Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Chinese Netizen Commentary on Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Program

A reader directed my attention toward another source of chatter from the Chinese bulletin board system (BBS) regarding China’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) program. I had excluded it in the previous post on the subject simply because it seems to be a mix of hyperbole and aspiration. However, even with the hyperbole and aspiration, the article could offer some insights when matched against authoritative sources. Because the article has been so widely proliferated around Chinese cyberspace, including on official government sites, it may be worth attention.

Post by "Marine Major" (陆战队少校), the original article seems to have first appeared on iFeng BBS on August 14, 2008. In the following weeks, it spread to other major BBS sites (Huanqiu, Tiexue, Chnqiang, etc), including onto the Xinhua network, the official government news agency. The article continues to be reposted on major BBS sites until today. Interestingly enough, the same article appeared on the Lianyungang city government website for a period of time until it was removed. It’s unclear if the author is the original source.

The article alleges that China has completed R&D on a new variant of the ASBM, referred to as the DF-25B. Presumably because the DF-25 didn’t have sufficient missile defense countermeasures, the PLA put forth the upgrade requirement in 2006. The author describes the new DF-25 variant as flying a depressed trajectory at an altitude of 20-30 kilometers. The “mother body,” presumably a third stage, houses multiple independently guided warheads. The third stage itself has a reserve propellant tank and incorporates electronic countermeasures as it bears down on a carrier at hypersonic speed.

Specifics in this particular BBS article should be taken with a grain of salt. However, as pointed out in the previous post, authoritative industry sources do indicate that significant R&D is being carried out into a boost-glide capability, and there is significant interest into developing a range of flight vehicles that operate in the upper atmosphere between 20-100 kilometers in altitude. The chart to the right shows one relatively basic glide control concept from an industry source (the DF-21D reference appears to be added on later by the BBS service that posted the industry article).

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) First Academy (China Academy of Launch Technology) stood up a new research institute in late 2008 that focuses on nothing but upper atmosphere flight vehicles (sources available upon request). In addition, authoritative publications indicate an interest in a submarine-launch ASBM.

Keeping in the mind that some of the technical terms are challenging, below is a rough paraphrased translation of the article. I posted the Chinese as well for interested readers:

China’s New Aircraft Carrier Killer Revealed

中国最新航母克星“航母末日” 嚗光

August 14, 2008


The concept for an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) comes from the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. At that time, the US deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups off the coast of Taiwan as a means to deter our military operations intended to manage Taiwan’s “two states theory.”


At that time, our military had only two types of second generation fighters – the F-7 and F-8, as well as 26 Russian Su-27s. But United States military was able to assemble two squadrons of F-14As (already retired and replaced by F-18s), and a squadron of F/A-18As for a total of nearly 50 aircraft. This is about double the number of our third generation aircraft.


The PLA Navy established an air and sub-surface maritime defense system, but decision makers suddenly realized that after 40 years of devoting resources to the military, there’s no defense against U.S. 1000-kilometer range cruise missiles – “your coastal defense sucks” (to paraphrase). If one would characterize the Gulf War as a shock, then the 1996 crisis was hari-kari (meaning extremely painful). Our coastal Navy couldn’t get away from the land or establish a long range interdiction and defensive operational system, and only could come up with an Army-affiliated 12 nautical mile defense zone.


One could say that the deployment of two aircraft carrier battle groups marked the end of the Chinese government’s policy of military restraint since the reform and opening of China.


The DF-25 missile has been successfully researched and developed, is able to launch one or a number of warheads that are equipped with passive infrared terminal guidance. After warheads reenter the atmosphere, they are able to maneuver accurately toward the target.


But the U.S. Navy planned to upgrade Aegis system, including 62 destroyers and 22 cruisers for missile defense. According to the Navy plans, it will have 18 sea-based missile defense equipped ships, including 15 destroyers and 3 cruisers. A U.S. Navy committee argued that all Arleigh Burke’s should be upgraded. This presents a serious threat to regional peace, especially for security in East Asia and the Taiwan Strait.


Theoretically speaking, if America assembled all its Aegis assets together, they could intercept more than 500 medium range ballistic missiles at one time.

From the perspective of defended area, sea-based missile defenses cover an area 100 times larger than that of PAC-3. In terms of technology, sea-based missile defenses have had the highest success rates.

弹头在实施分导开始阶段的“雷达反应红外线” 特征,使得东风25导弹更加难以拦击。但要确保突破宙斯盾反导系统从而达到击沉航母的目的,还是有很大难度的。

Therefore, the DF-25 incorporates a “tactical stealth warhead” concept in order to reduce the “radar reaction infrared” (awkward wording in Chinese that is hard to translate), when the warhead is in the initial phase of payload separation, and make the DF-25 hard to intercept. But it’s still difficult to ensure the ability of missile to penetrate the Aegis missile defense system and destroy the carrier target.

