China’s 2,500 mile-range ‘carrier-killer’ missile: A nuclear threat?

(From the National Interest)

By Harry J. Kazianis

When Americans ponder the phrase “national security” they likely think of only one thing these days: the Islamic State. And considering the headlines, who can blame them? However, news out of China concerning a new generation of “carrier-killer” missiles—now sporting a 2,500 mile range—should remind Washington’s national security leaders of the long-term challenges America faces in the Pacific.

Artist's conception of Chinese anti-ship missile attack on US carrier

Artist’s conception of Chinese anti-ship missile attack on US carrier

Countless ink has already been spilled when it comes to China’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM)the DF-21D, over the last six years or so. In September, Beijing unveiled a longer-range version of the weapon, the DF-26. While countless news articles marked the debut of the system, specific information on the new weapon was scarce. However, thanks to the sleuthing skills of U.S. Naval War College Professor Andrew Erickson, we now know a little more about the weapon—and its possible uses beyond the much discussed “killing” of carriers.

China's DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile

China’s DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile

But first, a recap of how both the DF-21D and DF-26 work: The missile is launched from a mobile truck-mounted launcher into the atmosphere, with over-the-horizon radar, satellite tracking and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles providing guidance. It also incorporates a maneuverable warhead (MaRV) to help find its target—and defeat an adversary’s missile defenses. Such a device could be instrumental in striking a vessel in the open ocean or denying access to a potential opponent in transiting to a conflict zone (think Taiwan or in the East and South China Seas).

So now that we know how the weapon works, the next set of questions are obvious: When would Beijing use it? What is the overall strategy for its use in a potential conflict? And what are its capabilities? This is where Andrew Erickson’s discovery comes in: he has uncovered the only in-depth article that gives at least some hard information concerning the weapon. While you can read the whole article here in Mandarin, written by Wang Changqin and Fang Guangming inChina Youth Daily, here are five key points from the article worth knowing (the translation was also discovered by Dr. Erickson):

Point #1 – The DF-26 has multiple uses—not just killing carriers.

“In contrast with the DF-21D is the DF-26’s distinct characteristic of being nuclear and conventional all in one; that is, the one missile body can carry a nuclear warhead [singular or plural not indicated] for a nuclear strike against the enemy, or it can carry a conventional warhead [singular or plural not indicated] for a conventional firepower attack against the enemy. That “change the warhead, not the missile” feature provides a rapid switch between nuclear and conventional.”

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