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Deadly Chinese Missile Threats Pt 2

August 24, 2010
Pershing II missile

Pershing II missile

The principle argument rising of late is the questioning whether China has the capability to build a missile with the accuracy to strike a large warship maneuvering on the high seas. The idea is that since there is no clear evidence of China even deploying such a missile as the ASBM, the need for concern is evidentially remote. Read the following critique from In from the Cold:

First…there is the nagging issue of demonstrated accuracy. The DF-21D is still in testing, and so far, it has not proved its ability to strike a carrier-sized target over the horizon. True, the problem could be solved by placing a nuclear warhead on the missile, but that “solution” would invite a massive U.S. response, one reason that China emphasizes the conventional capabilities of the DF-21D.

It’s also worth remembering the first rule of precision strike: devastatingly accurate weapons require intelligence of comparable precision. Beijing is working hard to improve its intel, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, but (once again) there is inconclusive evidence regarding the PRC’s ability to develop–and deliver–such information for a time-sensitive target like an aircraft carrier at sea.

Yet the question should not be does China possess this technology but is there a possibility the technology could work. In fact there is clear proof in the viability of the ASBM. The following conclusion comes to us from Geoff at Arms Control Wonk:

(My) rather simple calculations have shown that both types of guidance and control for an anti-ship ballistic missile are possible.  But both would be pushing China’s technology considerably.

But what if China didn’t rely on its own technology, and the perhaps decades of testing required to deploy such a system. Recall that the US has advanced guidance systems of missiles and bombs for decades, and they have been proved dramatically workable in combat. Here is Defense Secretary Robert Gates in a very famous recent speech at the US Navy League:

At the higher end of the access-denial spectrum, the virtual monopoly the U.S. has enjoyed with precision guided weapons is eroding – especially with long-range, accurate anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles that can potentially strike from over the horizon.  This is a particular concern with aircraft carriers and other large, multi-billion-dollar blue-water surface combatants, where, for example, a Ford-class carrier plus its full complement of the latest aircraft would represent potentially a $15 to $20 billion set of hardware at risk.

Then there is the fear that some of our technology is already deployed on the DF-21 series of missiles, with stolen Pershing II Missile guidance. Strategypage has more:

As the story goes, the Chinese have reverse engineered, reinvented or stolen the 1970s technology that went into the U.S. Pershing ballistic missile. This 7.5 ton U.S. Army missile also had an 1,800 kilometers range, and could put its nuclear warhead within 30 meters of its aim point. This was possible because the guidance system had its own radar…This kind of accuracy made the Russians very uncomfortable, as it made their command bunkers vulnerable. The Russians eventually agreed to a lot of nuclear and missile disarmament deals in order to get the Pershings decommissioned in the 1980s.

Also, it is reported that Tomahawk cruise missiles, some of our most accurate and again well-proven weapons have fallen into Chinese hands:

China also continues developing long range cruise missiles, and adapting them to operate from aircraft. The latest missile to get this treatment is the DH-10. This weapon is similar to early U.S. cruise missiles, and has a range of 1,500-3,000 kilometers and uses GPS, along with terrain mapping. The DH-10 was first shown publicly in the recent 60th anniversary of the communists taking control of China, on October 1st.) The aircraft carried version is called the CJ-10. This is believed to be based on some American cruise missile technology.

So the precision technology which has dominated American warmaking since the 1990s is now out of the box. Soon this proliferation of advanced targeting will be joined to the widespread ballistic missile stocks, if the history of warfare is any guide. The following info is via the DoD and American Forces Press Service:

(The director of the Missile Defense Agency) pointed out a proliferation of Scud missiles that originate from the old Soviet Union. According to intelligence, he said, more than 6,000 missiles are in countries other than NATO, the United States, China and Russia, as well as more than 1,000 launchers.
The United States has witnessed many failures in the development and testing of these systems. However, O’Reilly cautioned against complacency in the face of other countries’ efforts. The United States experienced failures as well in the 1960s and in missile defense in the 1990s, he noted.
“History shows that if they are persistent, they will be successful,” he said. “But history also shows that it is extremely challenging to be precise on when they will be successful.”

