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Deadly Chinese Missile Threats Pt 1

August 23, 2010
Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, developed...

Image via Wikipedia

The British Royal Navy appears set on deploying its first ever post World War 2 conventional catapult ships, if all goes well. There is a problem with spending small defense funds on a rather dated notion, that in the future large deck warships will be able to sail close to shore and perform the traditional duty of power projection, given the proliferation of guided missiles around the world. Greg Grant reports on what the Western powers would have to face in any confrontation with the world’s premier missile fleet since the demise of the Soviet Union, China:

China has the “most active” land based ballistic missile and cruise missile program in the world, the DoD report says. The PLA is building a huge missile arsenal for precision conventional strike because it lacks, so far anyway, a stealthy strike aircraft. The vast majority of China’s ballistic missiles are of the short range (under 600km) SCUD type and lack “true precision strike capability.” And the vast majority of those missiles are aimed at Taiwan.
In the anti-access arena, China is building or buying medium-range ballistic missiles (1,000–3,000km): “to increase the range at which it can conduct precision strikes against land targets and naval ships, including aircraft carriers, operating far from China’s shores out to the first island chain.”

The number of such missiles are debatable, but certainly in the thousands, as noted by the Pentagon Report and Taiwanese media sources:

The U.S. Pentagon’s just-released report on military and security developments involving China said that by December 2009, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had deployed between 1,050 and 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles targeted at Taiwan.

However, local news media cited a Ministry of National Defense (MND) magazine report in July as estimating that the number of Chinese short-range missiles targeting Taiwan will reach 1,960 by the end of this year.

While the West seems to be making progress on numerous anti-missile devices, including some hope with the long-promised deployment of lasers, the Chinese buildup along with historical evidence suggest the odds are stacked in favor of the missiles. It has been 66 years since the first primitive guided missiles were used in warfare, the dreaded V-1 and V2 Vengeance weapons of Nazi Germany. From Wikipedia we get an idea of how difficult it was to contend with these weapons of the future, back when the West enjoyed complete air superiority in traditional manned planes:

Unlike the V-1, the V-2’s speed and trajectory made it invulnerable to anti-aircraft guns and fighters, as it dropped from an altitude of 100–110 km (62–68 mi) at up to four times the speed of sound (appr. 3550 km/h). A plan was proposed whereby the missile would be detected by radar, its terminal trajectory calculated, and the area along that trajectory saturated by large-caliber anti-aircraft guns. The plan was dropped after operations research indicated that the likely number of malfunctioning artillery shells falling to the ground would do more damage than the V-2 itself.

The defence against the V-2 campaign was to destroy the launch infrastructure—expensive in terms of bomber resources and casualties—or to cause the Germans to “aim” at the wrong place through disinformation. The British were able to convince the Germans to direct V-1s and V-2s aimed at London to less populated areas east of the city. This was done by sending false impact reports via the German espionage network in Britain, which was controlled by the British (the Double Cross System).

There is a record of one V-2, fortuitously observed at launch from a passing American B-24 Liberator, being shot down by .50 caliber machine-gun fire. The limitations of any countermeasures can be understood by two facts: 20 seconds after starting, a V2 was out of reach; the time from start to impact in London being merely 3 minutes.

Ultimately the most successful countermeasure was the Allied advance that forced the launchers back beyond range.

In other words, the only really effective defense was to physically occupy the ground where the missiles were launched. That was nearly 70 years ago, however, and times have changed right? Well, even the passage of time hasn’t been able to fully secure the West from rocket and missile attack, as proved during the Gulf Wars. While more accurate than Germany’s V-2 could hope to be, the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, proved deadly illusive for America’s space age military in 1991. More from Wikipedia:

