Sunday, November 21, 2010

China’s DH-10 Cruise Missile Program

China Made DongHai-10/DH-10 Missile

Yet at both the tactical and strategic levels, China’s latest generation of cruise missiles have very serious implications for regional security in the Western Pacific and beyond. Like China’s highly successful ballistic missile systems, cruise missiles allow for stand-off strikes that are technologically challenging (and expensive) to defend against. However, unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles are able to strike from any direction and fly at very low altitudes, making them even harder to detect and defend against.

Cruise missiles are also far more accurate and inexpensive to build than ballistic missiles and, because of their relatively small size, can be launched from a wide variety of platforms, furthering their stealth and agility. They also represent a major proliferation risk given China’s past willingness to sell cruise missiles to unsavory regimes and the missiles’ compatibility with a wide variety of warheads, including tactical nuclear weapons.

However, what truly makes this particular Chinese cruise missile program notable is that after more than two decades of development and testing, the DH-10 has entered production and deployment at break-neck speeds. It also appears that the development of the DH-10 may have unlocked key technologies that have implications for China’s highly-valued anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) program.

The DH-10 Cruise Missile

There is a great deal of opacity surrounding China’s DH-10 land attack cruise missile (LACM) in the available literature. For instance, a recent report from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) states the launch mode, range and deployment of the DH-10 are all “undetermined.”

Yet, in 2008 the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated the DH-10 to have a range of over 2,000 kilometers (km), and pointed out that the PLA was developing both air and ground launched variants.2 The latest 2009 DOD estimates state that by “April 2008 the PLA had 150-350 DH-10 ground-launched
cruise missiles” with a range of a range of over 1,500 km.3 It is not known why the DOD changed its estimates concerning the range of the DH-10 in 2009 and failed to make anyestimates concerning the number of air-launched DH-10s inthe PLA inventory.

The lack of a precise estimate suggests that the DOD knows much less about the status of China’s cruise missiles than it does China’s ballistic missile systems. 4 Notably, the DOD report does not even attempt an estimate at the number of air-launched or possible sea-launched variants of the DH-10.

It is possible that the Pentagon’s difficulty in making precise assessments of the DH-10 program stems from the unusually high level of secrecy that surrounds this program, and the fact that so much of the already limited Chinese source material available on the subject appears to be part of a misinformation campaign. One example of this can be seen in the wide-scale, apparently intentional, confusion of the DH- 10 LACM program and the DF-11 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) program on the Chinese internet.

 The DH-10 is widely reported on the Chinese language internet to be a product of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation’s (CASIC) Ninth Academy (also known as the Sanjiang Aerospace Group, or 066 Base) in Hubei, China.5 According to these reports, the chief designer of the DH-10
and “Father of China’s cruise missile” is the Ninth Academy’s Party Committee Secretary and Vice President Liu Shiquan.

In terms of known ground-launched DH-10 deployments, the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps has formed at least two operational, road-mobile, DH-10 Brigades: the 821 Brigade, 96215 Unit in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province; and the 824 Brigade, 96317 Unit in Dongkou, Hunan Province.30 There are also unconfirmed reports of a third DH-10 Brigade in Jianshui, Yunnan Province. These DH-10 Brigades target Okinawa,
Taiwan, South East Asia and the South China Sea area. Given their locations, it appears that China has intentionally positioned these missiles far inland in order to maximize their protection against detection and counter-strikes.


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