From yesterdays and today’s post, you can gather at least two conclusions concerning the Chinese missile threats:

  • Their launch systems would be extremely difficult to find and target.
  • Their own targeting and guidance systems, plus numbers might be a game-changer blunting our traditional tactic of power projection from the sea.

So what can be done to defeat the upcoming missile threats from China and her like-armed clients? I am a firm believer in fighting fire with fire. In other words, instead of seeking technological breakthroughs to maintain enormously expensive last century naval airpower viable, to use missiles to combat the enemy missiles. For instance, in the recent AirSea Battle by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments came the following idea:

The Navy should consider investing in conventionally-armed, relatively short-range sea-based IRBMs to further complicate PLA planning. Depending on missile technical characteristics, both submarines and surface ships (not necessarily combatants) could serve as potential firing platforms. Ballistic missile striking power should be distributed across a large number of platforms similar to the way Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles distributed Navy strike power that had previously been concentrated in a small number of aircraft carriers. An ASBM variant should also be considered.

The Navy then should proceed post-haste to strengthen its guided missile fleet, with more subs, including SSGNs and perhaps many surface arsenal ships. Another equalizer could come from land-based airpower such as USAF bombers and the new P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft, arming the latter with stand-off cruise missiles. Long-endurance UAVs such as the J-UCAS would also be necessary, which can loiter for extended periods and watch for missile launches. This to me sees the best way to counter mobile missile launchers, other than a land-based invasion which may be extremely difficult and could lead to escalation.


38 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 7, 2011 12:05 pm

    … that is why we are developing Laser Point defense systems for ships and other things…

  2. kingsley permalink
    November 3, 2010 11:05 am

    i need a complete information of the deadly chinese missile in my email adresse.

  3. Hudson permalink
    August 27, 2010 10:21 am

    Further to cyberwarfare: This from today’s NY Post by Col. Ralph Peters, Army (Ret.):

    “Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III just went public about a massive cyberinvasion of military computers in 2008, when a foreign agent used a flash drive to slip malware into a military laptop. The goal was to steal and corrupt military plans and secrets.

    “The attacker suffered no meaningful consequences. We knew who did it, but couldn’t do a thing. No laws.

    “And that attack was small change, compared to what an all-out cyberassault on our nation might do, from shutting down power supplies and transportation networks, to blacking out communications — e-bombing us back to the 19th century…”

    Peters is writing about the lack of legislation to deal with such attackers or with leaks and leakers like the recent dump of thousands of battlefield documents by WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange . And, of course, he is writing for dramatic effect in a NY tabloid. Still…

  4. August 26, 2010 5:40 pm

    I meant US to China. I am going to have start cutting and pasting in from a text editor.

  5. August 26, 2010 1:58 pm

    It should be noted that though production jobs have moved from China to the US the emergence of China as the world’s production centre has actually brought about substantial growth in the US economy.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 26, 2010 1:35 pm

    Joseph Tan,

    Most Americans welcome the emergence of China as long as they respect international law and act responsibly. We don’t like to see people living in poverty. Most Americans are benefiting from consumer goods produced there. Trade is good for everyone. The US has always had something of a fascination with China from Clipper ships to Pearl Buck. We have had pro-China advocates and missionaries (Of course we have had demagogues who frightened people with the “yellow peril.”) It was US insistence that gave China a seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Where I live we have a large number of Chinese Americans and in general they do very well, with a strong work ethic and appreciation for education.

    What we are experiencing now is uncertainty. As China assumes the roles that are more appropriate for a nation representing a billion people, we wait to find out if this will be a “gentle giant” or a bully.

