27 December 2018

The China Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Bookshelf

Ultrafast Anti-Ship Missiles Offered for Sale,” China Daily, 25 December 2018.

China is promoting an ultrafast anti-ship ballistic missile, said to be the first of its kind in the international market, to buyers seeking a reliable and affordable deterrence against threats from the sea.

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, the nation’s largest maker of missiles, has brought the CM-401 supersonic anti-ship ballistic missile to market, saying it is capable of making rapid, precision strikes against medium-sized or large vessels, or against land targets.

It said the weapon uses a “near-space trajectory”, which means it flies between 20 and 100 kilometers above the earth, and that it maneuvers at hypersonic speeds throughout its flight.

The missile will ascend to a certain altitude until its target is acquired. It will then enter an ultrafast terminal dive toward the target, according to CASIC.

The company said the CM-401 features strong destructive power, good penetration capability and a mix of trajectories. It added that the missile can be mounted on various platforms, such as ships or land-based launch vehicles.

According to the CASIC, the missile flies at an average speed of 1,360 meters per second – 4,900 kilometers per hour – or four times the speed of sound, during most parts of the flight, and reaches a maximum velocity of more than 2,000 m/s, six times the speed of sound as it approaches the target. It can carry a 290-kilogram warhead and has a maximum strike range of 290 km and a hit rate of 90 percent, meaning there will be nine effective hits on target out of 10 shots.

The State-owned defense conglomerate made the missile system public at the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition that was held recently in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.

Meanwhile, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the country’s major rocket maker, recently offered its M20B anti-ship ballistic missile to the international market.

The road-mobile M20B also features supersonic speed and a maneuverable trajectory. Carrying a 480-kg warhead, the missile can hit a ship 120 km to 280 km away. It is suitable for rapid, precision attacks on frigates and destroyers, the academy said.

Before the CM-401 and M20B, all anti-ship missiles available in the international market were sea-skimming models such as China’s C-802 and CM-302 and the United States’ Harpoon.

China is the only country that currently fields anti-ship ballistic missiles. Its DF-21D and DF-26 are called “trump cards” in naval warfare by the Chinese military, but are not allowed for export because of a strike range said to be more than 1,000 km – far exceeding the restrictions on the export of missiles set by the Chinese government.

Wu Peixin, a defense industry observer in Beijing, said that ultrafast anti-ship ballistic missiles like the CM-401 can potentially become a game changer in modern naval operations because it is very difficult for existing air-defense radars and weapons on ships to intercept such missiles due to their unique trajectories and hypersonic speeds. Therefore users will be able to effectively deter an enemy’s vessels, especially aircraft carriers, from approaching their coast, Wu said.



Rick Fisher, “An Assessment of China’s Missile Systems at the 12th Zhuhai Airshow,” Epoch Times, 18 November 2018.

… CASIC’s CM-401 Anti-Ship SRBM

CASIC’s new CM-401 solid-fuel, anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) is likely the world’s first ship-launched ASBM to be offered for sale. It’s likely based on CASIC’s 295-kilometer (183-mile) range, second-generation BP-12B SRBM introduced in 2016, which uses an infrared or radar guidance system. A cutaway model of the CM-401 shows that it has a radar for terminal guidance. It has an advertised range of 290 kilometers (180 miles), a top speed of Mach 6, and a “mean” or average speed of Mach 4.

Illustrations at Zhuhai show that it’s also capable of interception-avoidance maneuvering. However, the CM-401 is too wide to fit into existing ship vertical launch systems (VLS) sized for surface-to-air missiles, so it requires an inclined box launcher, which would take up deck space on a launch ship.

At Zhuhai, the CM-401 was displayed on a transporter-erector launcher (TEL), perhaps indicating it could equip PLA Navy Coastal Defense units. Based on conversations with CASC officials at an April 2018 Malaysian arms exhibition, it’s also possible that CASC could be modifying its HHQ-16 SAM as an ASBM, which can fit into existing VLS tubes. In addition, university lecture slides leaked in August 2017 from a retired PLA Navy rear admiral indicate the PLA may put longer-range, higher-speed ASBMs on ships, and even equip them with maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicle warheads. … …


Nikolai Novichkov, “Airshow China 2018: CASIC Unveils CM-401 Anti-Ship Missile System,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 8 November 2018.

The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) unveiled at the 6-11 November Airshow China 2018 defence exhibition in Zhuhai a road-mobile, anti-ship, close-range ballistic missile (CRBM) system featuring the CM-401 supersonic missile.

“The system is intended for rapid and precision strikes against medium-size ships, naval task forces, and offshore facilities,” a CASIС representative told Jane’s, pointing out that the CM-401 anti-ship missile, which is fired from a transporter-erector launcher (TEL), can strike targets at a distance between 15 km and 290 km.

The TEL displayed at the show is capable of carrying two containerised CM-401s. No radar unit or command vehicle were displayed at the show.

According to CASIC, the CM-401 is fitted with a terminal radar guidance unit featuring a nose-mounted gimballed antenna. Once launched, the missile flies along a ballistic trajectory, reaching a near-space altitude. The weapon is stated to have an average speed of Mach 4 and a peak of Mach 6, although it is not clear at what altitudes these speeds are reached.

Control of the missile’s flight takes place via four jet vanes in the motor nozzle and four aerodynamic clipped-delta control surfaces at its rear. The former controls the missile during its boost phase, while the latter controls the missile when it is descending within the atmosphere. The CM-401 engages its target in a high-speed terminal dive attack.


Jeremy Page, “China Parades New Missile in Warning to Rivals Abroad—and at Home,” Wall Street Journal, 30 July 2017.

Military display is latest effort by President Xi Jinping to improve standing as party leadership shuffle looms

China unveiled a new, more mobile intercontinental ballistic missile at a parade of advanced weaponry and combat troops, in President Xi Jinping’s latest display of military—and political—muscle.

State television showed at least 16 DF-31AG missiles in Sunday’s parade at the Zhurihe combat-training base in northern China, marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the force that is now known as the People’s Liberation Army.

The DF-31AG is mounted on an all-terrain vehicle so it is harder to track and can be fired from multiple locations, and it could have a longer range than the older DF-31A, which was also displayed and is carried by a vehicle designed mainly for roads, military experts say.  

Mr. Xi, wearing combat fatigues and a peaked cap, inspected the troops from an open-top military vehicle before the parade, which featured tanks, helicopters, stealth jet fighters and some 12,000 personnel.

“The world is not peaceful,” Mr. Xi in a speech afterward that invoked his signature political idea of a “China Dream” to build the country into a global economic and military power. “Today we are closer than any other period in history to the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and we need more than any period in history to build a strong people’s military.” …

It is the first time a parade has been held to mark the anniversary since 1949, according to state media, and is the latest in a series of moves that analysts say are designed to boost Mr. Xi’s political standing in the run-up to a reshuffle of the party’s leadership this year. …

China’s parade would have been planned months in advance, analysts said, and wasn’t a direct response to Pyongyang or Washington, but it demonstrated Mr. Xi’s efforts to build a military that can respond to external challenges—including on the Korean Peninsula.

Last year, the Chinese leader launched sweeping military reforms—including cutting 300,000 troops—that are designed to overhaul Soviet-modeled command structures and better prepare the armed forces for combat, at home and abroad if needed. …

Mr. Xi has also sought to assert his authority over the PLA through an anticorruption campaign that ensnared several current and retired generals, and by assuming the new title of “commander-in-chief” last year. …

In June, he inspected PLA troops stationed in Hong Kong in another move to boost his political stature ahead of this fall’s 19th Party Congress, where he’s expected to try to promote allies to the top leadership. …

“By presiding over a landmark parade for a party-loyal PLA growing leaner and meaner by his orders, Xi shows that he is large and in charge in the run-up to the 19th Congress,” said Andrew Erickson, an expert on China’s military at the U.S. Naval War College. “Debuting publicly such a powerful, penetrating deterrent weapon as the DF-31AG ICBM seeks to demonstrate that China commands heightened respect abroad even as it maintains order at home—both central components of Xi’s China Dream.”

China hasn’t provided any details about the DF-31AG, but a model was displayed for the first time this month in an exhibition at Beijing’s Military Museum. Analysts say the missile’s design and name suggest it is an improved version of the DF-31A, but beyond its improved survivability and possibly longer range, it remains unclear what the enhancements are. …

Other equipment in the parade included five J-20 stealth jet fighters and several DF-21D antiship ballistic missiles, which experts say are designed to hit approaching U.S. aircraft carriers in a potential conflict.

Chinese state television said more than 40 percent of the equipment in the parade was being displayed for the first time…. 

Troops in the parade came from the army, navy and air force but also from two new services created about 18 months ago—the rocket force, which controls conventional and nuclear missiles, and the strategic support force, which handles electronic warfare.

Electronic weaponry on display included equipment designed for electromagnetic countermeasures and aerial drones that can be used for radar-jamming….


National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, 2017).

Click here to read the full text of the report

Issued four years after the previous iteration, this detailed report is to be welcomed. Perhaps due to the vagaries of bureaucratic processes, it may not mesh perfectly with other official statements, but the data are numerous and no other single source puts them all together like this. The matrices offering specific numbers of each type of missile and related development dates are particularly useful.


Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development and Counter-intervention Efforts,” testified at Hearing on China’s Advanced Weapons held by U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, 23 February 2017.

Click here to watch a video of the hearing:

00:16:00 – 01:49:00 — Overall timeframe for Panel I: “China’s Hypersonic and Maneuverable Re-Entry Vehicle Programs”

00:16:00 – 00:23:57 — Introductory remarks from Chairman Carolyn Bartholomew and Senator Jim Talent

00:31:47 – 00:38:52 — My oral testimony

00:51:12 – 00:52:19 — I discuss the essence of China’s potential ASBM challenge: speed is a double-edged sword.

