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How China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment

07/06/2013|Andrew S. Erickson | China Brief Volume: 13 Issue: 12
China’s deployment of the world’s first operational anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) has just been confirmed with unprecedented clarity by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The ASBM’s development path was unusual in many respects, but may increasingly represent the shape of things to come for China’s defense industry. In explaining these critical dynamics, this article builds on an occasional paper just published by the Jamestown Foundation that represents the most comprehensive open source analysis to date on China’s ASBM program [1].

To purchase the full report, China's Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories and Strategic Implications, clickHERE.
A Clear Step Forward
On May 6, 2013, DOD published its latest annual report to Congress on China’s military [2]. The report contained the most comprehensive authoritative statement to date concerning the status of China’s DF-21D ASBM. China began deploying the 1,500+ km-range DF-21D (CSS-5) medium-range ballistic missile, with its maneuverable warhead, in 2010. DOD assesses that it “gives the PLA the capability to attack large ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean” (CMPR 2013, pp. 5–6, 38). In related comments, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey explained that “deployment…implies a limited operational capability”[3]. As for the missile’s targeting, DOD states “The PLA Navy is also improving its over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting capability with sky wave and surface wave OTH radars, which can be used in conjunction with reconnaissance satellites to locate targets at great distances from China (thereby supporting long-range precision strikes, including employment of ASBMs)”(CMPR 2013, pg. 42).  Helvey added that while their degree of completion remains unclear at the public level, “the pretty significant number of space launches that China conducted over the past year… help put elements of” space-based “architecture in place” to facilitate ASBM mid-course and terminal guidance [4].
DOD’s statements related to the annual reports build on 2013 testimony by other U.S. military officials. On April 9, 2013, Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee “There are a number of notable examples of China’s improving military capabilities, including five new stealth and conventional aircraft programs and the initial deployment of a new anti-ship ballistic missile that we believe is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers" [5]. On April 19, 2013, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, stated that China is “augmenting the over 1,200 conventional short-range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan with a limited but growing number of conventionally armed, medium-range ballistic missiles, including the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile” [6].
Blazing a New Technological Trail
China’s ASBM development displays three major dynamics. Heretofore rarely seen, they are likely to become increasingly common in the future as China’s defense industry continues to improve. It offers an example of China developing and deploying a unique weapons system. It also represents an instance of Chinese researchers deemphasizing Soviet/Russian models in favor of U.S. examples. China did so through an eclectic “architectural innovation” approach in which it imported, developed indigenously and combined existing technologies in new ways to produce what might be termed a “Frankenweapon.”
Soviet Union Not a Model
The considerable Soviet military industrial infrastructure, systems and expertise that China received in the 1950s—a process continued on a more limited commercial basis with Russia beginning in the early 1990s—has strongly influenced many Chinese weapons programs. Major examples include aircraft, cruise missiles, torpedoes and naval mines. Yet no evidence is available to suggest that the Soviet Union’s abortive ASBM program was a model for China. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, as U.S. aircraft carriers ranged Soviet targets with nuclear weapons, Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau (SKB-385) was developing the R-27 (4K18)/SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Moscow formally approved development of an ASBM variant, the R-27K/SS-NX-13, that year. Visually identical to its simpler progenitor, the 900 km-range R-27K’s second stage had a liquid propellant KB-2 engine designed by the Aleksei Mihailovich Isayev design bureau. It obtained targeting data pre-launch from the Legendaocean reconnaissance satellite system (RORSATs) and Uspekh-U radars on the Tu-20 Bear-D aircraft [7]. Its 0.65 MT nuclear warhead could home in on targets within a 27 NM (50 km) “footprint” with 370 m accuracy [8]. Soviet aerospace engineer Boris Chertok credits the R-27K with “a homing system for striking pinpoint targets on the shore and surface ships” [9]. Beginning in December 1970, system tests yielded only four failures in 20 launches. December 1972 saw the first submarine-launched test from the Project 605/Golf K-102 submarines outfitted with the Record-2 fire-control system and Kasatka B-605 satellite-tracking target acquisition system, yielding 10 of 11 launches succeeded [10].