  7. August 26, 2010 7:30 am

    Putting a satellite (or a capsule) into space is just a matter of ballistics. Nazi Germany given a year or two more would have probably got a “Sputnik” into space. And we mustn’t forget the substantial body of work concerning spaceflight in the pre-war era; look for example at the work of the British Interplanetary Society. You could even go back to the Greeks with this…..

    Further nobody here dislikes the Chinese; well I don’t think so! All this discussion is harmless. In fact if China had this wonder weapon for real it would just give us more fuel to our discussions.

  8. Joseph Tan permalink
    August 26, 2010 4:13 am

    Don’t be unduly worried because the Chinese is a very reasonable people. Short of threatening Chinese sovereignty, China is NOT going to use the ASBM against the American carriers just as USSR is/has not been using her SS 18 against the USA. Conversely, America has not used her Trident, Minuteman etc missiles against China or USSR.
    However do not underestimate the Chinese capabilities in science. If China can shot a satellite in space and has a mature anti-missile system, what makes you think China has not the capability to slam her missiles against the gigantic size of a aircraft carrier in the ocean as oppose to a moving satellite in space.
    At the same time do not be too caught up or alarm even if knowing that China had or could have such a system, as China is not going to use them, unless the last resort.

  9. August 25, 2010 4:08 pm


    I don’t mind you pushing the “ethnic button” Conflicts happen between groups. And one of the categories that separate us is our ethnicity. That is especially true for me as being English that makes everybody else a foreigner!!!! :)

    But as for what you said about hackers I think you have taken what I said in a way that it wasn’t intended. I will leave it there.

    Now what you say about Chinese hackers is interesting. I know the Chinese state expends a lot of effort tracking down hackers. And on occasion they are successful. But without knowing the size of the Chinese hacker community we can’t say how successful. Chinese state IT experts must be busy if they are both pursuing internal dissidents and trying to crack various IT systems abroad. But the fact that hackers can hide their activities is in fact an endorsement of how secure IT systems can be………..

    I once read that it had been calculated back in 50’s if there were more than 1 telephone for every 5 people it would be impossible to shut down a subversive network. That was with simple mechanical exchanges. Today’s system eclipse those of the 50s by many magnitude.

    You must be glad that they are making Red Dawn……….. :)

  10. Juramentado permalink
    August 25, 2010 3:32 pm

    Instead = Instant – gack – Mike – when can we get the 5-minute Grace Edit for bad typos? :-)

  11. Juramentado permalink
    August 25, 2010 3:31 pm

    @x – I made comment on this elsewhere, but can you honestly say that if push came to shove in a East-West war (yes, I’m pushing a big ethnic button here, but I have a point to it) -that all the hackers in the US (forget any other region) would drop whatever their self-interest was and assist the US government? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Any hackers that exist behind the Chinese CyberWall know that their very existence is simply at the State’s behest. If they do anything other than what the State tells them to do when the balloon goes up, skrrict (finger across the throat). So there you go. Instead auxiliary to your cyberwar arm. Who says Totalitarianism doesn’t has it’s advantages?

    @Chuck Hill

    Good questions re:ASBM, but this weapon, even if it isn’t in IOC, has already thrown FUD into the capabilities and force structure model of the West, particularly the US Navy. By all accounts, it’s very successful in that regard, judging by the 30-second sound bytes by senior leadership and the whitepapers flying about. It would be very ironic if it turned out to be not so “10-feet Tall,” so to speak, much like the Mig-25 Foxbat after Belenko’s defection. But in the meantime, do we build against it? Smart money says yes. The Chinese believe in the long, long term plan and you can bet dollars to doughnuts that if it’s not capable now, it will be soon. We’re seeing the Chinese maritime ascendance. I have a feeling that Great Britain felt the same way when the infant US Navy started kicking their heels with a frigate fleet following the Revolutionary War. We’re emoting a mixture of condescendence, disbelief, envy and a small fear of what’s to come.

  12. August 25, 2010 2:52 pm

    It has got to be some system to remotely guide something going hypersonic……..