00:57:51 – 00:59:03 — I underscore the importance of avoiding unintended effects in pursuing confidence-building measures: both land- and sea-based capabilities matter.

01:06:47 – 01:08:17 — I make the case that Congress must keep focus and funding consistent to pace emerging challenges and thereby safeguard American interests.

01:10:52 – 01:15:04 — I outline American national interests regarding the South China Sea, and highlight the importance of addressing Chinese activities there, particularly concerning any possible dredging and fortification of Scarborough Shoal.

01:17:46 – 01:20:29 — I explain the importance of safeguarding sensitive technologies and supporting America’s defense industrial base.

01:21:56 – 01:24:25 — I outline the military utility of China’s augmentation and fortification of features in the South China Sea. Left unaddressed, such actions could transform a vital, open part of the global commons into what my colleague Prof. Peter Dutton terms a “strategic strait” (a body of water, like the Strait of Hormuz, susceptible to closure by land-based weapons).

01:34:19 – 01:38:25 — I sum up the nature and degree of China’s counter-intervention challenge to U.S. and allied forces, from high-end ASBMs to low-end Maritime Militia. I connect this challenge to relevant American policy priorities and the cost-benefit ratio of potential countermeasures.

01:42:35 – 01:44:43 — In response to Commissioner Larry Wortzel’s query about examples of research collaboration among Chinese linguists and technical experts within the U.S. government, I explained that the Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute volume on “Chinese Naval Shipbuilding,” published with U.S. Naval Institute in December 2016, was the product of just such an intensive synergy.

Professor Andrew S. Erickson_Testimony before Hearing on China’s Advanced Weapons_USCC_20170223_Chinese Naval Shipbuilding


Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development and Counter-intervention Efforts

Andrew S. Erickson[1]

Testimony before Hearing on China’s Advanced Weapons

Panel I: China’s Hypersonic and Maneuverable Re-Entry Vehicle Programs

U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

Washington, DC

23 February 2017

The views expressed here are those of the author alone. They do not represent the estimates or policies of the U.S. Navy or any other organization of the U.S. government.

China has two functional anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) types with maneuverable re-entry vehicle technology, and is developing and proving the reconnaissance-strike complex to target those missiles effectively under realistic, challenging conditions. This has rightly triggered growing concern, as part of a larger pattern: In what it considers the “Near Seas” (the Yellow, East China, and the South China seas),

  • Beijing enjoys powerful synergies and advantages regarding the disputed sovereignty claims it pursues there,
  • increasingly in defiance of regional stability and international laws and norms,
  • and supported by precision-targeted systems designed to make American intervention risky and challenge American sea control.

China has developed and deployed small numbers of one dedicated operational ASBM, the DF-21D (CSS-5) medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM).[2] It has also developed a second ASBM, the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM).[3] While remaining limitations in China’s reconnaissance-strike complex, along with evolving American and allied countermeasures, continue to render their operational effectiveness uncertain, they are clearly purpose-designed ASBMs of major potential capability.

Today, I will (1) highlight China’s ASBM development thus far, (2) survey the related space-based architecture that China is building to provide a reconnaissance-strike complex necessary to target the missiles with maximum effectiveness, and (3) offer policy recommendations.

Here are my key points:

  • With its ambitious ASBM development, China is challenging U.S. Asia-Pacific interests and military influence in new ways.
  • This is part of a much larger Chinese counter-intervention effort that is advancing significantly regardless of precise ASBM capabilities or limitations.
  • While China’s missiles pose potential challenges to U.S. forces, ensuring that they can be targeted effectively is expensive and creates growing space-based electromagnetic spectrum vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Here are my key recommendations. U.S. policymakers should:

  • enhance efforts at developing corresponding tailored countermeasures, particularly concerning electronic warfare.
  • attempt to ensure that China does not develop Scarborough Shoal into a key targeting node in the South China Sea.
  • and enhance U.S. Navy (USN) ship numbers to avoid presenting China with an over-concentrated target set.

Background and Developments to Date

Since at least the mid-1990s, Beijing has pursued ASBMs as part of a panoply of counter-intervention capabilities.[4] The PLA seeks to hold adversaries’ vessels at risk via devastating multi-axis strikes involving precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles launched from a variety of land-, surface-, submarine-, and air-based platforms in coordinated attacks.

The intention of this counter-intervention capability is to achieve control across the Near Seas and their immediate approaches; and to exert peacetime deterrence (to both uphold and further China’s unresolved territorial and maritime claims in these same waters). The ways Chinese strategists have envisioned involve exploiting China’s strategic depth as a hybrid land-sea power operating along interior lines and using the strategic rocket forces to enable China’s preferred approach of “using the land to control the sea.” The means involve developing and deploying asymmetric capabilities along the lines espoused by paramount leader Jiang Zemin in 1999: “That which the enemy fears most, that is what we must develop.” Jiang used the occasion of the accidental bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade that year—which shocked and outraged China’s leadership—to initiate and reinforce existing megaprojects to build what were termed ‘assassin’s mace weapons,’ including the ASBM.[5]

Beijing’s 3 September 2015 military parade showcased nearly a dozen ballistic missile variants, including two Chinese ASBMs, the DF-21D and DF-26.[6] All are operational in some form in what, since 31 December 2015, is termed the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF); now an independent military service thanks to current paramount leader Xi Jinping’s ongoing reforms to restructure the PLA to prevail in “informatized local wars.”[7] Official commentary at the event dubbed the DF-21D a “road-mobile anti-ship ballistic missile, the assassin’s mace for maritime asymmetric warfare.”[8] The Pentagon’s 2016 PLA report states that “China continues to field an ASBM based on a variant of the CSS-5 (DF-21) MRBM that it began deploying in 2010. The CSS-5 Mod 5 has a range of 1,500 km and is armed with a MaRV [Maneuverable Re-entry Vehicle] [which] gives the PLA the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.”[9] During the first half of February 2016, China Daily reports, the DF-21D was involved in a ten-vehicle simulated launch drill in southern China.[10] While this tested the crew’s ability to prepare and launch a missile, however, it says nothing of specific capabilities.

Anticipated publicly by the Pentagon in 2010,[11] China’s DF-26, has a reported range of 3,000-4,000 km, sufficient to strike Guam and surrounding sea areas.[12] It was similarly forecast, although with name unspecified, in a Global Times article on 18 February 2011.[13] As the September 2015 military parade commentary stated, in dubbing the missile “a new weapon for strategic deterrence,” it “can perform medium- to long-range precision attack on both land and large- to medium-sized maritime targets.” Variants of this missile are “capable of nuclear and conventional strike,” the latter including both land attack and being “capable of targeting large- and medium-sized targets on water.”

In November 2015, China Youth Daily published an article by two researchers at the PLA’s leading academic research organ, the PLA Academy of Military Science.[14] It represents the most authoritative, comprehensive Chinese public analysis to date on the DF-26. They state that 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.”

The researchers claim, perhaps hyperbolically, “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.” This suggests that its seeker can view a large portion of the ocean, and that in the PLA’s eyes, the targeted ship cannot steam or maneuver outside of the missile’s ability to detect and effectively attack its intended target.

This is part of a larger dynamic, they believe, in which “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.” In a pattern typical of Chinese writings, in which external sources are sometimes cited to suggest information that might be difficult to state directly, the researchers also mention that some 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.”

To date, there is still no public reporting of China having conducted an integrated overwater test of either of its ASBMs against an uncooperative target. Internet rumors claim a cooperative test was conducted against the space event support ship Yuan Wang 4, but there is insufficient evidence to substantiate this. Better documented, in Google Earth imagery beginning on 6 September 2006, are one or more tests in the Gobi desert against a concrete slab apparently representing a carrier’s hangar deck—tests conducted perhaps with the assistance of the Beidou/Compass positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) satellite system.[15] Such efforts, China’s overall missile capabilities and program trajectories, and public statements by government officials and reports in the United States and Taiwan—together with the appearance of the DF-21D and -26 in the 2015 military parade—make it clear that the missiles themselves work. The parade appearance suggests China considers the missiles to be minimally operational and capable of achieving a measure of deterrence. It is even possible that China is pursuing testing and other capability demonstrations in a fashion designed to alert and deter other military forces, while thus far refraining from publicizing such activities for fear of failure or of fueling foreign publics’ support for military efforts to counter China’s own.

Notably, however, the ability of China’s reconnaissance-strike complex to provide accurate targeting for its ASBMs remains unclear. Based on physics and deductive logic, onboard ASBM sensors likely center on radar[16] with some resemblance to that of the retired American Pershing II MRBM, albeit with appropriate technological advances and modified to distinguish moving (vice fixed) targets from the sea surface (which changes rapidly, unlike the ground surface, with significant implications for clutter generated and the challenges in mitigating it).

Chinese experts have clearly studied the Pershing II exhaustively, including its terminal guidance system.[17] They may well have accessed and incorporated and/or emulated many of its specific technologies in their ASBM development efforts, including the missile’s shape and its unusually large maneuver fins.[18] Beyond that, open sources reveal few reliable details about Chinese ASBM sensors, MARVs, and related parameters and capabilities. Available Chinese technical writings are typically historical or theoretical in nature. Many contain basic research that demonstrates understanding of mathematical algorithms used to calculate maneuver. Some appear to integrate Pershing II-related diagrams directly.[19] Few document specific Chinese developments or more complex calculations pertaining to a realistic operational environment. A classic “bath tub” pattern over time—involving a dip in the availability of such sources and a transformation of their contents—suggests that this lack of information stems not from Chinese limitations per se but rather an effort to conceal sensitive details. In sum, this appears to be a case in which open sources paint a useful picture overall, but do not reveal all the specifics.[20]

Growing Reconnaissance-Strike Complex

China has command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities relevant to the task of targeting ships at sea, and is extending and integrating that architecture, but would benefit from further progress. Unfortunately, such operations’ command-and-control cannot be verified conclusively through open sources. Finally, the difficulty of targeting China’s ASBMs increases significantly with distance from China’s shore. It seems particularly unlikely that China currently has C4ISR coverage sufficient to target the DF-26 ASBM variant towards the maximum extent of its range. Chinese ASBMs could, in theory, be employed at shorter-than-maximum ranges through some combination of lofted trajectory and blow-out ports to vent combustion, but available Chinese sources do not address this possibility.