On August 15, 1975, therefore, the R-27K and its K-102 trial submarine “were accepted for operational service.” Yet, “because the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements of the 1970s would count every SLBM tube as a strategic missile regardless of whether it held a land-attack or anti-ship (tactical) missile,” according to Norman Polmar, “the R-27K missile did not become operational” [11]. Moreover, Soviet satellite targeting was not ready to support precise terminal homing, and the program was competing with more mature solutions to specific problems (e.g. the Skhval torpedo) [12]. Instead, the program was terminated in December 1975 [13]. The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff subsequently stated that the SS-NX-13 ASBM “has not been tested since November 1973 and is not operational. However, the advanced technology displayed by the weapon is significant and the project could be resurrected” [14].
Russia and the United States undoubtedly would have developed their own ASBMs before China had they not signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This 1987 agreement prohibits them from possessing 500–5,500 km-range ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles.
American Model Incomplete
Recent insistence by Beijing officials that China develops its own advanced military technologies is accurate but incomplete. While many of its indigenous capabilities are already extremely impressive and China’s talented engineers can exploit the same laws of physics as anyone else, China regularly incorporates foreign technologies and ideas into its weapons systems. With regard to the ASBM, such incorporation appears to have included, at the very least, concepts from the U.S. MGM-31B Pershing IItheater ballistic missile fitted with maneuvering reentry vehicles (MaRV). The Pershing II’s example was undoubtedly a great help to Chinese engineers, but they have had to go far beyond it in developing and deploying a true ASBM.
A profusion of writings tracking the development, successes and failures of the Pershing II missile system shows the close attention paid to the system by Chinese specialists. The articles appeared as early as 1976 and continued through 1994—three years after the last Pershing II missile had been destroyed. Possible explanations for subsequent lack of coverage in serious technical publications include efforts to avoid attention to any Chinese acquisition and applications of such technology.
Chinese sources have credited the Pershing II with influencing the development of China’s DF-15C and -21 (as well as the rumored “DF-25”) ballistic missiles. Following the Pershing II’s deployment, initial “research work” reportedly was completed in the early 1990s and incorporated into China’s Dongfeng(DF) missiles via a “warhead that possesses terminal homing guidance and maneuvering control capability” (blog.huanqiu.com, 1999). At the 1999 military parade commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, DF missiles—albeit with no evidence of MaRV capabilities—were on prominent display, leading some to credit emulation of the Pershing II for their rapid advance. “When they saw the new-type intermediate-range missile in China’s ‘Dongfeng’ family during the latest military parade held on the National Day, people would certainly like to compare it with the ‘Pershing II’ missile, wouldn’t they?” stated an article in a mainland-owned daily newspaper with recognized access to Chinese sources. China’s “new-type ‘Dongfeng’ intermediate-range missile has attained the level of the ‘Pershing II’ missile in terms of size, weight, launch mode, and so on. …it is believed that it is not much inferior to the ‘Pershing II’ missile” (Ta Kung Pao [Hong Kong], October 2, 1999).
Visual analysis further suggests Pershing II influence in China’s ASBM. Chinese sources also state that the DF-15/CSS-6 missile is based on the Pershing II, which has adjustable control fins for terminal maneuver on its reentry vehicle (RV). While some DF-15 versions lack RVs with control fins, one with an RV virtually identical to the Pershing II’s may be found on the China’s Defence Today website (www.sinodefence.com, October 3, 2009). Unfortunately, positively identified photos of a DF-21 outside its canister are not known to exist. Pictures of the DF-15’s RV, however, do bear a striking resemblance to the Pershing II. If the DF-15 resembles the Pershing II, it is reasonable to suppose that the related DF-21 does as well, and that both employ similar adjustable fins that permit terminal maneuver. As Internet photos of the DF-15 indicate, China has such an RV, which could easily be mounted atop the DF-21 booster and thereby produce part of the basis for an effective ASBM. RV control fins have been depicted in a schematic diagram of ASBM flight trajectory with mid-course and terminal guidance published by individuals affiliated with the Second Artillery Engineering College and a Second Artillery Base in a Chinese technical journal [15].