The USAF organized CAPs over areas where Scud launchers were suspected to operate, namely western Iraq near the Jordanian border, where the Scuds were fired at Israel, and southern Iraq, where they were aimed at Saudi Arabia. A-10 strike aircraft flew over these zones during the day, and F-15Es fitted with LANTIRN pods and synthetic aperture radars patrolled at night. However, the infrared and radar signatures of the Iraqi TELSs were almost impossible to distinguish from ordinary trucks and from the surrounding electromagnetic clutter. While patrolling strike aircraft managed to sight their targets on 42 occasions, they were only able to acquire them long enough to release their ordinance three times.[32] In addition, the Iraqi missile units dispersed their Scud TELs and hid them in culverts, wadis, or under highway bridges. They also practiced “shoot-and-scoot” tactics, withdrawing the launcher to a hidden location immediately after it had fired, while the launch sequence that usually took 90 minutes was reduced to half an hour. This enabled them to preserve their forces, despite optimistic claims by the coalition. A post-war Pentagon study concluded that relatively few launchers had been destroyed by coalition aircraft.

Here is the Rand Report that the above article was based on. Also, there is evidence only about 10% of the Scuds were shot down by the much-herald Patriot missile batteries. You get the idea from recent experience that anti-missile defenses are “feel good weapons”. In other words they aren’t very effective, but gives the impression  we are doing something to defend ourselves.

Add the relatively low tech Scuds to modern precision targeting systems,  used so dramatically also in that First Gulf War, plus the ability of their launchers to avoid detection and the portent is an ominous one. It could be that the game changer so feared might actually come about. With the West continuing to expend excessive amounts of funds on last century manned airpower, it seems we are missing the boat on the real revolution. UAVs can loiter for days in hunter-killer missions to seek out and destroy missile launchers, without the vast naval and airborne logistical chain required to support manned aircraft.

We could also be restoring our shrinking number of warships by building small ships and submarine which might actually survive the impending missile onslaught. We may also need many fast amphibious craft, carrying Marine Raiders which can destroy coastal missile batteries at the source.  Know also that these smaller vessels can also carry missile weapons themselves, allowing for a counterstrike using the same new weapons to threaten our enemies, the same arms we ourselves are threatened by today.

Today-Us finding them.
Tomorrow-Them finding us


29 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2014 2:12 am

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  3. September 30, 2014 11:11 am

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  6. Kurt permalink
    December 18, 2011 2:17 pm

    These are two post in one to highlight the subject of anti ship missiles and their implications:

    the first is looking at naval vessels from the point of view of someone being threatened by these:

    Concerning small and large ships, in my opinion it’s easier to fake the observation of a small naval vessel than of a larger vessel, especially the more closer the observer is and thus fool enemy ordnance guidance. So small ships like the LCS have good surviveability by having missile irritations in the air and in the water around them. Reliance on close in weapon systems would be a whole less effective for them. The problem here, as in all navies is tradition. There’s been a tradition of ships that could do almost everything (except flying themselves) and now warship means ship with complete capabilities. Problem is, the hull is too small for all that fancy stuff. Either you build a new big hull that can go littoral (I favor an M-shaped version like the M80 Stiletto) or you scale down equipment for the ship and receive even more ridicule for creating a high speed coffin.
    I think everybody knows someone who needs exorbitant amounts of stuff for short travels to another location. Try to convince such a person of taking less with him and you probably get a glimpse of what it means to convince a whole establishment of persons that less can be more and that the LCS was meant as the realization of the naval streetfighter concept.
    So if someone decides to target small ships with a missile saturated environment it’s rather a test if the easier targeting of large ships with missiles really works. Having large ships close to shore for operations against an enemy is a great asset, not a necessity and it shows the enemy a lot of naval supremacy. But, it’s an asset, not a necessity. You can do aerial refuelling in order to strike long range and in the future possibly even aerial rearming, adding a whole new level of complexity due to aircrafts being able to operate from new bases and angles for rapid destruction of critical installations. But in essence the basics of a navy is the control of the sea lines of communication where most of the world’s traffic takes place. If you have no large aircraft carriers you can’t break a blockade of a geographic bottleneck of your SLoC. Naturally you and your allies need lots of small carriers, like amphibious labelled multi-purpose carriers in order to exercise sea control for their own supply of goods and materials. Large ships are perfect for the tasks in the blue sea and can survive there very well. The issue with them is that they become increasingly difficult to hide the closer an enemy can establish a permanent surveillance position (shore, island chains) and can thus have unwanted attention via missile attacks. Look at the number of hits during battles such as Skagerrak or in the naval Jom Kippur War, modern naval warfare with guidance, fooling and jamming could be rather similar in that hit ratio aspect despite “perfect” mathematical theories and elaborate observation techniques, so totally disappointing higher hit expectations. I wouldn’t underestimate the ability of a large aircraft carrier to harness large amounts of energy for dazzling countermeasures.
    Back to the Chinese missiles, from China and allies (Iran, Burma, Pakistan) these are able to cover the most important SLoC of this country, the connection to the Persian Gulf and East Africa. Add to these the many new Chinese naval bases along the route and you see that these missile aren’t so much about directly blocking access to Taiwan, but about protecting their supply route against interference in a region where India is the dominant naval power. The protection of this supply route is paramount to being able to use violence that’s not welcomed by the USA, for example against Taiwan. If this route gets blocked it’s pretty useless to have so many factories and weapons, because China then has hardly enough fuel nor critical resources to keep their forces operational and updated. An aera defense is SLoC defense, but China is not yet ready to move this defence out on the blue sea. They rather want to go blue water and have a very concise modus operandi in securing the Indian Ocean naval rim with bases. Narrowing down the Chinese anti-ship missile debate to the South China sea dispute and Taiwan is overlooking that these weapons are one step towards a secured military and economic position for greater scope of actions.