Beyond fielding the C4ISR hardware and integrating its use and exploitation in a technical sense, however, this ASBM system of systems involves integrating a geographically- and bureaucratically-disparate set of C4ISR resources across the PLA’s services and departments. The ASBM’s reconnaissance-strike complex likely includes a combination of satellites and land-based radars—possibly augmented temporarily and imperfectly with deployment of microsatellites and even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).[21]

ASBMs require the provision of accurate “third-party” or over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting support that integrates disparate information from multiple sources. OTH-B sky wave (backscatter) radars, which refract high-frequency (HF) radio waves off the ionosphere, are useful for cueing, although they cannot support a more refined targeting solution. China has reportedly been working on OTH-B since 1986.[22] Today, it has at least one OTH-B radar in active use and another under construction.[23] If it does not already have an OTH-B radar covering the South China Sea, it is likely to have one eventually.[24] In coming years, China will almost certainly desire and achieve a set of OTH-B radars covering its entire maritime periphery. OTH radars can benefit when stable, warm air layers—particularly in the troposphere and ionosphere—produce atmospheric ducts that enable radio signals to follow Earth’s curvature for extended distances.[25] These conditions are sometimes present off China’s coast. Nevertheless, successful targeting is a difficult challenge to achieve in practice: detecting and identifying a target may be relatively straightforward, but tracking it and passing information to shooting platform(s) in real time or near-real time is difficult and time-pressed. Applying rules of engagement and avoiding collateral damage represent additional hurdles. Challenges grow with time, distance, and speed. Space-based surveillance is therefore essential to the employment of an ASBM. China has launched diverse satellites at impressive rates lately, but still confronts multiple challenges:

  • designing and emplacing functional satellites in desired orbits represents numerous, expensive difficulties;
  • a complex surveillance architecture whose components are controlled by different organizations may be unwieldy;
  • and real-time data fusion is complicated by a highly ‘stovepiped’ military organization.[26]

To target mobile maritime platforms, China must master a complex process: correlating and fusing real-time sensor inputs, and then disseminating accurate situation reports and targeting packages to commanders and shooters. Even when it achieves complete coverage of relevant maritime zones, data transmission (from satellites to ground stations), imagery readouts by analysts (increasing in time consumption with size of area examined) and sending targeting data to the shooter will impose time delays. The PLA must coordinate among the many service elements that ‘own’ various ISR sensor and ground station architecture and within the chain of command that would authorize their prioritization and use, in addition to the release authority for the weapons systems that would employ their inputs.

China’s establishment of the PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF) on 31 December 2015 appears in part to be an attempt to address these challenges by better integrating space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities.[27] Extensive launch plans and concerted efforts at integration suggest that in coming years, China is likely to achieve a robust remote sensing architecture for finding aircraft carriers and other large surface vessels.

By offering reliable location signals, PNT satellites in China’s growing Beidou/Compassconstellation help implement targeting by helping to ensure that a missile reaches a desired location. If the intended latitude-longitude location is correct in practice, then the missile should see the target and strike it. Such satellite navigation offers a linchpin that the USSR could never achieve through its more limited focus on inertial navigation. Additionally, the constellation’s text message communications function supports reconnaissance and reporting. China has launched nearly thirty Beidou/Compass PNT satellites (the latest on 12 June 2016). Twenty are currently functional in orbit. First operational as Beidou I in 2000, the system went operational with 10 satellites as Beidou II in 2011, and achieved regional coverage in 2012. China appears on track to achieve its goal of a 35-satellite constellation with global coverage by 2020.[28]

Imaging satellites, based of necessity in low-earth orbit, take snapshots of pre-designated areas at periodic and predictable times. Examining satellites’ numbers, orbits, inclinations, and periods therefore offers a general sense of coverage. China’s reconnaissance-capable satellites include electro-optical (EO), multi- and hyperspectral; as well as radar satellites, especially synthetic aperture radar (SAR) variants. SAR satellites can provide targeting information, while other satellites can facilitate target identification. Maritime-relevant variants include the Fengyun, China-Brazil Earth Resources (CBERS), ZiyuanHaiyangHuanjingYaoganGaofen, and Jilinsatellites.

Three of the abovementioned satellite series—YaoganGaofen, and Jilin—are particularly relevant to maritime monitoring and targeting. “Operating from near-polar, Sun-Synchronous Orbits (SSO),” according to IHS Jane’s, China’s Yaogan series of well over 30 currently-operational advanced, paired, SAR and EO remote sensing satellites “may provide multi-wavelength, overlapping, continuous medium-resolution, global imagery of military targets.”[29]

In total, China has launched 40 Yaogans to date, with Yaogan-30 launched on 15 May 2016; the vast majority of these satellites remain in orbit and functional. The Yaogan-9-, -16, -17, -20, and -25-A, B, and C tri-satellite constellations may constitute the largest share of a China’s space-based ship tracking and targeting ISR network. Flying in triangular formation in similar orbits at identical inclination, according to IHS Jane’s, each contains an EO surveillance satellite, a SAR satellite, and possibly a signals- or electronic-intelligence (ELINT) satellite: “Designed for location and tracking of foreign warships, the satellites collect optical and radio electronic signatures of naval vessels that are used in conjunction with other information by the Chinese Navy…. They are thought to be able to find and track large Western warships, providing accurate positioning data for targeting by land-based [ASBMs].”[30] This is similar to the first and second generations of the USN’s White Cloud Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS), which reportedly detected surface vessels by sensing their electronic emissions and locating them using time delay of arrival (TDOA). Such a TDOA approach would allow a bearing fix through a division of labor in which an ELINT satellite would provide a precise pointing vector, a SAR satellite would process the location, and an EO satellite would confirm the identity of the target.[31]

The Yaogan-9 system has likely largely been superseded, as Yaogan-9B has apparently fragmented into two pieces. This would follow a pattern in which China’s first satellite of a given type often has short mission life and/or other limitations, but is succeeded by more capable variant(s). In addition to the aforementioned four operational sets of Yaogan triplets possibly containing SAR satellites, the most useful for ASBM targeting are the additional eight YaoganSAR satellites orbited to date (of which only Yaogan-1 is clearly no longer operational). SAR satellites measure potential targets’ speed and range changes independent of weather. Only such active sensors as SAR can offer the most targetable information; EO and IR counterparts face far more limitations.[32]

Additionally, the next-generation Gaofen remote sensing satellites are being launched as part of the China High-definition Earth Observation System (CHEOS) state megaproject to provide continuous near-real-time weather-independent global surveillance. To date, this includes the Gaofen-1, -2, -3, -4, -8, and -9 satellites.[33] Gaofen-5 and -6 are scheduled for orbit later this year. The first will carry a visible light-near infrared hyperspectral camera, the second a panchromatic camera and two multispectral cameras: resolution and wide-angle. Gaofen-7’s launch is anticipated in 2018-19. It will carry a hyperspectral, stereographic cartography camera.[34]

Finally, in October 2015, China launched the first four satellites in its Jilin remote sensing series. They included a high-definition multi-spectral imaging satellite, two video imaging satellites, and a satellite for “imaging technique testing.”[35] By 2019, China plans to have sixteen Jilin satellites orbiting in a global network “capable of a three to four hours update in the data provided.” By 2020, this is slated to grow to sixty satellites with 30 minutes’ update, which is potentially more than adequate for ASBM targeting. Finally, by 2030, the goal is for China to have “138 satellites in orbit, forming an all-day, all-weather, full spectrum acquisition segment data and a capability of observing any global arbitrary point with a 10 minutes revisit capability, providing the world’s highest spatial resolution and time resolution space information products.”[36]

China has thus made tremendous progress already, and is doubtlessly working hard to improve further in all these areas. Xi has launched sweeping reforms to make the PLA more joint and better structured to wage modern wars. As part of these ongoing efforts, China is constantly extending and improving its reconnaissance-strike complex. It is launching satellites at a pace that only the United States and Russia can hope to match.[37] This is rapidly increasing China’s space-based reconnaissance architecture.

For much of its ASBM operations, for the foreseeable future China must rely heavily on space-based capabilities that are expensive and difficult to implement with maximum effectiveness. With regard to the South China Sea, however, China is developing targeting solutions that are much cheaper, simpler, easier to use. It is doing so by turning its outposts there into a ring of stations for land-based and airborne radars.

China reportedly began developing high-frequency (HF) ground wave (surface wave) OTH sensors in 1967, with the first designed to have a detection range of 250 km.[38] In the South China Sea, it has already established HF surface wave radar installations on the majority of the Spratly features that it occupies, which it has radically augmented and is now fortifying.[39]Assuming a typical effective range of 278-370 km (150-200 nautical miles), and deployment of other such radars on the other Spratly and Paracels features it occupies, as well as on land to the north; as well as airborne radars on maritime patrol aircraft operating from features’ runways, this should be sufficient to ensure “eyes on” all areas of the South China Sea. It would enable China to detect and report a carrier strike group across the vast majority of the South China Sea. This constant surveillance should support accurate fire control for both ASBMs and cruise missiles. This enhanced maritime domain awareness would offer China both a relatively cost-effective way to fill remaining coverage gaps and a major targeting advantage that is difficult to negate without major escalation.[40]

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

China has deployed one ASBM variant and developed another, thus far, and is enhancing its reconnaissance-strike to target the missiles with maximum effectiveness. The capabilities of Chinese ASBMs depend on many factors, but they certainly represent a potential challenge to U.S. forces that could become grave if not addressed properly. Assessing China’s ASBM combat effectiveness cannot be resolved with open sources, and may well not fully be certain to any observer in the absence of its actual use in combat. Any attempt at net assessment must consider capabilities against countermeasures.

