05 December 2015

Academy of Military Science Researchers: “Why We Had to Develop the Dongfeng-26 Ballistic Missile”—Bilingual Text, Analysis & Related Links

China Youth Daily occasionally has in-depth articles not available elsewhere that detail otherwise-obscure aspects of Chinese development of major weapons systems. On pp. 32-33 of my book on China’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) development, for instance, I quote extensively from a fascinating article, published on China Youth Daily’s online portal in 2006 and subsequently removed, asserting that in the late 1990s Dr. Xin Wanqing at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) “completed proof of concept work on anti-aircraft carrier ballistic missiles.” Starting in 1996, the article stated, Xin “proposed and demonstrated the missile weapon system’s multidisciplinary optimization and demonstration and verification technology. In 2000, he received the support of the state and became the person in charge of technology, taking responsibility for the planning and implementation of overall optimization and of the demonstration and verification laboratory.” Xin subsequently played a major role in ASBM development, the article related, winning many high-level awards in the process.

Now China Youth Daily has published an article by two researchers at the PLA’s leading academic research organ, the Academy of Military Science (AMS). It represents the most authoritative, comprehensive public analysis to date on China’s long-range DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). I’ve appended a rough bilingual translation below (not performed by me), and welcome any suggestions for improvement.

Already anticipated publicly by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010 and forecast without a specific name in a Global Times article (as documented in full below), the DF-26 was displayed publicly for the first time in Beijing’s 3 September 2015 military parade. This official rollout implies that it is already operational in PLA service. At the parade, the DF-26 as was described as a new missile with nuclear, conventional, and anti-ship variants. This makes it China’s first missile capable of striking Guam with a conventional warhead from a homeland-based launcher. In the arguably Strangelovian logic of deterrence, a non-nuclear payload is seen as more “usable,” rendering deterrence more “credible.”

Official commentary states that the DF-26 is “capable of nuclear and conventional strike” (核常兼备). This dual-payload term is particularly interesting, and the Janus-faced concept has clearly been contemplated by Chinese strategists and technicians alike for some time. In September 2006, in Xiamen, China, at the “10th Program for Science and National Security Studies Beijing Seminar on International Security” conference, I remember an unattributed paper on “核常兼备” appearing mysteriously on the publications table. That conference was co-sponsored by the Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics (IAPCM), a reclusive organization closely affiliated with China’s nuclear-weapons industry.

Official commentary elaborated that the DF-26 is “capable of targeting large- and medium-sized targets on water” (打击大中型水面目标). This “Guam Killer” missile is credited with 3,000-4,000-km (1,800-2,500 mile) range, sufficient to strike U.S. bases on Guam. The set of sixteen DF-26 missiles was further described as the “Conventional-/Nuclear-capable formation. The DF-26 can perform medium-to-long-range precision attack on both land and large-to-medium-sized maritime targets. A new weapon for strategic deterrence” (核常兼备导弹方队, 东26能对陆上重要目标和海上大中型舰船实施中远程精确打击, 是我军战略威慑力量体系中的新型武器).

All the more reason you should read the article below in full:

王长勤 方光明 [Wang Changqin and Fang Guangming], 军事科学院 [Academy of Military Science], “我们为什么要发展东风-26弹道导弹[Why We Had to Develop the Dongfeng-26 Ballistic Missile], 中国青年报 [China Youth Daily], 30 November 2015, 9.


[Photo caption]


The debut of the Dongfeng-26 ballistic missile in the 3 September parade exceeded the expectations of Chinese and foreign media. Quite a few concerned figures followed up with the question, having already successfully researched and developed the Dongfeng-21D, which has been dubbed the “carrier killer,” why did China go on to develop the Dongfeng-26?


Nuclear and Conventional All-In-One, Mobile Launch


In contrast with the DF-21D is the DF-26’s distinct characteristic of being nuclear and conventional all in one; that is, the one missile body can carry a nuclear warhead [singular or plural not indicated] for a nuclear strike against the enemy, or it can carry a conventional warhead [singular or plural not indicated] for a conventional firepower attack against the enemy. That “change the warhead, not the missile” feature provides a rapid switch between nuclear and conventional. For China that is of great strategic importance, because our country follows an active defense policy, its policy is no first use of nuclear weapons and no use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country, it possesses nuclear weapons in no great numbers and for the purpose of self-defensive counterattack, and yet China faces all sorts of security threats.