东风25乙 东风26甲 东风26乙三型)。要求采用低轨分导式,既导弹升空后保持在20千米至30千米的低轨道飞行,不必重返大气层,使美军装备的“宙斯盾”海基拦截系统没有充足的反应拦截时间。

In accordance with a 2006 PLA proposal, R&D began on new ballistic missiles to be finished within three years (finalized designs include the DF-25B, DF-26A, and DF-26B). The requirement is to adopt a low trajectory with separable warheads, maintain a 20-30 kilometer altitude in order to not give Aegis destroyers sufficient time to respond.

{{Note: In a version posted on Sina.com a few days after the iFeng article, the language stresses a DF-26 sea-launch variant, rather than the surface-launched DF-25:


Roughly translated, “the DF-25B is ground-launched, the DF-26A is sea-launched, and specific details of the DF-26B aren’t clear.” }}


Following is a general description for the ground-based, depressed trajectory, multiple warhead, “carrier killer” (literally “final days of the aircraft carrier”) ASBM system (specifically the DF-25B):


1. Number of warheads: Six


2. Missile flight altitude: 20-30 kilometers, maneuvering, depressed trajectory


3. Missile range: 1300-1800 kilometers


4. Mobile launcher preparation time: Less than nine minutes

5.每枚弹头当量:450千克黑索今 (相当于1100千克TNT当量)

5. Individual warhead weight: 450kg explosive (equivalent to 1100kgs of TNT)


6. Missile flight speed: Mach 8-12


7. Warhead angle of attack: Between 60-90 degrees diving attack


8. Warhead flight speed: Mach 6-8 with minor maneuvering

9. 弹头制导方式:红外; 自备激光群发; 可视电视; 图像记忆

9. Warhead Guidance: Infrared, self-equipped lasing (this is a tough one to translate); electro-optical; imaging

10. 弹头攻击方式:穿甲; 延时自爆

10. Warhead Attack Method: Armor piercing; delayed fuse

11. 弹头飞行距离:60千米
11. Warhead flight range: 60 kilometers


Using stealth and ECCM, the ground-launched “carrier killer” ASBM (DF-25B) relies on GPS, Beidou, LEO satellites, OTH-B, and SIGINT sites to establish a continuous track during the launch preparation stage and up to 500 kilometers from the aircraft carrier group. At a range of 500 kilometers, the missile-borne radar starts its autonomous search for the target, and adjusting its direction and position in relation to the target.


Other Characteristics:


1. Enemy radars can detect the main missile body at a range of less than 100 kilometers.


2. After the main missile body releases warheads, it can loiter within the theater and provide warheads with guidance as well as conduct electronic countermeasures against the aircraft carrier battle group.


The main missile body can loiter for more than 200 seconds.


4. After loitering for more than 200 seconds, the missile body can carry a reserve high energy propellant in order to achieve a speed of Mach 10 and dive toward the carrier at a 90 degree angle of attack.


5.As it dives, it can have an electromagnetic explosive effect (difficult to translate).


In addition, the ASBM (DF-25B) has several types of warheads:


High-explosive armor piercing shell


EMP Bomb


Highly explosive armor piercing incendiary shell


High explosive submunitions


Acoustic warhead




At previous times, NDU Professor Zhang raised that China shouldn’t rush to build aircraft carriers, because perhaps the “final days of the aircraft carrier” are going to become public.


Ground-based low trajectory, separable warhead ASBM could effectively prevent the aircraft carrier from crossing a 1000-1500 kilometer line. And also the ASBM will effectively enable us to destroy vessels that come within this range.

{{Note: In the Sina.com version, the final two paragraphs are substituted with the following discussion of the sub-launched DF-26 variant and a torpedo-like payload without any additional detail:


In addition, according to reliable sources, the PLA is developing a special use underwater warhead referred to as the “Longxiao.” It’s estimated that the Longxiao would separate from the main missile body and enter the water at a range of 500 kilometers (Chinese says “speed” though), have an underwater range of 80 kilometers, and have 900kg of explosives.


American sources claim that because the size of a sub-launched ASBM structure is large, only the 094 submarine, 095 submarine that’s in development, and the 096 submarine could serve as launch platforms. Because the positions of the 094 and the 096 subs aren’t the same, they can only carry three missiles or less. The 095 should be able to carry 8-10 missiles.


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