    this is the second one is looking at Chinese politics because all armed violence is for political goals. If you have no goal your violence will be senseless and futile. This is also the post where I’m most at home as a student of Chinese language and history:

    Under current Chinese territorial definition (that’s a strange thing by itself) they still have to quarrel with the Russsian over their Far East land as well as maintain a military position in Tibet and last but not least incorporate Taiwan and the small South Chinese Sea islands. Why do the mainland Chinese go to so many troubles if they just allowed Hong Kong and Macao to keep being a separate entity and respected the treaties with the British and Portuguese, unlike the Indians and Portuguese Goa for example?
    Especially looking at Taiwan, it was originally settled by non-Chinese, who now form a minority, and settled by Chinese immigrants under European rule (like other parts of South East Asia). A Chinese admiral established Chinese supremacy over this island close to their shore and forced the Europeans to leave. Such acts of Chinese admirals enforced also governments obdiant to the Son of Heaven on other islands in the South Chinese Sea and even Sri Lanka. So why is Taiwan important, why is it special, why is there a massive threat of violence and why is there no possibility to negotiate anything but “reunification”?
    Looking at this political framework I see two possibly important lines of thought, it’s about restoring Chinese integrity after the attempted colonilization. So the Chinese don’t bicker over Samarkand in Central Asia lost to the early Muslim caliphate, but rather defined their own pre-alien-invasion-date with corresponding territory. Establishing their rule over this territory means rolling back the alien-invasion (the Europeans or Nan-Ban seemed very alien) and thus restoring China’s old integrity and role in the world. China did have a long narrative as the center of the world, still reflected in their self designation (just like Europeans have themselves at the center of world maps and speak of Rome and Greece as the ancient world). Nowadays they did some intellectual summersaults to redefine the world’s development as led by China, old habits just die slowly. Taiwan in comaprison to Russia’s Far East, for which they risked exchanging bullets with armed forces of a nuclear superpower neighbour, contains the bastion of the former rulers of China, the Kuomintang. Reality is more complicated because mainland Chinese “one-party-rule” knows many factions and one among them are red, or loyal, Kuomintang. Taiwan today moved on from the old military dictatorships favoured by the Cold War US for countries considered not developed enough or too recalcitrant (Chile) for democratic rule. The problem is that the Taiwanese speak Chinese and are thus a well-known systemic challenge on the mainland despite their size. Other than the pre-invasion reestablishment, the Damocles threat keeps them in check and this check is known on the mainland. So whatever they do on they island, the mainlanders are less enticed to emulatre all facets. Keeping the conflict boiling is quite in the interest of the mainland gouvernment because the goal of reunification seems to be a powerful drive for nations who feel divided (US secession, Italy, Vietnam, Jemen, Germany, Korea to name some). In my opinion the US back-up for the Taiwanese staus quo comes in handy because it enforces a military build-up that for the envisioned reunification needs to be able to pose a rather global challenge to the leading hegemon, the US. So whatever the Chinese currently develop for barring entrance to their littorals, it’s gaming for the much bigger target. This big target, the reunification, is concepted as a catharsis for the long national humiliation. It’s a bit like the donkey with the stick and the carrot, as long as the carrot is reachable, but not reached, the donkey keeps on moving. the problem is that you can’t have something as intelligent as a donkey follow the carrot forever without satisfaction. So you need a convincing and reachable new goal while finally feeding the carrot. As long as there aren’t yet much political moves towards this new goal, military and economic means are probably not sufficient to suggest achieveability. For this reason I’m rather sceptic of the impact of yet to develop carrier-killing precision missiles on naval warfare.