First of all, given that China has only a limited number of nuclear weapons, and as a medium range ballistic missile, by changing to a nuclear warhead at the last minute it [the DF-26] can as needed form up a nuclear deterrent and nuclear counterattack capability linking long and short ranges and strategic and campaign roles.


Second, given that China follows a path of peaceful development and does not engage in an arms race with powerful enemies, as a conventional ballistic missile, it [the DF-26] can be launched on the move with no support in conventional firepower attacks from within a large scope of the interior of the country against an invading enemy’s fixed targets on land and moving targets at sea. Thus it further upgrades joint land, sea, and air firepower attack capability. In particular, it can, along with forward deployed surface and underwater attack forces and ship-borne, shore-based, and air war forces, execute long, medium, and short-range integrated attacks against large vessels at sea, and integrated, land, sea, and air attacks.


Compared with silo launched and site launched ballistic missiles, another distinct characteristic of the DF-26 is that it can be launched on the move with no support. Land-based mobile launches in the past, whether with movement by rail or by road, all required a launch site prepared in advance. Although movement over a large area could be accomplished before or during a war, the destination of the move was always a prepared launch site. Because prepared launch sites are limited in number and easily exposed, destruction of a launch site could result in the bad situation of having missiles but not being able to launch them. Also, that sort of missile requires quite a lot of time to set up and get ready in a prepared launch site, which puts it at a great disadvantage against an encroaching enemy with strong mobility and a fast tempo of operation in its “combat chain.”


But the DF-26 does not rely on a site for mobile launching. It can move fast, and it has no strict demands for where it is launched. So that is helpful to movement of missile forces all over and in concealment, and it is helpful to the rapid deployment, rapid launch, and rapid displacement of combat elements. That means a boost to the missile force’s survivability and to its attack ability. Against time-sensitive targets such as surface ships in particular, it [the DF-26] can attack at the last minute as soon as information on a ship’s movement is acquired, meaning the ship cannot get away.


Using speed to get the upper hand is one of the fundamental mechanisms by which to secure victory in modern integrated joint operations. The DF-26 has numerous “fast” features such as fast switch between nuclear and conventional, fast road movement, fast launch preparation, and fast displacement and withdrawal. Those features suit that mechanism for victory. And because of that, the DF-26 has greater deterrence and real-war power.


Solid Propulsion, Modular Design


The reason the DF-26 has those “fast” and “flexible mobility” features is due to a lot of new scientific and technological support.


First is solid propulsion. Liquid and solid are the two forms of missile propellant currently in use. The technology for producing and storing liquid propellant is more mature. Liquid propellant is used more for strategic and campaign ballistic missiles. But liquid propellant is very corrosive, and not suitable for keeping in a missile body for a long time. A liquid propellant missile relies on a site for pre-launch fueling, so a liquid propellant missile requires more complicated support and a longer preparation time. Although the industrial technique of processing and producing solid propellant involves strict demands, the resulting product can be preloaded into a missile body. That simplifies launch preparation, and launch can take place in either a hastily prepared site or with no site at all. That means a missile in good technical condition stays combat ready for longer.


Second is modular design. The DF-26 is a new derivative of the Dongfeng series of missiles. Apart from overall optimization of the warhead and carrier, the propulsion system, and the guidance system to meet the demands of modern warfare, emphasis was put on improving reliability, maintainability, and supportability, with a modular design of the missile’s structure. Significant is a carrier to which several types of warhead can be fitted, including two types of nuclear warhead and several types of conventional warhead which use different destructive mechanisms to attack specific targets. For example, penetration warheads would be used to damage area type targets such as airfields and ports, piercing and exploding warheads would be used to destroy hardened targets such as bunkers and cave depots, and fuel-air explosive warheads would be used against electromagnetic targets such as command organizations and computer centers. Such a “one carrier, many warheads” design enables the DF-26 to execute long and medium-range precise strikes against many kinds of targets.


