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.


Wild Strawberries in Washington DC

Reliable sources indicate that a handful of activists from Taiwan’s Wild Strawberry movement are in Washington DC for a two week visit. Sponsored by the Formosa Foundation, the activists are part of the foundation's annual Ambassador Program.

As a student movement, the Wild Strawberries jumped onto Taiwan's national scene in November 2008, when students launched a sit-in movement against what they perceived to be a heavy handed government approach to restricting the right to protest during the visit to Taiwan of Chen Yunlin, director of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS).

Regardless of specific cause, it’s heartening to see activism in an era of global complacency and apathy. This is not to say that Taiwan is an apathetic democracy. Reflecting a sense of public civic duty, Taiwan’s turnout rate for national elections has been quite high since its first president election in 1996. In that year, the voter turnout was a remarkable 76%. Four years later, in the first peaceful transition of power, the voter turnout increased to nearly 83%. In 2004, it was 80%. In the March 2008 election that marked the second peaceful transfer of power in Taiwan’s history, voter turnout was 76%. In marked contrast, the United States has averaged a voter turnout of 50-55%. And in China, voter turnout was…well…0%. A high turnout is generally seen as evidence of the legitimacy of the current system.

Taiwan’s nascent democracy certainly has plenty of room for improvement, just as in our own system. One area in particular where youthful idealism can make a contribution is envisioning the future. Perhaps in part due to traditional passive resignation to fate, what sometimes seems to be lacking in Taiwan society is confidence in the ability to shape one’s future. Shaping the future starts with a clear long term vision, a net assessment of challenges and opportunities, and a detailed strategy broken down by focus area, goals, objectives, and specific actions. But it starts with defining an ideal future, and youth tend to be the best equipped for the necessary idealism. In a competitive environment, the side with a clear long term vision of what it wants and a detailed, measurable plan on how to get there will tend to be most successful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Visit of Taiwan Chief of General Staff

A highlight of this week’s Next Magazine is/was the visit of ROC Chief of General Staff (CGS) Admiral Lin Chen-i (林鎮夷) to the United States. Nadia Tsao from Liberty Times picked it up as well.

The reporting notes that ADM Lin’s main goals are/were to persuade the Obama administration to release F-16 C/D fighters, explore bilateral industrial cooperation and assembly of diesel electric submarines in Taiwan, and gain U.S. approval for the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) to take the lead for the second stage of the POSHENG C4ISR system. The POSHENG follow-on is referred to as the “AN-SHUN program” (安訊專案). The report notes concerns regarding Taiwan’s inability to develop a viable C4ISR system without U.S. support.

If reporting is accurate, the visit would have coincided with the HANGUANG 25 exercise in Taiwan and preceded the U.S. visit of PRC State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi. Taiwan media reporting has highlighted that the HANKUANG 25 exercise includes a continuity of government scenario as well as a U.S. observer team headed by a retired U.S. admiral.

The last CGS to visit the U.S. (July 13-21, 2007) was Gen Huoh Shou-yueh.

Taiwan and China's Commercial Aviation Program

AP and Forbes reported today that Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) is seeking a deal with the China Commercial Aviation Corporation (COMAC):

Taiwanese defense company seeks China deal

Associated Press, 06.22.09, 05:34 AM EDT

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's state-owned defense company said Monday it is discussing cooperation on building commercial aircraft with a Chinese company.

Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation spokesman Li Shih-chang said his company met with China's state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation during a Shanghai air show in May, but the sides have yet to reach a deal. News of the talks comes amid steadily improving ties between Taiwan and the mainland. AIDC made Taiwan's Indigenous Defense Fighter jets, and is now responsible for IDF maintenance.

Defense News’ Wendell Minnick first reported on AIDC’s interest in serving as a COMAC supplier last summer.

This latest reporting should be put into the proper context. State-owned or not, AIDC has to be profitable in order to survive. With the fixation on defense procurement through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channels, AIDC probably isn’t seeing a lot of growth on its radar scope. It’s not clear yet what Boeing has worked out to satisfy its offset requirement for the APACHE program. If and when the Congressional notification for UH-60 BLACKHAWK utility helicopters goes through, Sikorsky likely will also have a significant offset obligation as well. However, history has shown that most companies incurring offset obligations in Taiwan satisfy them via indirect means. In other words, it's unclear at this point if AIDC would see much offset business from the APACHE and BLACKHAWK FMS programs. In addition, recent reporting regarding AIDC's role in a joint Taiwan-Russian very short take off and landing (VSTOL) fighter development program is interesting but open to question.