The Pershing II, however, probably could not have been a true ASBM. It had a W-85 5–50 kiloton yield nuclear warhead. Its 50 meter Circular Error of Probability (CEP) hinged on radar terrain correlation—a homing method not usable for striking a carrier at sea (Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, October 13, 2011). Here China had to make its own architectural innovations. Having prioritized missiles since the late 1950s and space systems soon thereafter, however, China’s defense industry was up to the challenge. In 2010, DOD judged that “China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world. It is developing and testing several new classes” (CMPR 2010, p. 1). In 2011, DOD added, “Some [Chinese weapon] systems, particularly ballistic missiles, incorporate cutting-edge technologies in a manner that rivals even the world’s most modern systems” (CMPR 2011, p. x).
Future Trajectory
Wording in the DOD report suggests that China may develop ASBMs with different ranges from the DF-21D, including longer-ranges: “Beijing is investing in military programs and weapons designed to improve extended-range power projection… Key systems that have been either deployed or in development include ballistic missiles (including anti-ship variants)….” Now that the initial challenge of deploying an operational ASBM is completed, China has the option of developing other variants with different, likely complementary, characteristics. As China slowly builds the intelligence infrastructure to guide ASBMs toward their targets, future variants can be integrated more quickly into the force at higher levels of readiness. The advanced nature of ASBM development may become less the exception than the rule for future Chinese weapons programs.
  1. Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2013).
  2. Office of the Secretary of Defense “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2013,” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense, May 2013, Available online <http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2013_china_report_final.pdf>. Hereafter, the report and its annual iterations will be cited in-text as (CMPR [Year], p. #).
  3. Department of Defense Press Briefing on the 2013 DOD Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, Washington, DC, May 6, 2013, Available online <http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=5232>.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, “U.S. Pacific Command Posture,” Senate Armed Services Committee, Washington, DC, April 9 2013, Available online <http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/statemnt/2013/04%20April/Locklear%2004-09-13.pdf>.
  6. Michael T. Flynn, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, “Annual Threat Assessment,” Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, United States Senate, April 18, 2013, Available online <http://www.armedservices.senate.gov/statemnt/2013/04%20April/Flynn_04-18-13.pdf>.
  7. For details, see Yu. V. Appal’kov et al., Otechestvennyye ballisticheskiye rakety morskogo bazirovaniya i ikh nositeli [Domestic Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles], St. Petersburgh: Galeya Print, 2006, Available online <http://rbase.new-factoria.ru/missile/wobb/r27/r27.shtml>.
  8. Norman Polmar, Cold War Submarines: The Design and Construction of U.S. and Soviet Submarines, Washington, DC: Brassey’s, Inc., 2004, pp. 179–81.
  9. Boris Chertok, Rockets and People: Volume 4—The Moon Race, Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2011, p. 30.
  10.  Author’s correspondence with Asif Siddiqi, April 2013.
  11. Norman Polmar, Letter to the Editor, “World’s First ‘Carrier Killer’ Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 66, No. 2, Spring 2013, pp. 138–39,  Available online <www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/04286a6c-c1a5-46d1-b82d-56a59cefe6d2/Download-the-entire-issue-in-pdf-for-your-e-reader.aspx>.
  12. Author’s correspondence with Reuben Johnson, April 2013.
  13. Author’s correspondence with Asif Siddiqi, April 2013.
  14. General George S. Brown, U.S. Air Force, United States Military Posture for FY 1978, Washington, DC: Department of Defense, January 20, 1977, p. 16.
  15. Tan Shoulin and Zhang Daqiao [Second Artillery Engineering College]; Diao Guoxiu, [PLA Unit 96311], “Dandaodaodan daji hangkongmujian mozhidao youxiaoqu de queding yu pingu [Determination and Evaluation of Effective Range for Terminal Guidance Ballistic Missile Attacking Aircraft Carrier], Zhihuikongzhi yu fangzhen [Command Control & Simulation] 28, No. 4 (August 2006), p. 7. Republished in China Military Power Report 2009, p. 21.

Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns

24/06/2009|Andrew S. Erickson/ 林国荣 译詹姆斯敦基金会 中国简报6月24号









Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Annual Report to Congress, p. 21.
















|     操作基地。反舰艇弹道导弹应当在哪里建立基地?距离目标的理想射程应当是多少?


|     操作的概念。呼吁建设反舰艇弹道导弹能力是一回事情,不过如何将其付诸实施?反舰艇弹道导弹的攻击理论会是怎样的,目的何在?是直接摧毁目标还是任务性毁灭(相当于摧毁敌方舰载机)?向谁开火,何时开火?如果飞机不在甲板上,解放军会向航母开火吗?解放军是否会依赖于突袭?解放军计划发射的反弹道导弹是一枚、几枚还是集群?如果是集群,是饱和度(同一地方多次射击,使防御系统超载)和精确度(以某种方式发射多枚,弥补对目标的定位误差,使航母战斗群进入至少一枚导弹的搜寻窗)在一定程度上的融合,还是两者都有?什么类型的弹头,unitary, EMP,还是sub-munitions? 设想中的集群攻击或者多轴心协同攻击会是什么样子的?中国的规划者们是否认为二炮能够独立承担这一使命,或者也可能会是包括巡航导弹和反舰艇弹道导弹在内的立体作战?

|    遏制的概念。遏制似乎是反舰艇弹道导弹的明确目的所在,但是为了达到遏制的效果,究竟需要展示什么?解放军的理论书籍提到了在航母前面区域的“威吓性火力”,对于美国的反应,解放军怎样想?美国将如何得知这不是误射,而是威吓?假设美国确实知道这是威吓,但是不买账,又该当如何?最后,从技术角度来看,怎样才能确实进行一次警告性的开火,使导弹按照预计的距离偏离目标(而不是打击在实际的目标上)?



[i] OFFICE OF HE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, 《中华人民共和国年度军力报告:2009》,提交国会的年度报告,第21、48页。
[iii] ………………………这也可能会是类同演化的例子;牵引车的外观相似,也有可能是因为它们要解决类似的问题。
                                                                                                                                       林国荣 译

Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns

24/06/2009|Andrew S. Erickson | China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 13
China wants to achieve the ability, or at minimum the appearance of the ability, to prevent a U.S. carrier strike group (CSG) from intervening in the event of a future Taiwan Strait crisis. China may be closer than ever to achieving this capability with land-based anti-ship homing ballistic missiles. There have been many Western reports that China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). Increasingly, technical and operationally-focused discussions are found in a widening array of Chinese sources, some authoritative. These factors suggest that China may be close to fielding, testing, or employing an ASBM—a weapon that no other country possesses. According to U.S. Government sources, Beijing is pursuing an ASBM based on its CSS-5/DF-21D solid propellant medium-range ballistic missile. The CSS-5’s 1,500 km+ range could hold ships at risk in a large maritime area—far beyond the Taiwan theatre into the Western Pacific [1]. Yet there remain considerable unknowns about China's ASBM capability, which could profoundly affect U.S. deterrence, military operations and the balance of power in the Western Pacific.

Taiwan as the Catalyst

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. The deployment of the USS Nimitz and Independence carrier battle groups in response to China’s 1995-1996 missile tests and military exercises in the Taiwan Strait was a move that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) could not counter. The impetus behind Chinese efforts to develop ASBMs may be to prevent similar U.S. carrier operations in the future.

Keystone of ‘Anti-Access’ Strategy?

If fielded, the ASBM would be just one of the many new platforms and weapons systems that China has been buying and building since the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. These systems, collectively, will allow China to assert unprecedented control over its contested maritime periphery, in part by attempting to deny U.S. forces ‘access’ to critical areas in times of crisis or conflict. They do so by matching Chinese strengths with U.S. weaknesses, thereby placing U.S. platforms on the ‘wrong end of physics.’ An ASBM, however, stands above the quiet submarines, lethal anti-ship cruise missiles, and copious sea mines that China has been adding to its arsenal in its potential strategic impact on regional allies of the United States and U.S. interests in maintaining regional peace and security.