  7. Kurt permalink
    December 18, 2011 12:59 pm

    What about the Royal Navy trick during the Falkland War of using helicopters to have incoming missiles lock on them instead of the ship and then let these missiles fly into empty sea? It’s not difficult rocket science to build something that goes fast and low into a direction where it can possibly hit a large target.
    The V1 and 2 weapons were exactly that and there were no attempts to combine them with guidance systems used during earlier bombing attempts in the Battle for Britain. These weapons did hit something and people didn’t like being a potential target. But chances of being hit personally were rather stellar compared to bomber attacks and even these missed their mark a lot. So I’m afraid of large and fast missiles carrying area destroying WMD and with a nuclear warhead they might be able to wreak havoc on a carrier. But high precision for small conventional warheads is a whole new world of complications.
    So will this missile capable of flying long range and high speed over the sea hit the large targeted ship? I don’t know. How does the terminal guidance work? Can the terminal guidance of a missile on a carrier be fooled by large aircrafts or large inflated rubberboats? As long as it’s not clear that the guidance is good enough to hit despite known countermeasures, it can be rather a hot air attack aimed at intimidation by creating perceived risks and risk averse behaviour. The case wouldn’t be dissimilar to the exagerated claims about abilities of Soviet weapon systems during the Cold War in order to create “gaps” that had to be filled at huge costs in order to boldly take risks again because of own supremacy in all fields. Today’s gaps can be filled similarly, but I’m afraid that the Chinese are right with their emphasis on a strong economy as the backbone of a more violent use of military capability, so in a few decades a perceived gap with resulting risk averse behaviour can result in limited capabilities to the degree of inability to prevent certain enemy military acts. That doesn’t mean that such a deadly anti-ship missile really exists or can be built with existing Chinese resources nor that Iran has something like that.

  8. May 5, 2011 4:38 am

    Desire has no rest.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 24, 2010 6:20 pm

    Original Smitty,
    Sorry about the troll. I’ve gone back and marked those as spam. Hopefully that will take care of it otherwise we will take more drastic steps.

  10. Hudson permalink
    August 24, 2010 10:22 am

    Interesting tidbit about the B-24. To the long list of accomplishments by American bombers in WWII, can be added that one destroyed a ballistic missile in flight with machine gun fire. Outstanding!

    The “V” in German meant “vengeance.”

  11. B.Smitty (The Original) permalink
    August 24, 2010 10:16 am


    It appears we have a troll who likes to mascaraed as a long time New Wars commenter. His MO is to post short, trite comments disparaging a previous comment.

    Mike, have you considered adding a sign-in plugin like Janrain Engage to New Wars?

    It would at least allow long-time posters to distinctly identify themselves.

  12. August 24, 2010 7:41 am


    it appears we have a new tangosix,the tangosix who wrote that is not me.


  13. tangosix permalink
    August 24, 2010 6:42 am

    Fencer, you cannot be serious when you say it JUST had its bow shot off. A very dubious statement.

    I would not consider the F35. Leave that to the dreamers and idiots.