Like dozens of companies around the world, AIDC has an interest in playing a role in China’s long term, multi-billion dollar program to field a jumbo jet (click here for background, as well as here). Goal is to start flight tests in 2014 and have the first aircraft enter China’s commercial aviation fleet by 2016. With COMAC in the lead, China’s goal is to field a internationally certified commercial airliner. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened up an office in Shanghai a couple years ago to assist COMAC and other aviation authorities in the certification process. Over the next 20 years, Chinese airlines are expected to spend U.S. $340 billion on 3,400 new airplanes, of which 1400 are large-sized “jumbo jet” aircraft.

Major U.S. defense companies, such as Boeing, Sikorsky, Lockheed, and Raytheon, have done business in China, with the latter two mostly involved in air traffic control. Other major U.S. defense contractors, such as Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, and General Electric (GE), have been involved in China’s commercial aviation programs. COMAC is said to be in the process of awarding 17-19 supplier contracts. Like AIDC, American and European firms that are involved in both commercial and defense business are competing to play a role in what is probably the fastest growing aviation market in the world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

China's Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Program: Checkmate for Taiwan?

{{UPDATE: Follow-on report posted on 23 Jun 09. Also see the excellent Project 2049 piece by Ian Easton on China's ASAT program; and Andrew Erickson's superb new Jamestown Foundation China Brief on the knowns and unknowns about China's ASBM program. Also see the Dec 09 Taiwan Link post on the PLA Air Force OTH radar system }}

The Taipei Times ran an article earlier this year highlighting that the number of Chinese conventional ballistic missiles “pointed at Taiwan” has reached 1500. Since first entering the inventory of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in first half of the 1990s, short range ballistic missiles have been one of China’s most effective tools of political and military coercion. As a symbolic metric of intent, China’s expanding arsenal of conventional ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan is intended to deter political support in Taiwan for de jure independence and coerce the island’s population to support unification with China on Beijing’s terms. Beijing has made conventional ballistic missiles a visible and central element of its Taiwan strategy.

However, it appears that leaders in Beijing are expanding their strategy. Showering Taiwan with economic carrots, Beijing’s military stick is increasingly being pointed at the United States. The reason is that the center of gravity for final resolution of the Taiwan issue may lie here in Washington D.C. rather than in Taipei. Confident of America’s military backing, Taiwan’s political leadership is able to deal with counterparts in Beijing from a position of confidence and strength. From Beijing’s perspective, U.S. arms sales and the U.S. naval presence in the western Pacific – best symbolized in the form of an aircraft carrier – have been the most important factors in preventing the unification of Taiwan with the motherland. A demonstrated capability to strike the most visible symbol of American power would be intended to create a perception in the minds of Taiwan people that their future is with China, rather than in de jure independence, indefinite separation from mainland China, or a virtual alliance with the United States.

The demonstration and deployment of a new conventional ballistic missile capability that complicates U.S. military assistance to Taiwan could coerce the island’s democratically elected leaders into capitulation much faster than expected. In an excellent article entitled "On the Verge of a Game Changer" published in the U.S. Naval Institute’s
Proceedings last month, authors Andrew Erickson and David Yang highlight the emergence of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that “could alter the rules in the Pacific and place U.S. Navy carrier strike groups in jeopardy.” The authors note “even the perception” that the PLA is equipped with an ASBM could have “profound consequences for deterrence, military operations, and the balance of power in the Western Pacific” (see below for details on the ASBM).

But this chess game may not stop with deployment of an ASBM. Authoritative Chinese aerospace journals indicate more than a passing interest in precision strike capabilities that could enable the PLA to neutralize U.S. Air Force and Navy runways, logistics facilities, and command and control targets on Guam. Further in the decade, there could be a more capable follow-on. Subsequent modifications to existing ballistic (or even land attack cruise) missiles appear to be mirroring the U.S. Prompt Global Strike program, which is centered on the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) that could strike targets anywhere in the world within hours. China’s success in fielding a global precision strike capability could extend the threat envelope to military facilities in Hawaii, and perhaps even space-related and other military facilities in the continental United States that are directly involved in a Taiwan-related contingency.