If developed and deployed successfully, a Chinese ASBM system-of-systems would be the world’s first system capable of targeting a moving carrier group with long-range ballistic missiles fired from land-based mobile launchers. Terminal defenses against such missiles will be difficult and expensive, and attempts to destroy the missiles before launch highly escalatory. If technology development unfolds in such a way that a Chinese ASBM could overcome the best American efforts at active and passive countermeasures, China would have unilaterally and fundamentally altered the Western Pacific security dynamic.

For over a decade, the U.S. military has clearly been taking China’s ASBM potential seriously. Since at least the first public U.S. government mention of Chinese ASBM development in a 2004 Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) report,[41] U.S. military leaders and other spokespeople have underscored this and other counter-intervention challenges, while expressing confidence that U.S. and allied countermeasures were keeping pace with them. This is an ongoing competition between offense and defense, however. It is currently not clear which side has a temporary or permanent advantage. Progress might be difficult in some respects: not impossible, but not cheap. Countermeasures may be quite expensive; but so too may be China’s burgeoning space-based reconnaissance architecture and the ground-based infrastructure to operate it, dwarfing the cost of ASBM missiles themselves.

While China’s ASBMs and other missiles pose potential challenges to U.S. forces, ensuring that they can be targeted effectively is expensive and creates growing vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Washington and its regional allies are rightly placing emphasis on targeting cost-effectively some of the greatest Chinese vulnerabilities, particularly by developing capabilities to sever—or at least disrupt—the many links in the ASBM ‘kill chain.’[42] In particular, as explained in the previous section, Chinese ASBM operations almost certainly necessitate the extensive, expensive employment of space-based sensors to provide the timely targeting information required, to allow missile-based sensors to complete a successful attack.

This renders China vulnerable to electronic warfare (EW) countermeasures such as jamming; satellite-ground data links cannot be shielded in the way that Chinese forces such as the PLARF protect homeland-based communications with fiber optic cable networks.[43] Most fundamentally, EW can exploit an ASBM’s reliance on speed. Speed is the ASBM’s greatest strength: it may arrive on target before uncertainty builds concerning its latest location. But speed is also the ASBM’s greatest weakness: if confused, the ASBM may run out of room to maneuver before it figures out what it is actually seeing. By digitally capturing and retransmitting RF signals, Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jammers could greatly facilitate such confusion.[44] More broadly, EW countermeasures can exploit ongoing Chinese limitations in operational “jointness” and data fusion, as well as the lack of experience with real-time decision-making and delegation of authority concerning sophisticated long-range precision strike. They may do so in a cost-effective manner, and even limit escalation by employing temporary “soft kills” as opposed to permanent, physically destructive “hard kills.”

EW thus has considerable potential, and U.S. planners should reenergize efforts in developing tailored countermeasures in this area. Here, USN efforts during the Cold War to confuse the Soviet Ocean Surveillance System may be instructive.[45] But the stakes are high: China is already adopting efforts to overcome the jamming capabilities that U.S. forces developed for Russian ELINT Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite (EORSATS), including via the abovementioned TDOA process. Notably, it is launching a ratio of EO to other surveillance satellites that suggest it is attempting to use the EO satellites to verify electromagnetic emissions that might be spoofed.

With its ambitious ASBM development, China is challenging American Asia-Pacific interests and military influence in new ways. This is part of a much larger Chinese counter-intervention effort that is advancing significantly regardless of precise ASBM capabilities or limitations. Beyond ASBM-specific countermeasures, U.S. policymakers must understand and address two larger, interrelated issues:

  • First, the far broader counter-intervention challenge that China’s military-maritime forces pose to the regional interests and security of the United States and its East Asian allies and partners.
  • Second, the risk of U.S. capabilities and influence eroding if China is able to exploit a USN target set of capabilities concentrated in too few ships.

U.S. policy-makers should attempt to ensure that China does not develop Scarborough Shoal into a key targeting node in the South China Sea. As part of developing the capability to implement an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), for instance, developments such as ongoing fortification of Chinese-held features and China’s possible dredging and buildup of Scarborough Shoal merit particularly concerted observation and opposition. Recent concerns by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that China will likely dredge Scarborough Reef and establish an outpost could signal Chinese intentions and capabilities regarding development of both an ADIZ and a more potent reconnaissance-strike complex.[46]

In coordination with the PLARF and China’s other sea forces and services, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is increasingly capable of contesting American sea control within widening range rings surrounding the Near Seas. At the high-end, the world’s largest conventional ballistic missile force, including ASBMs; as well as road-mobile nuclear ICBMs and other advanced systems; offer a land-based “anti-navy” deterrence backstop. The Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI)’s latest conference volume, Chinese Naval Shipbuilding, has probed this challenge deeply.[47] Its key findings include the following:

China’s shipbuilding industry has already produced a fleet of several hundred (currently in the low-300s; 303 per the Pentagon’s 2016 report)[48] increasingly-advanced warships capable of “flooding the zone” along the contested East Asian littoral. When several hundred ships each from China’s Coast Guard and its most advanced Maritime Militia units are factored in, Beijing’s numerical preponderance for the “home game” scenarios it prioritizes becomes formidable indeed.

Central to this Chinese counter-intervention challenge is the PLAN’s overmatching of the USN in missile loadouts. This disparity is likely to worsen as China deploys greater quantities of missiles with greater ranges than those systems potentially employed by the USN against them. In addition to two types of operational land-based ASBMs, by 2020, China is expected to have:

  • quantitative parity or better in surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs),
  • parity in missile launch cells,
  • and quantitative inferiority only in multi-mission land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs).

As with the platforms on which they are based, these Chinese weapons are concentrated in the Near Seas, while their American counterparts are dispersed globally. Worse still, the next-generation long-range ASCMs on which U.S. naval superiority hinges are still “paper missiles” not yet fielded on USN surface combatants. Moreover, these new ASCMs—the Long-Range Antiship Missile (LRASM) and vertical launch system-compatible Naval Strike Missile variant—may not be effectively targetable under contested counter-intervention conditions.

Moreover, by 2020, the PLAN will be unambiguously the world’s second largest blue water navy. ONI projects a fleet of 313-342 hulls.[49] If current trends continue, by 2030 China may assemble a combat fleet that in terms of overall order of battle (hardware only) is quantitatively, and perhaps even qualitatively, in the same league as the USN. Even the perception that China was on track to achieving such parity would gravely harm America’s standing and influence across the Asia-Pacific and around the world.

In addition to targeting the “kill chain” of Chinese ASBMs, U.S. policy-makers must close the abovementioned missile deployment and capability gap. They should also ensure that the U.S. has enough well-equipped Navy vessels available for use in key operational areas, particularly throughout maritime East Asia. Deploying sufficient numbers would maximize peacetime presence and influence. It would deter a worst-case contingency by demonstrating capacity for overwhelming kinetic operations therein (“Peace Through Strength”) via dispersed, distributed lethality. Enhancing USN fleet numbers can help avoid presenting China with an over-concentrated target set of “too many eggs in too few baskets.” Lacking sufficient ASBM countermeasures and numbers of ships and missiles, by contrast, would imperil regional stability and security—and with them, vital American interests.


[1] This testimony elaborates on and updates Andrew S. Erickson, “Raining Down: Assessing the Emergent ASBM Threat,” Jane’s Navy International, 16 March 2016, www.janes.com.

[2] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016, Annual Report to Congress [Hereafter: “DoD (2016)”] (Arlington, VA: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 13 May 2016), http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2016%20China%20Military%20Power%20Report.pdf, 25, 61, 67; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 352-353, 372-373; National Defense Report Editing Committee, 2011 ROC National Defense Report, Ministry of National Defense, (August 2011), http://2011mndreport.mnd.gov.tw/en/minister.html, 71.

[3] The Pentagon’s latest China report mentions another variant of the DF-26 but makes no mention of deployment status. DoD (2016), 35, 70, 77.

[4] Timothy Heath and Andrew S. Erickson, “Is China Pursuing Counter-Intervention?” The Washington Quarterly 38.3 (fall 2015): 143-56, https://twq.elliott.gwu.edu/sites/twq.elliott.gwu.edu/files/downloads/TWQ_Fall2015_Heath-Erickson.pdf.

[5] Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2013), http://www.andrewerickson.com/2013/05/chinese-anti-ship-ballistic-missile-development-drivers-trajectories-and-strategic-implications/.

[6] Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” The National Interest, 3 September 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/showtime-china-reveals-two-carrier-killer-missiles-13769.

[7] Michael S. Chase and Arthur Chan, “China’s Evolving Strategic Deterrence Concepts and Capabilities,” The Washington Quarterly 39.1 (Spring 2016): 117–136, https://twq.elliott.gwu.edu/sites/twq.elliott.gwu.edu/files/downloads/TWQ_Spring2016_Chase-Chan.pdf.

[8] This and all subsequent parade-related commentary is derived from Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles.”

[9] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016, Annual Report to Congress (Arlington, VA: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 13 May 2016), 25, 67, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2016%20China%20Military%20Power%20Report.pdf.

[10] Zhao Lei, “Anti-Ship Rocket ‘Included in Drills’,” China Daily, 16 February 2016, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-02/16/content_23496831.htm.

[11] The report stated: “China’s ballistic missile force is acquiring conventional…intermediate-range ballistic missiles that extend the distance at which it can threaten other countries with conventional precision or near-precision strikes.” Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2010, Annual Report to Congress (Arlington, VA: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2010), 33, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2010_CMPR_Final.pdf.

[12] The Pentagon suggests that the DF-26 will be able to reach Guam, which implies a range of at least 3,000 km, the rough distance from China’s coast to Guam. Perhaps a range of 3,200-3,300 km would be sufficient to accommodate principal inland firing locations. DoD (2016), 67. Jane’s reports a range of 3,000-4,000 km. “DF-26,” Jane’s Strategic Weapon Systems, 16 February 2016.