Firstly, the development of an ASBM would draw on over half a century of Chinese experience with ballistic missiles. Secondly, it would be fired from mobile, highly concealable land-based platforms. Thirdly, it would have the range to strike targets hundreds of kilometers from China’s shores. These factors suggest that China is likely to succeed in achieving a capability that is extremely difficult to counter and could impose ‘access denial’ in strategically vital sea areas well beyond its 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

U.S. Technological Influence?

The United States does not have an ASBM. It did have a distantly related capability, in the form of the Pershing II ground-to-ground theater-ballistic missile, but Washington relinquished this capability when it ratified the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Moscow in 1988. Interestingly, some Chinese sources state that previous advances in the now-abandoned Pershing II program inspired Chinese research and development relevant to an ASBM [2]. The Pershing II has adjustable second stage control fins for terminal maneuver. U.S. Government sources, and many Chinese sources, state that a Chinese ASBM would be based on the CSS-5. While positively identified photos of a CSS-5 outside its launch canister are not known to exist, at least one version of China’s related CSS-6/DF-15 missile has a reentry vehicle virtually identical in appearance to the Pershing II’s [3]. Based on this strong visual resemblance, it is possible that the CSS-6 employs terminal maneuvering technology similar to that of the Pershing II, and it is reasonable to assume that the CSS-5 does too. This is because the reentry vehicle that China obviously has could easily be mated with the CSS-5 booster, which might then produce an effective ASBM, assuming that its radar has the ability to track moving targets at sea.

Making an ASBM Work

Chinese schematic diagrams show an ASBM flight trajectory with mid-course and terminal guidance [4]. Second stage control fins would be critical to steering the ASBM through terminal maneuvers to evade countermeasures and home in on a moving target. This makes an ASBM different from most ballistic missiles, which have a fixed trajectory.

Yet how do Chinese experts envision the “kill chain”—the sequence of events that must occur for a missile to successfully engage and destroy or disable its target (e.g. an aircraft carrier)—beyond the five steps that they commonly list: 1) detection, 2) tracking, 3) penetration of target defenses, 4) hitting a moving target, and 5) causing sufficient damage? A single broken link would render an attack incomplete, and hence ineffective. What would work based on what is known about China's capabilities today, and in the future?

China has also been working on a sophisticated network of ground-and-space-based sensors, including over-the-horizon (OTH) radars and electronic signals detection equipment, which can assist ASBM detection and targeting [5]. While locating an aircraft carrier has been likened to finding a needle in a haystack, this particular needle has a large radar cross section, emits radio waves, and is surrounded by airplanes. Active radar is the most likely ASBM sensor, since its signals can penetrate through clouds. Simply looking for the biggest reflection will tend to locate the largest ship as a target, and the largest ship will usually be an aircraft carrier (if the pre-launch targeting was good).

And Proving that it is Workable

Critical questions remain with respect to missile sensors, however. Does China have multiple sensors that it is currently capable of applying to ASBM detection and targeting? Even in the absence of relevant space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), is there another way to cue the missile accurately enough so that the possible parameters of where the carrier could move in the missile’s brief flight time can be accounted for within the “window” of its seeker? As for the seeker, how would it work? How would it accomplish target discrimination? Is this a challenging issue? Does it hinge on the large size of a carrier? Could smaller ships also be targeted effectively?

What do Chinese experts fear could go wrong, and perhaps even render an ASBM unusable? Missile defense? Other things? Considerable Chinese research on irregular (“wavy”) ASBM/ballistic missile trajectories and penetration aids (PENAIDS) to defeat missile defense suggests that this is an area of ongoing concern.

With respect to testing, what would be the bare minimum necessary to make the PLA feel that it had some rudimentary operational capability—and hence, perhaps, some deterrence ability? Are there any testing/targeting plans? Demonstration plans? What is the target audience (domestic/foreign public vs. PLA/foreign military’s eyes only)? The U.S./Taiwan/Japanese military, public, or all of the above?