  13. August 25, 2010 2:48 pm

    This is of interest,

    But I urge you not to panic. :)

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 25, 2010 1:11 pm

    There are a number of questions about the ASBM and how it works.

    Are multiple warheads deployed to cover uncertainty about the position of the target?
    Are multiple missiles fired to blanket the area of uncertainty?
    Does it get mid-course corrections or updates?
    What are the primary cuing sensors? radar or elint satellites? over the horizon radars?
    HFDF? MPA? tattletales?
    What is the terminal guidance?
    Is it radar? If so is it effected by sea state?
    Is it optical?
    Can it recognize a carrier? Or does it see only a blob, indistinguishable from other
    Does it just do spectral analysis looking for haze gray?

    The answers may be important.

  15. August 25, 2010 12:58 pm

    Well that’s it exactly. If you disconnect your PC from your router (both physically and with wi-fi) it will be safe. Another thing to think about is the “quality” of all these Chinese IT bods. Yes Chinese graduates are turned out by there 10,000s. But are they all geniuses? No. What is the standard of the degrees? Evidence would suggest that a good pro-portion aren’t equivalent to an “average” US degree. And who says their systems are any safer? I suggest they are just as vulnerable if not more vulnerable (Yes they have an infrastructure to protect there are 300million Chinese middle class.) China is a builder not innovator (yet.)

    PS: Remember for every talented IT warrior working for the Chinese government there are probably 1000’s working against………..

    PPS: I still want to see a video of this Sinowonder-weapon hitting a carrier sized vessel at 25kts. It is hard enough to hit a stationary target (yes OK the Earth is moving) with a CEP of 100m.

  16. Juramentado permalink
    August 25, 2010 10:26 am

    Re: Kinetic kills

    How many people remember the incident where a big piece of equipment backed into a major internet node housed in a VA underground garage and knocked out 1/8th of the global node map? That was just an accident, and one that required physical interaction. We (collectively) have no idea how widespread or effective a real cyberwar might be, and quite frankly, I’d be very fearful to find out.

  17. Distiller permalink
    August 25, 2010 4:31 am

    It’s high time to seriously look into boost-phase intercepts with large-ish missiles, like the THAAD.

    And the right vehicle to carry them are platforms that are already in a potential ops area, especially tankers, and of course the P-3/P-8 you mentioned, as well as Global Hawk sized UAV, even tactical aircraft if a missile launch is imminent. And also Air Force heavy bombers, as they could carry a combo of offensive (cruise missiles) and defensive (THAAD) weapons.

    Btw, is there any legal opinion on intercepting other people’s ballistic missiles (not talking space rockets) over international waters?

  18. Hudson permalink
    August 25, 2010 12:11 am

    x, good to know.

    When No. 7 WTC burned and collapsed to the ground, hours after the attack, it took Lower Manhattan phone service with it. Along with many others, my office building was closed, in large part because of the loss of phone service.

    When my office re-opened two weeks later, we had one working phone for the entire office. It took a month to restore full service. Apparently, Verizon was rationing phone service in the area. Verizon placed free portable phones on the sidewalk. These were pay phones on wheeled carts rigged to not need coins. The news services, National Guard and other organizations mostly communicated via satellite dish; they were all over the place.

    The NYPD had set up checkpoints on the street and asked for your photo ID. Funny, how people close the barn door after the horse is out. One of the safety measures put in place after the 1993 truck bomb attack, was the installation of turnstiles and security guards in the twin towers before you could take the elevator. Funny, how that didn’t help much on the day of the 2001 air plane attack.

    My subway line was closed, forcing me to get off a train several blocks away. Coming from Brooklyn, the first thing I noticed in the Manhattan air was the terrible odor, the sickly sweet stench of burning flesh. Those fires burned 100 days. Office buildings draped enormous American flags over the side. I don’t know where they got those flags. They weren’t something you could pick up in a store downtown. Like others things that happened in those days, they just appeared, out of generosity or human need.

    That was the result of one kinetic attack on the telephone system.