  14. Fencer permalink
    August 23, 2010 10:18 pm


    I agree with you about the threat to small ships in the littorals. I’ve been convinced that size is a vital part of survivability after watching three YouTube clips of torpedo SINKEXs. They were of a european corvette, a Australian frigate, and a Spruance-class destroyer. The corvette simply disintegrated, the frigate split in half, and the destroyer just had its bow shot off. However, the question I’m interested in is how much is AEGIS contributing to ship self-defense? In the past SAMs have been rather ineffective at intercepting missiles (I believe it has only happened once) so stealth and decoys might be a better choice.

    It looks to me that the main threat to airfields is damage to the runway, not the hangars, so the F-35B could mitigate the effects of a missile attack.

  15. Fencer permalink
    August 23, 2010 10:06 pm


    I don’t agree that China wouldn’t attacking small warships.The majority of Kamikaze attacks were against DDs and DEs because those were in the front ranks. How many Japanese pilots consciously chose to attack the cheapest ships in the US Navy? When a modern corvette could be carrying a dozen TLAMs aimed at my capitol I wouldn’t wait for a more valuable target that might not even arrive until after my targeting network has been destroyed.

  16. August 23, 2010 9:18 pm

    Hello Juramentado,

    I did not suggest the Chinese would use Anti Ship Ballistic Missiles against corvettes – just missiles.
    Our host often suggests that carrier groups with their powerful escorts cannot survive in a missile heavy environment.
    I contend that corvettes and high speed landing vessels have no chance of surviving in waters denied to a carrier group surrounded by Arleigh Burkes.

    I have little doubt that ballistic missiles will be able to hit moving targets but doing that requires a sensor and communications network which it’s self must be protected from attack.
    The means to attack elements of that network are already in service with the United States Navy.
    Counters to the terminal phase are no doubt under development already.

    The fixed land base unfortunately does not have the luxury of denying the Chinese targetting information.
    It’s only option is to hard kill the missile and that is not an economic proposition when the intercepter costs far more than the missile it is intercepting.
    Killing the launchers is likely to be impractical.
    The air force should be far more worried about Chinese missile development than the navy.


  17. Juramentado permalink
    August 23, 2010 8:44 pm


    Recall that the production rate of the ASBM is such that the PRC would not ideally use this weapon on “small boys,” i.e., combatants smaller than a capital ship. That would be a throw-away use of a useful weapon with which to hold more strategic targets at risk. That makes no sense if there a small number of them available. There are easier and more reliable ways to sink small boys, including rolling them back with conventional sea and aircraft launched AshMs.

    Additionally, think hard about the comments made regarding the AOU. The technology exists to guide an RV suitably to a point target, even one that is on the move. While the proof is in the pudding, the smart money is to assume they have, or will at some point, overcome any technical obstacles and made the weapon a plausibility. The sooner that happens, the sooner counter-measure engineering can begin in earnest.

  18. August 23, 2010 7:50 pm

    Hello Chuck Hill,

    my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I wrote that.


  19. August 23, 2010 7:48 pm


    the proliferation of long range conventional ballistic missiles certainly is a “game changer” but the carrier game may not be the one to be changed.

    Historically aircraft had several advantages over artillery:

    They could deliver heavier payloads;
    They could deliver those payloads to longer ranges;
    They could precisely target those payloads.

    The most significant advantage was that the aircraft outranged the gun.
    Aircraft are very vulnerable on the ground and they spend most of their time there.
    In the past their bases were well beyond the range of artillery.
    In future only strategic bombers will have that luxury and they provide such a low return on investment that few air forces can afford them.
    Any other aircraft tied to a fixed land base is going to find it difficult to survive.
    If we can’t stop the Taliban from firing rockets within a 20 mile radius of bases in Afghanistan,how are we going to stop the Chinese firing rockets within a 2,000 mile radius of Okinawa?
    Dispersed basing has it’s own problems but is likely to become neccessary for all land based combat and support aircraft.