The Service in Charge

The Second Artillery, China’s strategic rocket force, already responsible for China’s land-based nuclear and conventional missiles (the latter since 1993), would likely control any ASBMs that China develops. Relatively small, technologically-focused and extremely secretive, the service is ideally suited to such a mission. It has been studying the ASBM issue for some time, having published what appears to be a conceptual feasibility study in 2003, and a major doctrinal publication the following year [6].

This still leaves critical questions of joint operations, and bureaucratic coordination, however. How are sensors prioritized and coordinated? Which organization(s) control which sensors (e.g. OTH radar), and how are they used? Is there a risk of seams between services (e.g. Second Artillery, Navy, etc.)? What about problems with bureaucratic “stovepipes,” particularly during general wartime crisis management? How to overlap areas of “uncertainty” from different sensors, and thereby accomplish data/sensor fusion? How to accomplish bureaucratic “data fusion”—a task beyond even the most competent engineers? Finally, which authorities would need to be in the decision-making loop, and what are the time-to-launch implications?

Doctrinal Guidance

How does the second artillery conceive of using ASBMs in operational scenarios? The service’s authoritative high-level handbook, Science of Second Artillery Campaigns, describes in some detail the use of ASBMs against carriers. It in no way suggests that such an approach is merely aspirational or beset with insurmountable technical difficulties. In fact, in introducing the section describing their potential employment, it states that “conventional missile strike groups” should be used as an “assassin’s mace” (silver bullet), a term commonly used to describe weapons that match Chinese strengths against an enemy’s weaknesses.

According to its handbook, the Second Artillery is thinking seriously about at least five ways to use ASBMs against U.S. CSGs, at least at the conceptual level:

• “Firepower harassment [strikes]” (huoli xirao) involve hitting carrier strike groups.

• “Frontal firepower deterrence” (qianfang huoli shezu) involves firing intimidation salvos in front of a carrier strike group “to serve as a warning.”

• “Flank firepower expulsion” (yice huoli qugan) combines interception of a carrier strike group by Chinese naval forces with intimidation salvos designed to direct it away from the areas where China feels most threatened.

• “Concentrated fire assault” (jihuo tuji) involves striking the enemy’s core carrier as with a ‘heavy hammer.’

• “Information assault” (xinxi gongji) entails attacking the carrier strike group’s command and control system electromagnetically to disable it [7].
All this does not mean that China necessarily has an ASBM capability already, but it strongly suggests that related research and development has high-level approval from China’s military and civilian leadership.

Concept of Operations?

The above document offers general insights into the Second Artillery’s conception of conventional deterrence. It adds that the Second Artillery will work with the PLAN to “execute focused naval blockades” and “achieve command of the seas.” Approaching enemy CSGs are envisioned to be the principal maritime targets, but “large vessels or large ship formations” more broadly are mentioned as well. Coordination and precision are seen as essential for “deterring and blocking enemy carrier strike groups”; such “operational activities need to be coordinated without the slightest difference in time.” Coordination with the PLAN is also emphasized in the location of sea targets, as well as with regard to the notification and demarcation of blockade areas: “the naval intelligence department should 'relay promptly' the information obtained by its reconnaissance about enemy ship activities to the Second Artillery campaign large formation.” In particular, “information regarding carrier battle groups … should be gathered on a real time basis.” Potential sources of “real-time target intelligence” include “military reconnaissance satellites, domestic and foreign remote sensing satellites, and established satellite reconnaissance target image information processing systems.”

Still, this leaves critical questions unanswered concerning how the PLA might envision the basing location, number, employment, and strategic effects of any ASBMs:

•    Base of operations. Where would the ASBMs themselves be based? What would be the expected range from the target?