[13] Song Shengxia, Zhang Han, and Huang Jingjing, “New Missile ‘Ready by 2015’: Global Times,” People’s Daily Online, 18 February 2011, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90786/7292006.html.

[14] 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, http://www.andrewerickson.com/2015/12/academy-of-military-science-researchers-why-we-had-to-develop-the-dongfeng-26-ballistic-missile-bilingual-text-analysis-links/.

[15] “PLA ‘Sinks’ US Carrier in DF-21D Missile Test in Gobi,” Want China Times, 23 January 2013, http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id= 20130123000112&cid=1101.

[16] An ASBM’s reentry speed and need to lock on target at substantial distance likely precludes effective use of millimeter wave radar. Infrared is subject to reentry friction and is easily jammed. Discussion with technical expert, 15 January 2017.

[17] See, for example, Xie Yu and Pan Liang, College of Mechatronic Engineering and Automation, National University of Defense Technology, Changsha; Yuan Tianbao, Second Artillery Force Equipment Academy, “Trajectory Planning for Reentry Maneuverable Ballistic Missiles,” International Conference on Manufacturing Science and Engineering (ICMSE 2015), 8-15; Shi-Xue Tsai, “Introduction to the Scene Matching Guidance Technologies,” Promotion of Chinese Aviation Between Centuries: Proceedings of Conference for 30th Anniversary of CSAA’s Establishment, No. 10 (1994) 3.1 (1996), 227-37.

[18] Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts Consider the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review 62.4 (Autumn 2009): 53-86, esp. 59, https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/f5cd3bb5-a1d1-497d-ab70-257b9502d13e/Using-the-Land-to-Control-the-Sea–Chinese-Analyst.aspx.

[19] Consider, for instance, the striking resemblance among the diagrams in the following four sources: “Figure 2-5. Typical [Pershing II] Missile Trajectory,” Pershing II Weapon System, Technical/Operators Manual, (Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army: 1 June 1986), 2-8; “图 1 带有末制导的导弹飞行弹道示意图” [Fig. 1 Schematic Diagram of Guided-Missile Ballistic Trajectory With Terminal Guidance], 谭守林、张大巧, 第二炮兵工程学院 [Tan Shoulin and Zhang Daqiao, Second Artillery Engineering College] and 刁国修, 中国人民 解放军96311部队 [Diao Guoxiu, PLA Unit 96311, Huaihua], “弹道导弹打击航空母舰 末制导有效区的确定与评估” [Determination and Evaluation of Effective Range for Terminal-Guidance Ballistic Missile(s) Attacking Aircraft Carrier(s)], 指挥控制与仿真 [Command Control and Simulation] 28, no. 4 (August 2006), 7, republished as “Figure 4. Schematic Diagram of Missile Flight Trajectory with Terminal Guidance,” Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Annual Report to Congress Arlington, VA: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2009), 21, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/China_Military_Power_Report_2009.pdf.

[20] Unless otherwise specified, data in this paragraph are derived from Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development, esp. 40-46, 73-82.

[21] UAVs would likely be too easily detected to be reliable in this role. To obtain the information they need, they must transmit with active radar. Discussion with technical expert, 15 January 2017.

[22] Lt. Bin-Yi Liu, Republic of China Navy, “HF Over-The-Horizon Radar System Performance Analysis,” Master’s Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, September 2007, 21.

[23] Henry Kenhmann, “Exclusif: La Chine Construit Son 2ème Radar Trans-Horizon Pour Surveiller Le Japon Et La Corée” [Exclusive: China Builds Its Second Trans-Horizon Radar to Monitor Japan and Korea], Eastern Pendulum, 18 January 2017, http://www.eastpendulum.com/exclusif-la-chine-construit-2eme-radar-trans-horizon-surveiller-japon-coree.

[24] A Chinese OTH-B radar facing the South China Sea would have to be set back some distance to mitigate the effects of coastal mountains blocking its line of sight. Author’s discussion with Sean O’Conner, Principal Imagery Analyst, Aerospace, Defense & Security, IHS Jane’s, 9 February 2017.

[25] Australia’s Jindalee system, for instance, has a range of at least 3,000 km. “Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN),” Jane’s C4ISR & Mission Systems: Land, 21 September 2016. As with other OTH-B systems, Jindalee’s detection range reportedly improves with conditions in the ionosphere that correspond to daytime and periods without elevated solar activity. Bradley Perrett, “Long View: The Jindalee Over-the-Horizon Radars Are Substantially Improved,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, 22 September 2014, 43-45. During World War II, HF radio “bounces,” and corresponding range, varied considerably with environmental conditions.

[26] Kevin Pollpeter et al., China Dream, Space Dream: China’s Progress in Space Technologies and Implications of the United States (Washington, DC: U.S.-China Security and Economic Review Commission, 2 March 2015), http://www.uscc.gov/Research/china-dream-space-dream-chinas- progress-space-technologies-and-implications-united-states.

[27] Michael S. Chase and Jeffrey Engstrom, “China’s Military Reforms: An Optimistic Take,” Joint Force Quarterly 83.4 (October 2016): 49-52, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-83/Article/969661/chinas-military-reforms-an-optimistic-take/.

[28] “Beidou/Compass Series,” Jane’s Space Systems and Industry, 5 July 2016, www.janes.com.

[29] “Yaogan Series,” Jane’s Space Systems and Industry, 3 June 2016, www.janes.com.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “NOSS (White Cloud),” Jane’s Space Systems and Industry, 26 March 2016. EO satellites are dependent on daylight. If could afford to launch a sufficient number of missiles, however, it might be able to “clarify with ordnance” by shooting at all targets of interest.

[32] Satellite updates obtained from “Live Real Time Satellite Tracking and Predictions,” https://www.n2yo.com.

[33] Rui C. Barbosa, “Long March 4C Apparently Fails During Gaofen-10 Launch,” NASA SpaceFlight, 1 September 2016, https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2016/09/long-march-4c-apparently-fails-during-gaofen-10-launch/.

[34] “Gaofen Series,” Jane’s Space Systems and Industry, 29 September 2016, www.janes.com.

[35] “China Launches Four More Satellites,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 9 October 2015, www.janes.com.

[36] Rui C. Barbosa, “China Launches Jilin-1 Mission via Long March 2D,” NASA SpaceFlight, 7 October 2015, https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/10/china-launches-jilin-1-mission-long-march-2d/. See also Chen Na, “Jilin-1: China’s First Commercial Remote Sensing Satellites Aim to Fill the Void,” Chinese Academy of Sciences, 13 May 2016, http://english.cas.cn/newsroom/news/201605/t20160513_163009.shtml.

[37] “2016 Space Launch Statistics,” Spaceflight 101, 31 December 2016, http://spaceflight101.com/2016-space-launch-statistics/.

[38] Lt. Bin-Yi Liu, Republic of China Navy, “HF Over-The-Horizon Radar System Performance Analysis,” Master’s Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, September 2007, 20, 22.

[39] “Another Piece of the Puzzle,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 22 February 2016, https://amti.csis.org/another-piece-of-the-puzzle/.

[40] Steve Mollman, “The ‘Strategic Triangle’ That Would Allow Beijing to Control the South China Sea,” Quartz, 11 September 2016, https://qz.com/775382/all-eyes-are-on-the-scarborough-shoal-the-reef-rimmed-lagoon-that-would-allow-beijing-to-control-the-south-china-sea/; Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Chinese Scarborough Shoal Base Would Threaten Manila,” Breaking Defense, 28 April 2016, http://breakingdefense.com/2016/04/chinese-scarborough-shoal-base-would-threaten-manila/.

[41] “Challenges…Antiship Ballistic Missiles,” World Maritime Challenges (Suitland, MD: Office of

Naval Intelligence, 2004), 22.

[42] Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 17 June 2016), 67, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33153.pdf.

[43] Greg Chaffin, “Building an Active, Layered Defense: Chinese Naval and Air Force Advancement—An Interview with Andrew S. Erickson,” Policy Q&A, National Bureau of Asian Research, 10 September 2012, http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=272.

[44] For detailed conceptual analysis, see Garth Hekler, “Chinese Early-Warning Aircraft, Electronic Warfare, and Maritime C4ISR,” Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, eds., Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 130-50.

[45] Robert G. Angevine, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The U.S. Navy and Dispersed Operations under EMCON, 1956–1972,” Naval War College Review 64.2 (Spring 2011): 79-95, https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/bfd7502d-682c-444d-946c-63245227ae68/Hiding-in-Plain-Sight–The-U-S–Navy-and-Dispersed; “EMCON Effectiveness Study 1975,” Naval Weapons Center, U.S. Navy; Naval War College Archives Record Group 4, Box 291, File 18, declassified by authority of General Declassification Schedule of Executive Order 12958 dated 17 April 1995.

[46] “China May Build Base at Scarborough Shoal,” Maritime Executive, 10 February 2017, http://maritime-executive.com/article/china-may-build-base-at-scarborough-shoal.

[47] Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Naval Shipbuilding Sets Sail,” The National Interest, 8 February 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/chinas-naval-shipbuilding-sets-sail-19371; Andrew S. Erickson, ed., Chinese Naval Shipbuilding: An Ambitious and Uncertain Course (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2016).

[48] DoD (2016), 29.

[49] U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), “PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020,” written response to request for information provided to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Suitland, MD, 24 June 2013; op. cit. Craig Murray, Andrew Berglund, and Kimberly Hsu, “China’s Naval Modernization and Implications for the United States,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Research Backgrounder, 26 August 2013, http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/ Research/Backgrounder_China’s%20Naval%20Modernization%20and%20Implications%20for%20the%20United%20States.pdf.




Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 419

Washington, DC

Hearing Co-Chairs: Chairman Carolyn Bartholomew and Senator James Talent

9:35 AM – 11:05 AM:         Panel I: China’s Hypersonic and Maneuverable Re-Entry Vehicle Programs

11:05 AM – 11:15 AM:       Break

11:15 AM – 12:45 PM:        Panel II: China’s Directed Energy and Electromagnetic Weapons Programs

12:45 PM – 1:45 PM:          Lunch Break

1:45 PM – 3:15 PM:            Panel III: China’s Counterspace, Unmanned, and Artificial Intelligence Weapons Programs

3:15 PM – 3:20 PM:            Closing Remarks

3:20 PM:                              Adjourn


Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation/Brookings Institution Press, 2013).

Now available via Amazon, including as a Kindle eBook!

Click here to purchase this book via Brookings Institution Press or from the Jamestown Store.

China’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the DF-21D, has reached the equivalent of Initial Operational Capability. While perfecting the system-of-systems to maximize its effectiveness remains a work in progress, it has been deployed in small numbers. This 160-page book examines the ASBM’s capability and history, showing how the DF-21D meets multiple priorities in Chinese defense modernization and in the national security bureaucracy as well its implications for the United States. The ASBM’s physical threat to U.S. Navy ships will be determined by the development of associated systems and organizations, which currently limit data fusion and coordination in the complex task of identifying a U.S. aircraft carrier in the open ocean. Still, the ASBM poses a direct threat to the foundations of U.S. power projection in Asia and will undermine the U.S. position, unless efforts to counter its political-military effects are taken continually.

Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Development_Drivers, Trajectories and Strategic Implications



In 2015, the largest military parade in Chinese history displayed nearly a dozen operational ballistic missiles, including sixteen trucks carrying the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the Dong Feng-21D. Official commentary dubbed it “the assassin’s mace for maritime asymmetric warfare.” China’s most advanced ASBM has a range of 1,500 km and a maneuverable warhead, giving the DF-21D the ability to hit ships far out into the Pacific.

Since 2010, China has deployed the world’s first system capable of targeting a moving aircraft carrier group with long-range, land-based mobile launchers. How did Beijing get there first? This book tells the story for the first time. Drawing on a wide range of authoritative Chinese-language sources from doctrinal materials to technical papers, it traces in detail the motivations, genesis, programmatic history, and implications of Chinese ASBM development.

Chinese strategic thinkers have long sought to exploit their nation’s continental depth to project power beyond its once-frequently-invaded shores, an approach termed “using the land to control the sea.” Inspired in part by U.S. development of the Pershing II theater ballistic missile and China’s own decades of investment in ballistic missiles, in the 1970s this strand of strategic thought began to converge in research toward an ASBM.

It would take a series of threatening events in the 1990s, however, to persuade Chinese leaders to fund concerted ASBM development as a dedicated megaproject. In May 1999, in the aftermath of the accidental NATO bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade, Chinese President Jiang Zemin directed the defense industry to rapidly develop “assassin’s mace” weapons, declaring, “That which the enemy fears most, that is what we must develop.”

For over fifteen years the U.S. military has been taking China’s ASBM potential seriously and developing countermeasures. Despite rapid ongoing progress, China’s reconnaissance-strike complex, the vast network of sensors and data processing necessary to attack a distant moving target, continues to exhibit significant limitations. However, the missiles themselves work and China has clearly fielded purpose-designed ASBMs of some potential capability. Their parade appearance suggests that Beijing considers them to be minimally operational and capable of achieving a measure of deterrence.

As peacetime conditions and weapons systems’ growing complexity render the line between ongoing development and operational capability ever blurrier and more uncertain in actual employment, this book offers a study in using available information to understand the broad outlines of one of the world’s great technological endeavors—and its meaning in China, and beyond. In addition to its compelling strategic history, it offers a model for conducting and evaluating Chinese-language open source research concerning Beijing’s many military megaprojects to come.


I. Executive Summary 1
II. Key Judgments 4
III. Current Status of the DF-21D ASBM 10
IV. Background and Motivations for the ASBM Program 27
V. Discussions of ASBMs in the Chinese Literature 52
VI. Constructing a System of Systems 81
VII. Conclusion 116
VIII. Appendix A: Knowledge Gaps and Key Questions 133
IX. Appendix B: Post-1996 ASBM Publication Boom 139
X. Appendix C: Chinese Analysis of the Pershing II 142
About the Author 147
Acknowledgments 148


Table 1: Potential Indicators of Chinese ASBM Innovation……..26
Table 2: Chinese ASBM Development Timeline………………….41
Table 3: Principal Chinese Generalist Publications Surveyed…..55
Figure 1: ABSM Publications by Year, 1996–2009………………74
Table 4: Yaogan Satellites Launched to Date…………………93
Table 5: Beidou Satellites Launched to Date…………………99



“We are continentalists. Now guided missiles are well developed. Installed on shore, they can hit any target, and there is no need to build a big navy.”

—Vice Premier Zhang Chunqiao addressing the Central Military Commission (1972)

“Whatever the enemy fears most, that is what we should develop.”

—President Jiang Zemin as quoted by General Zhang Wannian (1999)

“When many carrier-borne aircraft are used in continuous air strikes against our coast, in order to halt the powerful air raids, the enemy’s core carrier should be struck as with a ‘heavy hammer’.”

Science of Second Artillery Campaigns (2004)

“Since the introduction of nuclear weapons, all the major nuclear powers have developed ballistic missile warning systems against possible nuclear attacks, and there has not been a single precedent of a major nuclear power attacking another with ballistic missiles.”

—Huo Fei and Luo Shiwei, Modern Ships (2008)

“The queen of the American fleet, and the centerpiece of the most powerful Navy the world has ever seen, the aircraft carrier, is in danger of becoming like the battleships it was originally designed to support: big, expensive, vulnerable—and surprisingly irrelevant to the conflicts of the time.”

—Captain Henry J. Hendrix, U.S. Navy (2013)



“I purchased this important book some years ago. It provides substantial insight to the development of the Dong-Feng (DF-21D) Chinese 東風 ‘East Wind’ (anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and its current Initial Operational Capability. It is a must read for all naval strategists.”

Capt. D. L. Hayward, “I Purchased This Important Book…,” 5-Star Review, Amazon.com, 8 February 2017.

“Very insightful and easy read.”

Carl O Schuster, “Five Stars,” 5-Star Review, Amazon.com, 11 February 2015.

“Andrew S. Erickson is a leading authority on Chinese naval developments. His research and linguistic abilities are matched by his careful, systematic analysis. In this work Erickson thoroughly surveys the existing literature in English and Chinese addressing Beijing’s efforts to deploy antiship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) able to strike large warships at ranges of more than a thousand miles …a thoughtful evaluation of current Chinese efforts to defend the homeland and exert control over the waters Beijing believes vital to national-security interests. Also impressive is Erickson’s appreciation of the possibility of “deeply destabilizing” strategic effects of successful Chinese maritime control strategies on the Asian political situation—that is, a successful ASBM will not simply be a tactical weapon. This is a book that every naval officer and civilian analyst must read.”

Prof. Bernard D. Cole, Ph.D., National Defense University, review in Naval War College Review 67.2 (Spring 2014): 134-35.

“Andrew Erickson offers a thoughtful counterbalance to the official dogma that we have a technological lead sufficient to ensure that our aircraft carriers remain relevant even against the broad and deep efforts of other nations to render them quite vulnerable. If we don’t seek and incorporate disconfirming advice such as his into our assessments, we may have a strategic surprise which clarifies the situation – but on terms unhelpful to us and our allies.”

Greg LeGore, “Uses Original Sources to Offset Our Smug Over-Confidence,” 5 Star Rating, Amazon.com, 30 March 2014.



Executive Summary:

China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) is no longer an aspiration. Beijing has successfully developed, tested and deployed the world’s first weapons system capable of targeting a moving aircraft carrier strike group (CSG) from long-range, land-based mobile launchers. The Second Artillery, China’s strategic missile force, already has a capability to attempt to use the DF-21D against U.S. CSGs in the event of conflict, and therefore likely expects to achieve a growing degree of deterrence with it.

None of this should be surprising. Numerous ASBM data points have been emerging from Chinese sources as well as U.S. official statements and reports for years now, available to anyone willing to connect them. They offer a useful case study not only to those involved with Sino-U.S. strategic relations, but also to anyone conducting analysis under conditions of incomplete information.

The real surprise is how much “ASBM denial” there has been outside active governmental circles. Some individuals, including a few respected professionals with the highest levels of Cold War experience, assumed that any Chinese ASBM would have many of the shortcomings of failed Soviet Industrial-age design but would nevertheless be susceptible to U.S. Information-age ballistic missile defense systems. Other skeptics stated that a conventional ASBM was technologically unfeasible; still more said that there was no evidence that China could achieve such a capability. Physics, however, allows for an ASBM; physics is the same for the Chinese as it is for everyone else. China has many physics experts and engineers who have served their country. We are witnessing the results today as well as the ability of China’s once-moribund defense industry to integrate existing technologies in innovative ways.

It may seem a cliché to cite Sun Zi’s maxim that “in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” This universally-accepted approach, however, does seem to correspond to China’s military planning, particularly such developments as its ASBM program—one of several weapons designed to exploit relative Chinese military strengths against relative U.S. military weaknesses. An ASBM system of systems, if developed and deployed successfully, would be the world’s first weapons system capable of targeting a moving CSG from long-range, land-based mobile launchers.

This could pose a new type of threat to the U.S. Navy. For the past several decades, the U.S. Navy has used aircraft carriers to project power around the world, including in and around the Taiwan Strait. Since the 1920s, the U.S. Navy has built its carrier forces around the idea that the air group represents the first and best line of defense for the carrier. The ASBM potentially bypasses the air group and removes it from the defensive equation. Only one other major system has ever offered the possibility of doing this: the submarine. While China is developing a potent fleet, it cannot today effectively conduct advanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW), while the U.S. can—using carrier-based aircraft. Defense against missiles, by contrast, is potentially an extremely difficult problem for any military.