  19. Joe permalink
    August 24, 2010 10:45 pm

    Mike said: The Navy then should proceed post-haste to strengthen its guided missile fleet, with more subs, including SSGNs and perhaps many surface arsenal ships. Another equalizer could come from land-based airpower such as USAF bombers…

    My own “BYO Navy” fleet that I’ve been fiddling with agrees heavily with the first sentence. For the USAF bomber-as-missile-ferry role you bring up, I’d suggest considering the “something old, something new” B-747 concept moreso than our legacy bombers. It gives you fewer platforms carrying many times more missiles.

  20. Scathsealgaire permalink
    August 24, 2010 8:01 pm

    B.Smitty (The Original),

    B.Smitty (The Other) was obviously a Chinese hacker. :)


  21. August 24, 2010 5:58 pm

    Yes, things that go bang. As we are in the realms of sci-fi and hi-tech I thought it sounded a bit more, well sci-fi and hi-tech.

    I am not saying there isn’t a threat, but you have to look at the scale of the worlds IT infra-structure. For every hack there is a counter measure.

    To be honest back in the 90’s I was amazed when reading trade journals about how much “stuff” was “online” as careless system designers left back doors open, customers (both private and public) asked for and got features that weren’t entirely safe, and organisations (both private and public) paid on lip-service to disaster recovery and business continuity. But things have improved. And the rising profile of “cyberwar” is forcing governments to address the problem

    I would pitch the NSA technicians against anything the Chinese could muster.

  22. Hudson permalink
    August 24, 2010 5:12 pm

    What is “kinetic targeting”? Missiles?

  23. August 24, 2010 5:06 pm

    No I can’t! I know for a start I won’t be able to post here……..

    I would be more worried about the Chinese using kinetic targeting against telephone exchanges than an all out attack on the countless systems.

  24. Hudson permalink
    August 24, 2010 4:23 pm


    Well no, I don’t believe everything I see on tv. I do take the point of the demonstration that hackers can influence software to destroy hardware. Can you state with some degree of certitude what the limits of destruction of an all out cyber attack on the U.S. or U.K. would be?

  25. August 24, 2010 3:47 pm

    I worry when I see military stuff that runs Windows. Linux is safer up to a point; but some of that safety comes from that fact that it isn’t that common on the desktop. Saying that much of the Internet’s architecture is Linux based and it has rarely been brought down. IT security is about good practice; I suppose that can be said about any field. Lastly don’t believe everything you see on TV when it comes to “hacking”.

  26. Hudson permalink
    August 24, 2010 3:17 pm

    There is no place to hide today.

    Before any six-shooters or Roman candles go off, Sino and American hackers will be hard at work in their cyber dungeons, spinning both powers, particularly super-high tech U.S., into dysfunction, possibly sparing us the folly of shooting down satellites, and thereby getting our own shiny orbs shot down, blinding us for months, if not years, from effective worldwide military action.

    Cyberwarfare will not only target homeland infrastructure, but anything controlled by computer. Since the DoD has already been hacked by someone, I am surmising that military ships and planes can be hacked too, creating terrifying scenarios where both sides would shoot themselves in the foot, in a manner of speaking.

    I watched a demonstration on tv of an older generator which nonetheless had a chip in it, a sinkex hull if you like, hacked to run in overdrive until it shook, rattled and rolled itself to death. From what I’ve heard, China and the U.S. are pretty evenly matched in cyperwarfare capabilities.

    So we would need to be darn sure what are doing before we attack China, or even a small entity that has brilliant hackers working for it. The hard truth is, the future has already arrived in ways we may not fully appreciate or like. We might invite hackers from both sides to sit down and parly together over a soda and pizza before allowing the bigwigs and brass to sound off.

    Heck, you might even lose your BlackBerry.

  27. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 24, 2010 2:08 pm

    ISR is the vulnerable area, but if we are within range when hostilities open, all they need is a tattletale they can afford to loose. So until we get a robust ABM defense we need to be circumspect about putting carriers and ARGs within range before the ISR assets are degraded and we need to work hard on ABM because it won’t be long before the technology makes its way to ICBMs and there will be no place to hide.