Use Offense to Assist Defense, Meet Challenges 


With the development of anti-identification, anti-interception, and highly integrated technology, the mobility, the ability to penetrate defenses, and the precision of strategic, campaign, and tactical missiles have all improved. By way of technical upgrades and merging into integrated, joint operations networked information systems, the DF-26’s overall tactical and technical performance has continually improved to where it can be considered a prized possession that “uses offense to assist defense, meets challenges.”


The 5th Plenary Session of the 18th Party Central Committee which just concluded pointed out that: peace and development are still the main themes of these times; China remains in an era of strategic opportunity with great prospects; and China will as in the past exert effort on world peace and development and unwaveringly follow the path of peaceful development. But certain “unusual moves” in the world, and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular, merit our close attention.


In recent years, with the “Asia-Pacific rebalancing” and “Air-Sea Integrated Battle” of the United States, not just talk but also action has repeatedly upset dialogue and consultation on the security of the region. Certain countries take no notice of the huge effort and contributions China has put forth for Asia-Pacific security and development. They conjure up tricks, and repeatedly hype “the China threat.” They even ignore the strong opposition by the Chinese Government and people, and deliberately cook up farcical “arbitration” and “cruising” in the South China Sea. Those new changes from talk to action not only challenge the security of China’s territory and sovereignty, they have also exported a “negative mood” to Chinese society.


Although the United States has repackaged “Air-Sea Integrated Battle” as a “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons” in order to balance the competing interests of the services, weaken the “hot war” flavor, lower the risk of “clashes,” and seek extra credit for “morality,” the overall message shows that its original concept and plan, “based on hot war,” “split the region,” and “disrupt stability,” is essentially unchanged. On the contrary, it has stepped up relevant preparations under the flag of “protecting regional security and peace” and “ensuring that the communal right of navigation is not changed.” For example, the Pentagon is making adjustments which will have 60% of its naval forces, including aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, cruisers, destroyers, and coastal warships deployed in the Asia-Pacific region, and bring together sea-based, air-based, and space-based forces as “joint strike task forces.” It is using political coercion, economic enticement, and diplomatic pressure to consolidate its existing military alliances, and it is using military aid and joint exercises as bribes to get certain countries to become quasi-members of a military alliance.


How could that linked style of “solo + chorus,” “talk + action,” “contact + restraint,” “sun + shadow” do anything but elicit deep suspicion among the countries and peoples of the Asia-Pacific region, including China, regarding the so-called U.S. “protection of regional security and peace”?


So analysts have pointed out that the range of the DF-26 is twice that of the DF-21D, and the scope of its attack can extend to the second island chain. Some have even given the DF-26 the fanciful name of the “Guam Express” in association with the U.S.concept of “Air-Sea Integrated Battle.” In that regard, it is true that the DF-26 prompts a reasonable expectation of a boost in China’s military capability, but the fundamental goal of China’s research and building of limited offensive weapons including the DF-26 remains to better protect peace and development. The Chinese Government and people are deeply aware that if you want to be fee of worry you must be prepared, and you must be capable of waging war if you hope to prevent war. Without military power commensurate with the pattern of the evolving shape of war, no matter how sincere the cherished aspiration for peace and development, no matter how optimistic you are about the course of peace and development, it is extremely likely that those hopes will be cruelly dashed because you cannot stop war.


But “spear” and “shield,” “offense” and “defense,” inevitably have a process that is antithetical, evolving, and iconoclastic. As with any other weapon, the DF-26’s technical features dictate that it will have its limitations in operational use. For example, it cannot be reused after delivering a warhead, its one-time use is expensive, and it can only be used against high value targets; carrier, propulsion, guidance, and warhead are integrated, the cost of building a single item is high, and the total number that can be kept is limited; operating the combat chain of reconnaissance, control, attack, and evaluation relies on other forces to provide information on targets to attack and the effect of those attacks, and the degree of completeness of the combat operations system and the degree of merging of launch elements greatly affect the effectiveness of an attack. Despite that, some elements of the foreign media spread “China threat theory” asserting that the DF-26 “changes the rules of the game in warfare.” Although that is a natural expression of a desire to poke at a sore spot while fearing to stab deep, even more so it is a case of “flogging with a stick” not working and instead attempting to “destroy by heaping excessive praise.”