China is developing increasingly formidable naval platforms, aircraft and missiles that could hold U.S. Navy platforms and their supporting assets at risk in the Western Pacific. Central to maximizing Chinese ability to employ these systems—and hence to consolidating China’s emerging aerospace combat capabilities over the Near Seas (the Yellow, East China and South China Seas)—are its emerging command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities. These systems will enable the Chinese military to strengthen cueing, reconnaissance, communications and data relay for maritime monitoring and targeting as well as for the coordination of Chinese platforms, systems and personnel engaged in these roles. Particularly important will be effective use of ISR, the collection and processing of information concerning potential military targets and the transmission of that information to both those who would make relevant decisions and those who would actually launch the ASBM.

The successful achievement of high-quality, real-time satellite imagery and target-locating data and fusion as well as reliable indigenous satellite navigation and positioning would facilitate holding enemy vessels at risk via devastating multi-axis strikes. As Chinese planners conceive of them, these strikes would involve precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles launched from a variety of land-, sea-, undersea- and air-based platforms in coordinated sequence. Emerging space-based C4ISR capabilities, therefore, could increase greatly China’s capacity to use military means to assert its interests along the contested Near Seas. Beijing has a clear strategic rationale for mastering the relevant components, particularly for what it calls “active defense” and “counter-intervention” operations, and the U.S. terms “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) operations, in and around the Near Seas. Doing so could finally enable the PLA to translate its traditional approach of “achieving military superiority in a specific time and area even in a context of overall inferiority” into the maritime dimension.

The bottom line is that the era of “ASBM denial” is over. China’s ASBM is not science fiction. It is not a “smoke and mirrors” bluff. The DF-21D is not an aspirational capability that the United States can afford to ignore until some point in the future.

Key Judgments:

  • The DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) has reached the equivalent of Initial Operational Capability.

The era of ASBM denial is over: China’s DF-21D exists and has been deployed in small numbers. Additional challenges and tests remain before the DF-21D reaches its full potential; however, senior U.S. and Taiwan officials in the last two years have confirmed separately that the ASBM is in the field. Additionally, the basic support infrastructure is already sufficient to provide basic targeting capabilities against U.S. aircraft carriers operating in the Western Pacific (if countermeasures are not considered).

  • Analysts will not be able to identify a sharp red line between Initial Operational Capability and the full operational potential of the DF-21D.

The ASBM’s physical threat to U.S. Navy ships will be determined by the development of associated information processing systems and capabilities. This is part of a larger analytical challenge in which Chinese “hardware” continues to improve dramatically, but the caliber of the “software” supporting and connecting it remains uncertain and untested in war. The missile components of the DF-21D already are proven through multiple tests, but China’s ability use the missile against a moving target operating in the open ocean remains unproven. The supporting command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies probably still lag behind the requirement to identify and track a U.S. aircraft carrier in real time under wartime conditions. Improving C4ISR capabilities, however, is a high priority in China’s military modernization program. U.S. countermeasures are another matter entirely: there is every reason to believe that they are already formidable.

  • Beijing is developing and deploying ASBMs as part of a far broader effort to assert influence over its still-contested Near Seas island and maritime claims.

The DF-21D targets specific physics-based limitations in U.S. and allied military platforms, adding to China’s growing complement of submarines, other ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and electronic warfare tools to restrict an adversary’s ability to operate on China’s periphery. The missile stands out from the already-potent anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) effort—what the Chinese call “counter-intervention”—because it draws on over half a century of Chinese experience with ballistic missiles, may be fired from mobile, highly concealable platforms and has the range to strike targets hundreds of kilometers from China’s shores.

  • The 1995–96 Taiwan Strait crises drove the development of the ASBM program; however, it is a program with long historical roots.

Chinese ASBM development dates at least to the 1995–96 Taiwan Strait crises, which underscored Chinese feelings of helplessness against U.S. naval power. Broad-based Chinese ASBM development effort since then suggests China will continue to make progress with the missile and its supporting infrastructure. Chinese leaders and strategists have been thinking of using land-based missiles to hit threatening targets at sea for over three decades. Beginning in the late 1970s, Chinese experts studied the U.S. Pershing II theater ballistic missile fitted with maneuvering reentry vehicles (MaRV), and appear to have incorporated, or at least emulated, some of its key technologies. China’s space program has furthered overall capabilities that are useful to its ASBM program, including the missile’s supporting architecture.

  • The ASBM is an organic extension of, and an innovation involving, existing Chinese technologies.

The DF-21D is not a novel idea or technology, but rather what Tai Ming Cheung terms an “architectural innovation,” involving a novel assembly of existing systems to yield a new use with unprecedented maneuverability and accuracy. The U.S. and Russia could have developed an ASBM before China, but remain proscribed from doing so to this day by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty they signed in 1987, at which time they lacked the need for such a weapon. Still, military capabilities are determined by effectiveness with respect to objectives, not technical sophistication for its own sake. China’s ASBM ‘Frankenweapon’ is an exemplar of the kind of innovation that is potentially unpredictable and disruptive, especially as China’s defense industry becomes more capable of meeting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s needs across a variety of technical fields.

  • Open source discussions have consistently provided important insights into the ASBM program throughout its life cycle, including its technical challenges, potential integration into war fighting and operational scenarios.

Despite the sensitivity of China’s ASBM program—which has only recently been explicitly acknowledged by Chinese officials—and the resulting gaps in publicly-available information, open sources have provided clues to Chinese intentions throughout the lifespan of the ASBM program. As the PLA has modernized its technology and doctrine, these changes spurred an outpouring of professional, technical, and generalist publications to debate and critique how the PLA should fight and with what equipment. The ASBM was no different, except during a two-year period (2004–06) when related publication dipped dramatically in a classic ‘bathtub’-shaped pattern. Chinese engineers were probably testing specific aspects of the ASBM then, heightening its sensitivity.

  • As the ASBM becomes more effective operationally, the capability may reinforce China’s land-centric approach to defense.

The idea of developing ASBMs clearly appeals to the interests of many institutions—including the Second Artillery—and its deployment may reinforce visible strands of PLA thinking, including the following: reinforcement of continental approaches to maritime security (“using the land to control the sea”); consolidation of centralized approaches to command; further emphasis on multi-axis saturation attacks (e.g. combining ASBMs and anti-ship cruise missiles); and greater confidence in China’s ability to threaten and discourage U.S. Navy operations and to control escalation without matching U.S. capabilities at sea. To further its Near Seas interests, China’s focus on developing an “Anti-Navy” based on such A2/AD weapons as ASBMs is a far more efficient approach than pursuing a blue water navy. Here, China’s institutional predilections serve it well, and permit it to challenge U.S. forces severely, even as it spends far less on its military than does the U.S.

  • The DF-21D probably requires additional testing before Chinese leaders can be confident of its effectiveness under wartime conditions.

China must have conducted a rigorous program of tests sufficient to demonstrate that the DF-21D ASBM is mature enough for initial production, deployment, and employment. This likely would have entailed a variety of flight tests, albeit not yet fully integrated over water—perhaps because of a desire to avoid embarrassing failures in view of worried citizens of East Asia and a U.S. military increasingly refocused on the region.

  • Bureaucratic and technical pitfalls related to data fusion, coordination and “jointness” may limit the DF-21D’s utility.

Progress aside, however, Chinese ASBM development nevertheless faces manifold challenges that may limit the missile’s tactical and strategic effectiveness. Data fusion, bureaucratic coordination and “jointness” remain key limitations. A variety of organizations across the PLA, including the three services and one branch, as well as the General Staff Department control, task and exploit the sensors used the generate the ASBM’s targeting information.  How this information is integrated, including how different sensors are used to compensate for shortfalls in real time, remains both a concern for the PLA and a gap in the literature.

  • The ASBM poses a direct threat to the foundations of U.S. power projection in the Asia-Pacific, potentially undermining U.S. influence there.

While U.S. airbases around China already are vulnerable to Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles, the ASBM targets the last relatively uncontested airfield without requiring China to develop the naval resources necessary to challenge the U.S. Navy directly at sea. For the first time since the 1920s, the United States faces a direct threat to the platform that has represented the core of its naval power projection: the aircraft carrier strike group. U.S. policymakers must face the possibility that Beijing might decide to use ASBMs in the event of conflict, and that the PLA might be able to strike and disable one or more aircraft carriers if countermeasures proved inadequate.

  • Beijing may be seeking to leverage the ASBM capability for strategic communication about deterrence and the reliability of S. assistance.

Beijing is most likely using the existence and deployment of the ASBM to shape foreign perceptions of conflict scenarios involving China. By developing such abilities to hold U.S. and allied military platforms at risk, Beijing hopes to deter them from intervening in areas of sensitivity to China in the first place, and to persuade Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and other regional actors that U.S. assistance will be neither dependable nor forthcoming. The significant and growing amount of Chinese ASBM literature appears to be part of a larger pattern in which Beijing is becoming increasingly “translucent” (if still not fully transparent) regarding selected capabilities in order to enhance deterrence.

  • The United States will need measures to reassure allies and to deter China in order to control the political-military effects of a working ASBM.

Washington has two basic strategic options for managing the political-military consequences of a deployed weapon capable of threatening the foundations of U.S. power projection in East Asia: one, offering calibrated transparency about countermeasures that reassures allies that U.S. aircraft carriers can operate successfully within the range of the DF-21D while retaining the value of the countermeasures; and, two, shifting combat power to undersea and advanced long-range aerial vehicles that present less of a target to Chinese missiles.

The U.S. already enjoys proven undersea preponderance. While nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) are not directly relevant to the regional balance of power given their deterrence mission, which is not geographically-specific, it would be a grave error to allow numbers or deployments of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) or the equivalent capabilities of nuclear-powered guided missile submarines (SSGNs) to erode. Doing so while pursuing Asia-Pacific rebalancing would create the worst of both worlds, in which China’s leaders feel targeted by rebalancing, but are emboldened by its hollowness.



Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is Professor of Strategy in, and a core founding member of, the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). He helped to establish CMSI and to stand it up officially in 2006, and has subsequently played an integral role in its development. Erickson currently serves on the Naval War College Review’s Editorial Board. Since 2008 he has been an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Erickson is also an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report (中国实时报). Erickson is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2012, the National Bureau of Asian Research awarded him the inaugural Ellis Joffe Prize for PLA Studies. During academic year 2010-11, Erickson was a Fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program in residence at Harvard’s Center for Government and International Studies. From 2008-11, he was a Fellow in the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ Public Intellectuals Program, and served as a scholar escort on a five-Member Congressional trip to China. In 2014, Erickson helped to escort the Commander of China’s Navy and his delegation on a visit to Harvard. He subsequently helped to establish, and to escort the first iteration of, NWC’s first bilateral naval officer exchange program with China, which he continues to support. Erickson has taught courses at NWC and Yonsei University. He advises a wide range of student research and theses at NWC, Harvard, and other institutions; and provides curricular inputs to NWC and other schools. In 2013, while deployed in the Pacific as a Regional Security Education Program scholar aboard USS Nimitz, he delivered twenty-five hours of presentations. Erickson has briefed the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, his Executive Panel, the Secretary of the Navy, and U.S. naval leadership throughout the Asia-Pacific; as well as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, other Executive Branch officials, and multiple Members of Congress. He has testified before the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. Erickson received his Ph.D. and M.A. from Princeton University. He blogs at www.andrewerickson.com and www.chinasignpost.com.

The views expressed in this book are solely those of the author and in no way represent the policies or estimates of the U.S. Navy or any other organization of the U.S. government.


Jordan Wilson, China’s Expanding Ability to Conduct Conventional Missile Strikes on Guam (Washington, DC: U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 10 May 2016).

Executive Summary

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perceives that its legitimacy in the eyes of China’s citizens is based, in part, on its ability to demonstrate that it is capable of strengthening the nation and safeguarding China’s territorial interests and claims. Yet the CCP leadership believes the United States’ presence in the Asia Pacific could interfere with its ability to defend these interests and claims if a regional crisis were to arise. This concern has prompted Beijing to develop conventional missile capabilities to target U.S. military facilities in the Asia Pacific in general, and Guam in particular, in order to expand China’s options and improve its capacity to deter or deny U.S. intervention during such a crisis.

Several new conventional platforms and weapons systems developed by China in recent years have increased its ability to hold U.S. forces stationed on Guam at risk in a potential conflict. Currently, accuracy limitations and platform vulnerabilities render this risk relatively low, but China’s commitment to continuing to modernize its strike capabilities indicates the risk will likely grow going forward. The current array of Chinese conventional missiles able to reach Guam includes: 1) the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), not yet a precision strike weapon but potentially of concern in large numbers; 2) the DF-26 antiship ballistic missile (ASBM), unproven against a moving target at sea but undergoing further development; 3) air-launched land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), launched from bombers with a high probability of being detected and intercepted by U.S. aircraft and anti-aircraft systems; 4) air-launched antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs), with the same aircraft limitation; 5) sea-launched ASCMs, of concern should the platforms be able to move into range undetected, a challenge for China’s relatively noisy submarines; and 6) sea-launched LACMs, which China does not currently field but is likely working to develop. To evaluate China’s ability to strike Guam going forward, the areas that should be monitored most closely are increased deployments of DF-26 missiles and qualitative improvements to China’s precision strike capabilities, bomber fleet, in-air refueling capability, and submarine quieting technology.

Guam, a territory of the United States, is growing in importance to U.S. strategic interests and any potential warfighting operations in the Asia Pacific, even as China’s ability to strike the island is increasing. Such attacks could hold key U.S. assets stationed on Guam at risk and also disrupt their region-wide response effort, slowing deployment timetables and reducing the effectiveness of U.S. forces in the theater. China’s leaders could also be more willing to resort to military force in an existing crisis if they believed they could successfully hold Guam at risk, diminishing the United States’ ability to deter an escalation, although it is difficult to determine the extent to which better operational capabilities influence strategic thinking in Beijing. Options such as hardening facilities on Guam, further dispersing U.S. regional military facilities, continuing investments in “next-generation” missile defense capabilities, revisiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty, and maintaining superiority in regional strike capabilities offer potential avenues for addressing these key security concerns. …


Andrew S. Erickson, “Raining Down: Assessing the Emergent ASBM Threat,” Jane’s Navy International, 16 March 2016.


The anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) has been portrayed as a game-changing weapon that threatens the dominance of the carrier strike group (CSG). Andrew Erickson examines emerging ASBM capabilities, assesses their potential operational effectiveness, and considers the technological and tactical means to counter them

China’s development and deployment in small numbers of two dedicated operational anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) types – the DF-21D (CSS-5) and DF-26 – has attracted much attention in recent years. While some limitations in China’s reconnaissance/strike complex, along with evolving US and allied countermeasures, continue to render their operational effectiveness uncertain, they are clearly purpose-designed ASBMs of some potential capability.

China is not the first nation to invest in ASBM development. In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union attempted to develop the world’s first ASBM, the R-27K (SS-NX-13), to be launched from a modified Project 629 ‘Golf’-class submarine.

Despite the extensive Soviet constellation of Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellites (RORSATs) and Electronic intelligence Ocean Reconnaissance Satellites (EORSATs), however, this nuclear-armed system suffered severe target location problems, had a 370 m circular error probability (CEP), and never became operational. In rare Western coverage of the subject, the noted analyst Norman Polmar said Moscow cancelled the weapon system because of its implications for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), but this was likely making virtue of necessity.

While this example reflects the difficulties in developing an operational ASBM, it also indicates industrial-age limitations concerning vacuum tube and early transistor technology. China has mastered ballistic missile technology and enjoys better satellite capabilities in today’s information age than the Soviet Union had then.

China’s extensive ASBM-related literature does not devote significant attention to Soviet efforts or suggest it played a role in inspiring later Chinese developments – an unusual instance in which Chinese analysts do not regard Russia as a model for weapons development. Rather, it was US development and deployment of the Pershing II theatre ballistic missile fitted with manoeuvring reentry vehicles (MaRVs) that helped inspire – and quite possibly furnished vital technology for – Chinese ASBM development.

Deployed in 1983, the Pershing II was the first ballistic missile to be equipped with terminal guidance technology, including adjustable control fins for terminal manoeuvre on its re-entry vehicle (RV), thereby improving CEP to about 37 m. Beginning as early as 1976, Chinese experts studied the Pershing II extensively, and appear to have emulated – and perhaps directly incorporated – some of its key technologies. Dozens of Chinese articles covered the Pershing II, gradually shifting from basic overviews and translations of foreign media reports to detailed programme analyses and, finally, technical research by identified experts from Chinese government academies, with apparent application to China’s own programmes.

Some Chinese sources state explicitly that the Pershing II programme inspired Chinese research and development relevant to an ASBM – and even served as a prototype of sorts, with the DF-15/CSS-6 based directly on the Pershing II. While some DF-15 versions lack RVs with control fins, at least one has an RV virtually identical to the Pershing II’s. …



Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM)—Officially Revealed at 3 September Parade—Complete Open Source Research Compendium,”China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国 10 September 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” The National Interest, 3 September 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Missile March: China Parade Projects Patriotism at Home, Aims for Awe Abroad,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2015.


Andrew S. Erickson, “Academy of Military Science Researchers: ‘Why We Had to Develop the Dongfeng-26 Ballistic Missile’—Bilingual Text, Analysis & Related Links,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手料研究中国, 5 December 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “How China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.12 (7 June 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, May 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.5 (4 March 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

Andrew S. Erickson, “Take China’s ASBM Potential Seriously,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 136.2 (February 2010), 8.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Ballistic Trajectory—China Develops New Anti-Ship Missile,” China Watch, Jane’s Intelligence Review 22 (4 January 2010): 2-4.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts Consider the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review 62.4 (Autumn 2009): 53-86.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns,” Jamestown China Brief 9.13 (24 June 2009): 4-8.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches Equivalent of ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC)—Where It’s Going and What it Means,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 12 July 2011.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Now Updated With Additional Sources,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 25 December 2010. 

Andrew S. Erickson, A Statement Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “PLA Modernization in Traditional Warfare Capabilities” panel, “China’s Military Modernization and its Impact on the United States and the Asia-Pacific” hearing, Washington, DC, 29 March 2007, 72-78; published in 2007 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Congress, 1stSession, November 2007, 91.


Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Upgrading Hardware and Software (Part 2 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.14 (17 July 2014).

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).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China Goes Ballistic,” The National Interest131 (May-June 2014): 58-64.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “A Competitive Strategy with Chinese Characteristics? The Second Artillery’s Growing Conventional Forces and Missions,” in Thomas Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 206-18.

Andrew Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China’s Ballistic Missiles: A Force to be Reckoned With,” China Real Time Report (中国事实报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2012.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “The Conventional Missile Capabilities of China’s Second Artillery Force: Cornerstone of Deterrence and Warfighting,” Asian Security, 8.2 (Summer 2012): 115-37.

Christopher T. Yeaw, Andrew S. Erickson, and Michael S. Chase, “The Future of Chinese Nuclear Policy and Strategy,” in Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, eds.,Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age: Power, Ambition, and the Ultimate Weapon(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 53-80.

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s SSBN Force: Transitioning to the Next Generation,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 12 (10 June 2009).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “An Undersea Deterrent? China’s Emerging SSBN Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 135, No. 4 (June 2009), pp. 36-41.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “The Future of Chinese Deterrence Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 5 (4 March 2009), pp. 6-9.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “Chinese Theater and Strategic Missile Force Modernization and its Implications for the United States,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32.1 (February 2009): 67-114.