    The aircraft carrier has significant advantages in this environment as the enemy needs the means to detect and track it as well as missiles which can hit a moving target.
    That makes his task much harder and more expensive,it also creates many vulnerabilities which can be exploited.

    Regarding unmanned air vehicles,it should be remembered that an aircraft is still an aircraft whether it has a pilot or not.
    It still had logistical requirements,still needs a base and still suffers from the tyrrany of distance.

    Regarding small ships,how will they aurvive in an area where missiles are such a threat to much more capable larger vessels?
    How will small raiding forces take on the might of the Peoples Liberation Army?


  20. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 23, 2010 6:55 pm

    TangoSix, why would you think that the Sea Slug could destroy a carrier with a single hit, since it had at the most a 200 pound warhead?

    The mystery for me was why they gave it such and inspiring name.

  21. August 23, 2010 5:45 pm

    Sometimes it isn’t a question of what you can see, more a question of what you can’t see.

    If the Chinese had a ship killing ballistic missile there would be footage on the web.

    If this Iranian drone was something more than a prop there would be footage on the web.

    I agree that the evidence suggests that Iranian military may well be lions lead by donkeys. Not for nothing are the Gulf Arabs a bit tense.

  22. Hudson permalink
    August 23, 2010 5:26 pm

    The Chinese and Iranians handle pr differently. The Chinese say they are only providing happy meals to the world; whereas the Iranians puff themselves up like blowfish in brandhing their military prowess.

    However, I see no evidence that the weapons are whimsical. U.S. naval commanders have complimented the professionalism of the regular Iranian navy. Unfortunately, increasingly, the armed services and instruments of state in Iran are being taken over by the brownshirt Revolutionary Guards, some 200,000 strong.

  23. August 23, 2010 3:53 pm

    The Antrim SeaSlug is documented in several books; I think somebody (possibly the captain) said something to the affect of SeaSlug is “suitable for targets with vertical extent.”

    As we are in the realms of science fiction with these Chinese and Iranian announcements I remember an episode of UFO and a famous Dr Who serial “The Sea Devils” ( both show County and SeaSlug in all their collective glory.)

    I think all these silly announcements undermine the Iranian military; their regular army on parade looks quite martial.

  24. D. E. Reddick permalink
    August 23, 2010 2:52 pm


    Some details of the land attack use by Sea Slug are included in the following.

    Sea Slug missile

  25. August 23, 2010 2:34 pm

    Hello X,

    if there is any missile that would sink an aircraft carrier with a single hit,Sea Slug must surely be it.
    Shame it was supposed to be used against aircraft.
    I hear it did some damage in land attack mode during the Falklands War though I can’t remember what to.
    Who needs Tomahawk when you’ve got Sea Slug.


  26. August 23, 2010 2:00 pm

    Two things,

    1) Considering the surplus of merchant hulls on the market at the moment where is the vid’ of the Chinese wonder weapon being tested.

    2) Beware Iranian phantom weapons. When I saw the picture of the Iranian drone I thought the Iranians had pinched the plans to SeaSlug.

  27. Hudson permalink
    August 23, 2010 11:36 am

    Perhaps of more immediate concern, is Iran’s growing missile arsenal. Recently, Iran announced a 600 mile range drone bomber (discussed in Breaking News), which supposidly can carry several small bombs or missiles. An interesting concept–a cruise missile with multiple warheads–though of no great immediate concern.

    More to the point, is Iran’s growing arsenal of solid and liquid fuel long range rockets, notably the Shahab 1,2,3 series of ballistic missiles. Israeli newspaper sounces estimate that Iran might possess app. 100 of the 2,000km range Shahab 3, which could reach Israel. BBC sources estimate Iran might have 400 – 500 earlier Shahab 1,2 rockets in the 300 – 500km range, which could strike targets in the Gulf region and Afghanistan. Iran also possesses hundreds of SCUD missiles which could hit American assets in the region. Many of these rockets are mounted on mobile launchers, and Iran is a big country.

    SCUD missile attacks proved problematic to Coalition forces and Israel in Gulf War I, which took a number of damaging hits from these weapons. Patriot missile batteries were only marginally effective against them, and intensive air searches for the launchers in the western Iraq desert were also frustrating.