As time goes on, the United States may need to re-examine priorities and rely more on smaller ships, a greater number of affordable submarines able to operate in littoral areas, long range unmanned combat air platforms, and hardening of U.S. military bases facilities throughout the region, including Kadena Airbase on Okinawa and facilities on Guam and Hawaii.

An ASBM as a “Game Changer:” What It Could Mean for Taiwan

An ASBM is most relevant in a future scenario involving U.S. intervention in the event of Chinese use of force against Taiwan. As the title of the Proceedings article implies, China’s deployment of ASBMs could change the nature of the game. Beijing appears to have absorbing lessons from its launching of ballistic missiles into zones off the coast of Keelung and Kaohsiung in the run-up to Taiwan’s first direct presidential elections in March 1996. The deployment of not only one but two U.S. aircraft carriers to the east of the island provided a tremendous psychological boost to Taiwan’s population in the face of Chinese intimidation. Now, more than 13 years later, a new ability to keep US aircraft carriers away from the area of operations – way away -- could reduce confidence in the minds of Taiwan’s domestic polity in America’s ability and willingness to intervene militarily in a future crisis.

If this problem is as serious as many say it is, a “game changer” could mean “game over,” at least for Taiwan’s confidence in U.S. security assurances. Beijing appears increasingly confident of its ability to deny U.S. carrier battle groups the ability to intervene efficiently, effectively, and safely.

The prospect of an anti-ship ballistic missile and other maritime capabilities already is affecting DoD investment decisions. Chief of Naval Operations ADM Gary Roughhead testified before Senator McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee
a few days ago. Concerns over the ASBM played a major role a decision to curtail the Navy’s DDG-1000 program. Defense News had reported on the effect that this potential ASBM is having on DoD in August 2008:

One source familiar with (a U.S. Navy) classified briefing said that while anti-ship cruise missiles and other threats were known to exist, "those aren't the worst." The new threat, which "didn't exist a couple years ago," is a "land-launched ballistic missile that converts to a cruise missile." Other sources confirmed that a new, classified missile threat is being briefed at very high levels. One admiral, said another source, was told his ships should simply "stay away. There are no options."

With “no options” in defending against this new threat, the relevance of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) should increase. Most focus on the arms sales provisions of the TRA. However, the act also has another key requirement: "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan." Could it be time for a new Congressional requirement for a report to Congress on the capacity to resist use of force against Taiwan?

China and Its Evolutionary Path to an ASBM

China’s effort to field a system capable of striking moving targets at sea is an evolution of its overall ballistic missile program. Since deployment of its first ballistic missile in the 1960s, the PLA and China’s aerospace industry have taken constant incremental steps toward greater range, survivability, accuracy, and effectiveness against a broader range of targets. China’s ASBM program is part of a broader effort to field the means to detect, track, and strike fixed and mobile targets at sea with precision throughout the Asia-Pacific region. According to the March 2009 Report to Congress on Military Power of the People’s Republic of China:

China is developing an ASBM based on a variant of the CSS-5 MRBM as a part of its anti-access strategy. The missile has a range in excess of 1,500 km, is armed with a maneuverable warhead, and when incorporated into a sophisticated command and control system, is intended to provide the PLA the capability to attack ships at sea, including aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean.

The CSS-5 is the DF-21, a solid fueled medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) that began development in the 1960s but introduced into the PLA Second Artillery in the early 1990s. The latest variant of this MRBM is the 1750 kilometer range DF-21C, which is said to be modeled after the terminally-guided U.S. Pershing II ballistic missile. The DF-21C is reported to have a CEP of around 50 meters or better. This DF-21C would be bad news against Taiwan ,and the ability of the island’s new PATRIOT PAC-3 to defend against this longer range ballistic missile hasn’t been discussed much.

The ASBM most likely would be an evolution of the DF-21C, and has been referred to as the DF-21D. For a great overview, see arms controller Dr. Jeffrey Lewis’ posts
here and here. Rick Fisher did an excellent write up of China’s new generation of conventional ballistic missiles in a July 2007 piece for the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC). It has a great picture of a DF-15 (NATO designation of CSS-6) equipped with a biconic re-entry vehicle, implying a terminal guidance capability.