  28. Fencer permalink
    August 24, 2010 1:22 pm

    It seems that Chinese ISR systems are their weakest link so why not concentrate on further degrading them? Develop means of destroying satellites, plan for submarine and bomber strikes against their OTH radars, figure out what sort of decoys would confuse their targeting.

  29. Juramentado permalink
    August 24, 2010 11:56 am

    It’s a missile race, plain and simple.

    Accept the fact that domain of remote sensing and surveillance is no longer a Western high ground. The Chinese can (if they have not already) easily build a space-based sensing infrastructure that can facilitate F2T2 against maritime targets.

    With that in mind, the only obvious counters are to build out BMD – get a move on proving SM-3 actually works. If it does, get Block IB into play and build out sufficient stock that can be deployed into the fleet. Plan on and rehearse an extended ASAT campaign to knock out their space assets.

  30. Hudson permalink
    August 24, 2010 11:40 am

    As I might have mentioned in a previous post, as the story goes, the Chinese got bin Laden to ship them two of the cruise missiles launched at his camps in Afghanistan by Bill Clinton that were relatively undamaged. Don’t know about the Pershings.

    The Chinese, like the Soviets before them, are good spies. Plus they have the advantage of having many hi-tech scientists working in the U.S. in defense industries. In MHO, the Chinese will learn how to make just about anything. They have long deployed nuclear weapons, put satellites in space, and now demonstrated the ability to shoot them down.

    At the moment, I don’t see the wisdom of trying to match Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles with counter IRBMs launched at sea, guided by UAVs, to hit the Chinese launch sites. Sounds iffy and very expensive to me. No question we need ABMs. We will soon have shoot-down lasers at sea. And our starship captains will give the command to “Engage.”

    Interesting times we live in. The 23rd Century is creeping upon us.

  31. Juramentado permalink
    August 24, 2010 11:40 am

    They got them the same way most secrets are obtained – through parties who sold them or gave them up for political or economic reasons.

    Recent examples:

    Heck – even our allies can’t be trusted not to inadvertently or deliberately breach security:

    I recall the sheer number of security breaches that coincided with the height of the Cold War: CPO Walker was just the visible Poster Boy. Does anyone remember the Toshiba CNC fiasco that reputedly gave the Soviets a leg up on sub propeller tech?

  32. anon permalink
    August 24, 2010 9:02 am

    so any thoughts on where they (chinese) allegedly got the stolen Pershing and Tomahawk tech from??

  33. August 24, 2010 8:57 am

    No worries B. Smitty.

    I know not seeing China as the great technological threat is not fashionable. I spent 18months at uni’ where the politics school had virtually written the West into history. China will become much more prominent but I think their rise isn’t assured as our fall.

  34. August 24, 2010 8:53 am

    I have fair grasp of technological issues thank you. If I didn’t I wouldn’t say what I said.

    I worked on high end IT systems for well over a decade. Equipment that makes your average PC look like a stone axe. So I know decent tech’…….

    And I know there have been many issues with Chinese supplied systems. Many of which aren’t just stolen IP but rivet for rivet copies of other nation’s systems.

    The biggest threat to US status as the world’s sole super power isn’t China catching up, but the US failing to maintain its lead.

    Lastly I am not complacent about security.

  35. B.Smitty (The Original) permalink
    August 24, 2010 8:36 am


    Not sure who this other B.Smitty is, but they seem to have usurped my handle.

    New B.Smitty, can you please choose a different variation on that handle? How about BSmitty or B_Smitty, just for clarity. Unless you are just a troll.

  36. August 24, 2010 6:26 am

    I wouldn’t worry about the Chinese cloning Tomahawk; most of the time they have been unable to clone successfully last gen’ Soviet tech’.

    Is there any news on how are the Middle Kingdom’s phazers and photon torpedoes coming along?


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