korea that America harbors no enmity against North Korea. Without the enmity, Kim Jong-un will gradually lose his people’ and officials’ support in squandering money to develop sophisticated weapons. However, Obama seems to regret that China is unable to help US resolve the North Korean problem.

Kim Jong-un’s priority now is to develop economy to feed his people and improve their living standards. In so doing, he needs Chinese funds, technology and management experience. China, however, needs North Korea’s labor and natural resources. US pressure on North Korea over its weapon development will only enhance North Korea’s dependence on China and facilitate China’s exploitation of North Korean resources.

Why shall China help America ease the tension between America and North Korea? Will China gain anything in doing so? Normalization of relations between America and North Korea will enable America to compete with China in investing in North Korea and exploiting the human and natural resources there. Obama seems to forget: the driving force behind international affairs is interest.

Why is North Korea not willing to give up its development of carrier missiles that is too expensive for a small and poor country? It wants to blackmail America since America is willing to pay. It may perhaps be profited if America is willing to give it substantial compensation.

As I pointed out in my previous post, America shall just ignore North Korea’s threat and treat it with contempt. It shall focus on its own domestic problems and let the UN, South Korea and Japan to deal with the issue.