It’s not unusual to take a precision strike system that was originally developed to go after ground targets and modify it for the maritime environment -- the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Sensor Fuzed Weapon (SFW) are a couple of examples. However, given its flight characteristics, it’s not so easy to modify a ballistic missile to go after moving targets at sea. Yet Chinese engineers seem pretty confident they can do it. To make matters more complicated, the ballistic missile is only one component of a “system of systems” that also would include space-based, airborne, and surface-based sensor architectures.

While not authoritative, China’s blogosphere, bulletin board systems, and popular media may offer hints into what this capability entails. Given government control over the domestic cyberspace, articles indicate how Beijing authorities would like the world – and especially Taiwan – to perceive its emerging military capabilities. Chinese cyberspace is filled with commentary regarding the ASBM. However much of it can be traced to common sources – a pair of sharp, young journalists and a technically competent blogger with a call sign of KKTT.

The authors may not have 100% situational awareness regarding the ASBM program. But on the surface, the analysis seems credible enough to warrant attention, particularly since the subject matter expertise hints at links with China’s defense industry. It’s worth remembering that as China’s economy becomes increasingly competitive, its defense industry is following suit. As the authors note, moving an ASBM program into production could be pretty expensive, as would the integrated sensor network needed to support it. As testimony to how popular the ASBM program is among the general population, China’s Ku6 social networking site has a
film clip of the ASBM, put together by a fan of the program.

Qiu Zhenwei and Long Haiyan: An Operational ASBM Scenario

A pair of writers linked with the magazine Modern Ships (现代舰船) -- Qiu Weizhen (邱玮贞) and Long Haiyan (龙海燕) --published a two part analysis in the monthly journal in December 2006 and January 2007. Qiu, switching the two characters of his first name (玮贞 to 贞玮), re-published the analysis in two blog entries (中国反舰弹道导弹发展探讨) and (中国反舰弹道导弹作战过程). These were were cited in major U.S. Navy-related blogs (click here for one example and here for another) and the Proceedings article discussed above. Qiu presumably switched the position of the characters in his first name for his blog possibly for copyright reasons, and one shouldn’t rule out the possibility of the names being pseudonyms. Regardless, the authors cite authoritative industry sources for technical background, which is commendable. In one comment, Qiu makes a plea for the world’s media to better understand the ASBM.

The articles and related blog posts are long but well worth the read. Qiu and Long note that the main impetus behind the ASBM program was China’s inability to counter U.S. intervention in the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996. Shortly afterwards, the China Aerospace Science and Technology (CASC) First Academy began conceptual design work.

While not stated, CASC First Academy's competitor -- the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) Fourth Academy -- likely was awarded the ASBM research and development (R&D) contract after completion of proof of concept work in 2002. The CASIC Fourth Academy (航天科工集团第四研究院; or 航天科工四院 for short) has been responsible for DF-21-related R&D, probably including the ASAT vehicle that was successfully tested in January 2007 and the Kaituozhe (KT) family of commercial launch vehicles for small satellites. The CASIC Fourth Academy was formed in 2002 as part of a major CASIC reorganization.

{{NOTE: One senior Chinese space engineer with direct access to details on both the ASAT and ASBM programs commented in a brief media interview that the ASAT and ASBM guidance and control packages share the same technologies. At least one funding source for ASAT guidance and control research during the late 1990s and earlier this decade appears to be the 863-409 program (and possibly the 863-706 program). Presumably, common technologies include passive imaging infrared (IIR) terminal guidance and automated target recognition (ATR) software. Among the research entities involved during the initial R&D on an ASAT kinetic kill vehicle -- euphemistically referred to as a space interceptor (
空间拦截) - was the Harbin Institute of Technology.}}

Qiu and Long note that the ASBM system builds on the DF-21C program. Inherited technologies include a sophisticated onboard computer, pneumatic control for mid-course and terminal phase maneuvering, terminal guidance, and ATR technology. ATR matches images collected through radar and infrared sensors on the missile with images collected from strategic cueing sensors and stored in the warhead's onboard computer. The most expensive portion of an ASBM would be the onboard radar, which the authors believe is as sophisticated and costly as the AN/APG-77 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The authors estimate that the unit cost of an ASBM plus launcher would U.S. $5-10.5 million.