    According to a long essay in the current Atlantic Magazine, Israel considers March of 2011 to be the time Iran will likely have a nuclear weapon. Unless there is some dramatic change in Iran’s nuclear program by then, Israel might feel compelled to attack Iran’s nuclear sites even if it believes the attack might only be partially successful, thus setting off a wider war.

    Mindful of this possibility, Iran is producing weapons sustems at a breakneck pace, announcing new small subs, missiles boats, missile tests nearly weekly. Iran’s large number of battlefield rockets and ballistic missiles pose a threat to U.S. naval and other forces that would be operating in the region. They could complicate targeting lists, for one thing, in an effort to silence Iran’s ability to strike Israel and other Allied targets, with anti-ship weapons, etc.

    Our best strategy, IMHO, in coordination with any Israeli strike, would be a preemptive strike with hundreds of cruise missiles and other weapons against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Such an attack would not necessarliy be met by hostile Arab reaction or strong threats from Russia or China. Iran has trading partners but no real friends in the world. The question is, would the Obama administration pull the trigger on such a dangerous and world-shaking operation?

  28. Juramentado permalink
    August 23, 2010 10:02 am

    Some considerations:

    * The PLA has co-located the deployment of the DF-21 “ASBM” with the 2nd Artillery Missile Brigade equipped with SRBMs in Guangdong Province. A launch in proximity will be initially difficult to distinguish from a nuclear-capable strike. This raises the stakes for the defender and introduces more latency into the shoot-no shoot decision.

    * Besides the technical gap regarding C4ISR that has become “buzzworthy” – not many people are paying attention to the other gap for the Chinese – the organizational one. The dichotomy for the PLA forces is their dependence on the civilian scientific institutions and their inability to integrate those CoEs into the combat arm wings. In short, it’s entirely possible that a theater commander may want to execute an ASBM attack, but will have to rely in part upon departments in the scientific areas to either provide real-time targeting, launch support or both. China has historically not shown effective “combined arms” capabilities in this regard. It’s something they are working on though.

    * We may be looking at a new missile race. By open-intel sources, China may be able to field somewhere around 80 “ASBM” missiles by 2015 (NWC study), based on annual production rates of previous DF-21 Marks. In comparison, the US Navy has eighteen BMD capable hulls, and only about forty (40) SM-2 Block IVs as of 2008 – the only current SM version capable of BMD intercept – and possibly thirty (30) of the newer and controversial SM-3s. Production targets stated by DoD in 2009 aim for an inventory of about two-hundred twenty (220) SM-3s by 2015.

    * The focus of BMD patrols today is in EUCOM/CENTCOM – specifically the Gulf and the Med. Assuming that the majority of SM-2s were left to those patrols because Iran’s missile capability is not as sophisticated as the threats in Asia, the smaller inventory and fewer ships would be allocated to PACRIM.

    * The current engagement model assumes two shots for every ASBM/BM. The question of active and passive countermeasures from the inbound is still an unanswered question. As stated before, the SM-3 tests have proven to be controversial and MDA has taken a beating over the scarcity of results.

    * The real question for China’s technical C4ISR problem is not so much initial detection, but actual guidance. The AOU (area of uncertainty) is the key – the larger the AOU that a single on-board seeker can cover, the less RVs can be expended per attack. The numbers vary to the point where a single RV might be able to hit the target (best case) up to thirteen (13) RVs in a single salvo in order to cover the footprint.

    * It should be obvious that the defender has no easy choices. A pre-emptive strike against launchers is extremely perilous given the PRC’s nuclear deterrent capability. Another option is to attack the C4ISR assets themselves. Although direct attacks against command and control facilities shares the same risk as strikes on the launchers, the alternatives might include attacking PRC’s space-based assets or soft-kill – cyberspace attacks against their networks and commo links. Other possibilities include varying operational patterns, more disciplined EMCON and other counter-targeting behaviours.


  1. Chinese Dongfeng 21D « Mark Turner dot Net

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