•    Nature of arsenal. What would be the relative size of the ASBM inventory? Size might have implications for operational possibilities and willingness to expend ASBMs in conflict.
•    Concept of operations. It is one thing to call for ASBM capabilities, but how would they be realized in practice? What would an ASBM firing doctrine look like, and what would be the objective? Target destruction or mission kill (the equivalent of ‘slashing the tires’ on carrier aircraft)? What to shoot at, and when? Would the PLA fire on a carrier if it knew the planes were off of it? Would it rely on a first strike? Would the PLA plan to fire one ASBM, several, or a large salvo? If a salvo, then some combination of saturation (many shots in the same space, to overload missile defense), precision (firing many shots in a pattern to compensate for locating error on the target and to get the CSG in the seeker window of at least one of the missiles), or both? What type of warhead: unitary, EMP, or sub-munitions? How might salvo attacks, or multi-axis attack coordination, be envisioned? Do Chinese planners think that the Second Artillery could handle the mission by itself, or would it be part of a high-low, time-on-target attack with both ASBMs and cruise missiles?

•    Concept of deterrence. Deterrence would seem to be a clear purpose of any ASBM development, but what does one have to show to deter? PLA doctrinal publications mention firing ‘warning shots’ in front of carriers—how does the Second Artillery think the United States would respond? How would the United States know it was a warning shot and not just a miss? What if the United States did know and called China’s bluff? Finally, from a technical perspective, how to actually fire a warning shot and miss by an intentional margin (versus having the seeker home in on the actual target)?

From Chinese sources, it can be inferred that Chinese leaders seek not to attack the United States, but to deter it. They want to defend what they perceive to be their state’s core territorial interests and to ensure a stable environment for domestic economic development. If they develop an ASBM, they would likely hope that it could prevent U.S. projection of military power in ways that are inimical to China’s security interests, which appear to be expanding beyond the First Island Chain. Yet the strength of Chinese equities, combined with vital U.S. interests in East Asia, make ASBM development for this purpose a complex and risky proposition. Should Beijing pursue such a course to its logical conclusion—a demonstrated ASBM capability—only robust strategic dialogue could hope to alleviate the substantial tensions that are certain to ensue. Until Beijing is willing to discuss in detail its progress and intentions in this area, however, it will be essential to search for answers to the questions outlined above—not just for a select group of government bureaucrats and the leaders they advise, but also for the publics in Taiwan, Japan, and the United States, who fund military development and who must ultimately live with its consequences. Regional peace and stability, and mutual strategic trust, demand no less.


1. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Annual Report to Congress, pp. 21, 48.
2. Qiu Zhenwei, “A Discussion of China’s Development of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,”blog.huanqiu.com; “Special Dispatch: ‘Aces’ in ‘Dongfeng’ Family—Miniaturization, Solidification, and Mobility,” Ta Kung Pao, 2 October 1999, p. A11, OSC FTS19991114000862.
3. See www.sinodefence.com/strategic/missile/df15.asp. This could be a case of covergent evolution; it is possible that the RVs look alike because they solve similar problems.
4. Tan Shoulin and Zhang Daqiao, Second Artillery Engineering College, Diao Guoxiu, PLA Unit 96311, Huaihua; “Determination and Evaluation of Effective Range for Terminal Guidance for a Ballistic Missile Attacking an Aircraft Carrier,” Command Control & Simulation, Vol. 28, No. 4 (August 2006), p. 6.
5. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Annual Report to Congress, pp. 21, 48; Sean O’Connor, “OTH Radar and the ASBM Threat,” Information Dissemination, geimint.blogspot.com/2008/11/oth-radar-and-asbm-threat.html.
6. Huang Hongfu, “Conception of Using Conventional Ballistic Missiles to Strike Aircraft Carrier Formation,” Scientific and Technological Research, Scientific and Technological Committee of the Second Artillery Corps, 2003, No. 1, pp. 6-8; Yu Jixun, chief editor, People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery Corps, The Science of Second Artillery Campaigns (Beijing: PLA Press, 2004).
7. Yu Jixun, chief editor, People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery Corps, The Science of Second Artillery Campaigns (Beijing: PLA Press, 2004), pp. 401-402.


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