In terms of the missile’s operational capabilities, their main source is a CASC study published in 2000, which they believe captures results of a CASC proof of concept. Citing previous work done on a DF-15C terminally-guided ballistic missile, the pair highlights one of the study’s authors – Xin Wanqing – as leading the proof of concept work for the CASC First Academy’s design department (see
this 2003 article discussing his work). Qiu and Long note China’s accelerating its program to deploy for an architecture of electro-optical (EO) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites to coincide with the initial deployment of the first generation ASBM in 2009. Bear in mind that the analysis, which would have taken considerable time to develop, is from almost three years ago.

Cueing Systems. To counter an aircraft carrier with a 1500-kilometer strike range, China must have a 2000 kilometer range search and tracking system for ASBM cueing that covers both the western Pacific and South China Sea, down to Singapore. A system would include not only space-based EO and SAR sensors, but also electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellites and a new generation of high altitude, long endurance unmanned aerial vehicles. Also included would be an over-the-horizon backscatter (OTH-B) radar system that extends out to at least 2000 kilometers (see Sean O’Connor’s
excellent summary of the ASBM and OTH-B programs). The system would include automatic identification system (AIS) technology to distinguish between commercial shipping and military targets.

Missile Defense Countermeasures. Citing a Northwest Polytechnical University and other studies, Qiu and Long believe that the ASBM would adopt sophisticated missile defense countermeasures against U.S. sea-based missile defenses, including masking of the ASBM solid fueled motor’s signature, mid-course maneuvering, decoys, coatings to reduce the warhead’s radar cross section (RCS), and on-board jamming. Equipped with a hybrid solid and liquid fueled third stage, mid-course maneuvering would involve a boost-glide or hopping trajectory concept (跳跃式弹道方案). The missile would incorporate a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) linked with inertial navigation for autonomous mid-course guidance, as well as a possible SAR/millimeter wave radar with passive infrared seeker for terminal guidance. At various stages of flight, the ASBM would adopt speed maneuvers, and means to manage blackout periods due to ionization of the atmosphere above certain re-entry speeds.

Countering U.S. Missile Defense Surveillance
and Tracking. In their detailed ASBM vs. sea-based missile defense scenario, the analysis goes through the SBIRS alert process, arguing that SBIRS would not be able to establish an impact prediction point and thus could fail to provide cueing for sea-based missile defense radar systems. They make an argument that Ground Based Radar (GBR) systems in Korea and Japan likely would be unable to establish a track. The analysis also addresses possible attempts by the U.S. High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) in Alaska could fail to jam China’s OTH-B system, implying the system has a military role.

Order of Battle Issues. Finally, Qiu and Long assert that two DF-21 anti-ship capable brigades will be deployed, with six battalions each with a total of 17 launchers. It’s not clear if new conventional DF-21 brigades would be established, or if the ASBM DF-21 variants would be upgrades to existing brigades. At the current time, the PLA Second Artillery is said to have three DF-21 brigades in eastern China. Two are subordinate to the 52 Base, the army-level Second Artillery organization opposite Taiwan. These are the
96163 Unit, aka the 811 Brigade based in the Qimen area in Anhui; and the 96161 Unit, aka 807 Brigade in Chizhou area in Jiangxi province. Another relatively new unit subordinate to the 51 Base (the 96117 Unit, aka the 822 Brigade based in Laiwu, Shandong province). It could be assumed that the Second Artillery wouldn’t mix nuclear and conventional DF-21 variants in the same brigade. {{NOTE: Reliable Chinese references indicate that a standard DF-15 SRBM brigade has six battalions with two companies per battalion. While not yet clear, it appears that existing DF-21 MRBM brigades still consist of only three battalions. These may be the units with nuclear missions. As conventional DF-21 brigades are established, it's possible that they could be organized similar to DF-15 brigades}}.

KKTT: China’s Extended Range Precision Strike Capability

Qiu Zhenwei and Long Haiyan’s analysis is only one example. Another observer who appears to be closely following the program goes by the call sign of “KKTT.” Under normal circumstances, bulletin board system (BBS) postings should be taken with a grain of salt. However, when observers cite their research and analysis with credible sources, then they may be worth paying attention to. In his main analysis published in April 2009 (China’s Development Concept for Theater Missile Strike Power; or
我国区域常规打击力量建设设想), KKTT argues that an ASBM program entails three phases.