But this also reminds us that as the armed forces of a big power country that must cope with many kinds of security threats and accomplish diverse military tasks, we must squarely face the limitations of the operational use of it [the DF-26], and not be complacent and boastful because we have a number of weapons of this type. Even more so we must see its good effects in actual war and in deterrence, and continue to uphold “what the enemy fears is what we develop” in the building of weapons and equipment.


Andrew S. Erickson, “Global Times Claims Chinese Conventional Ballistic Missile with 4,000 km Range (Sufficient to Strike Guam) ‘Ready for Service’ by 2015 & DF-21D is ‘Already Deployed in the Army’,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 18 February 2011.

Song Shengxia; Zhang Han and Huang Jingjing, “New Missile ‘Ready by 2015’: Global Times,” People’s Daily Online, 18 February 2011.

Global Times (环球时报, Huanqiu Shibao) is not an official newspaper. Published on weekdays, it focuses on international issues and foreign reaction to developments in China. But it is sponsored by and produced under the auspices of People’s Daily (人民日报, Renmin Ribao), the official daily newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee. Full text of article follows:

The Chinese army is researching a new type of conventional missile that is set to be weaponized and entered into active service within five years, military sources have revealed.

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), the nation’s largest missile weaponry manufacturer, is set “to complete research, production and delivery of this new generation of missile by 2015,” the China News Service reported Thursday.

The new missile would be part of a network forming a solid defense system allowing for total coverage in both defense and attack, and capable of dealing with various threats from land, sea, air, space as well as cybernetic attacks, according to the report.

The report, however, did not provide any further details of the new missile.

A military source close to the development, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to the Global Times yesterday that “The subject under development is a medium- and long-range conventional missile with a traveling distance of as far as 4,000 kilometers.”

“The research is going smoothly, and the missile will be produced and ready for service in five years,” he said, noting that the project would also entail a three-year evaluation period.

“It extends the range of China’s missiles and will therefore greatly enhance the national defense capabilities,” the source said.

The source also unveiled that “the Chinese-made Dong Feng 21D missile, with firing range between 1800 and 2800 kilometers, is already deployed in the army.”

Foreign media have also speculated that the Dong Feng 21D is a “carrier killer” and would prove to be a game-changer in the Asian security environment, where US Navy aircraft carrier battle groups have ruled the waves since the end of World War II, the AP reported.

China debuted its first stealth fighter jet, the J-20, in January, in a test flight that coincided with a visit to Beijing by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Following the successful test flight, speculations and assessments of Beijing’s military advancement echoed around the world.

By Zhang Han and Huang Jingjing, Global Times

The Pentagon this week formally rolled out a record base budget for fiscal year 2012 of $553 billion, up $22 billion from the level enacted for 2010. However, additional overseas war funding is down by $41.5 billion.

This led Gates to counter-attack, warning Congress on Wednesday against making deeper spending cuts than those already proposed, telling lawmakers that the US faces threats ranging from militants to states “developing new capabilities that target our traditional strengths,” citing Iran, North Korea, as well as China, Reuters reported.

Li Daguang, a military expert at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, told the Global Times that Thursday’s revelation speaks volumes about the significant progress China had made in the field of missile technology as well as proving the country’s commitments to transparency in military affairs.

“But the real combat capabilities of the missile in complicated situations remains to be tested. There is still a huge gap between China and Western countries with regard to advanced weaponry development,” he said, adding that China should always remain prudent and rational when presenting its military progress.

Wang Yanan, an associate editor-in-chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times that some seem to favor wild speculation where the Chinese military is concerned.

“US wariness doesn’t suggest its inability to develop advanced missiles. The US is still a leader in this aspect as it possesses the most cutting-edge missile technologies,” Wang said.

Song Shengxia contributed to this story


The Global Times assertion that China is developing a 4,000 km-range conventional ballistic missile seems to fit with the brief reference to Chinese development of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs, which have ranges of 3,000–5,500 km/1,865–3,420 miles, per the U.S. Missile Defense Agency definition) in the latest Department of Defense Report on Chinese military development:

As detailed elsewhere in this report, China’s ballistic missile force is acquiring conventional medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles that extend the distance at which it can threaten other countries with conventional precision or near-precision strikes.”

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010, Annual Report to Congress (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 16 August 2010), 33.



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Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Sharpening the Sword (Part 1 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.13 (3 July 2014).

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