The author implies that China has already developed a 1700-2000 kilometer range DF-21D. However key technologies needed for precision strike against a sea target are still under development. The three systems under development are: the DF-25; the DF-26; and the DF-27. (NOTE: One commentator of unknown reliability notes that the DF-26 and DF-27 are being developed separately by CASIC and CASC and only one will be downselected). Other sources claim that the DF-26 is a developmental sea-launched conventional ballistic missile). The author notes that a sea-launched variant of the DH-10 land attack cruise missile with a range of 3000 kilometers is under development. Cruise missile designers have been advocating that China’s extended range LACMs be adapted for counter-carrier operations. According to KKTT’s analysis, all four systems are supposed to be tested and fielded before 2015.

A second phase would involve development of sophisticated aerodynamic maneuvering capability that not only would enhance a missile's ability to penetrate missile defenses but also extend its range. Currently in its preliminary research stage, a boost-glide missile (助推-滑翔式导弹), based on part on 1930s technology developed by German V-2 missile engineers, would move to the R&D stage only after 2015 with deployment before 2020. A final phase, deployed before 2025, would be a hypersonic cruise vehicle for global operations.

Concluding Comments: Bring It Back to Taiwan

In short, sufficient evidence exists that China is serious about fielding a capability that could undercut the capacity of the United States to assist Taiwan in a conflict against China. However, what we do not know is if China’s aerospace industry will be successful in making an anti-ship ballistic missile available to the PLA, or when. One sign would be an ASBM demonstration -- a test that U.S. surveillance systems could detect. However, China has surprised us time and time again. One scenario is for China to conduct separate tests for the guidance package, flight vehicle, and attitude control system. Chinese references note the possibility of using hardware in the loop or other simulation systems to test an ASBM guidance package. However, PLA authorities probably would want to have a high degree of confidence that the system works before giving the aerospace industry the green to begin production. As Qiu and Long indicate, the ASBM could be pretty expensive.

Aerospace industry authorities may be ready to test anytime. The sooner the PLA customer can certify the system, the sooner China’s defense industry can lock in a production contract. And if Qiu and Long’s estimate is close, U.S. $5-10.5 million per missile is pretty good business, especially if there’s an order for a couple hundred. CASIC and/or CASC probably aren’t that concerned about the political implications.

However, a more likely scenario is for China’s civilian leaders to wait for a propitious time to approve a full, integrated flight test. The year 2011 -- a year before Taiwan’s presidential elections in March 2012 – could be a propitious time. After a successful test, it probably would take a while for word to leak out from the U.S. intelligence community. But the timing of a test could be intended to influence popular perception in Taiwan in the run-up to the March 2012 elections. The 1995-1996 tests were threatening to that portion of Taiwan’s population that doesn’t take brute force demonstrations very well. However, an ASBM test likely would be subtle, with no need for an official declaration or acknowledgement. Yet it could be cast in the U.S., Taiwan, and Chinese media as directed against aircraft carriers. Tests would not be directed against Chinese compatriots on Taiwan, so nothing to worry about, or so the line could go.

Regardless, the primary driver for an ASBM is Taiwan. From Beijing’s perspective, the goal is to create the conditions for cross-Strait unification on terms favorable to Beijing. The United States is viewed as the principle remaining roadblock to unification. Along these lines, a goal could be to create the perception within Taiwan of U.S. weakness and vulnerability, as well as a real capability to complicate America’s capacity to intervene on behalf of Taiwan in a future crisis.

Visible deployment of a growing arsenal of ballistic missiles is intended to create a sense of vulnerability and psychological pressure among the majority of Taiwan’s population who may be inclined toward supporting political movements and leaders associated with Taiwan independence. However, much of that public sense of vulnerability is mitigated through popular confidence in American willingness and ability to intervene on behalf of Taiwan in a crisis situation.

The next opportunity for Taiwanese to express support for dejure independence or an illusive status quo through the election of political leaders at the national level is 2012, and therefore may serve as a milestone for demonstrating a capability.

In short, Beijing appears to be placing a premium on undercutting Taiwan’s confidence in the U.S. as a reliable security guarantor by demonstrating military capabilities that could derail military intervention. And a demonstrated ASBM capability, without a clear and visible sign of American ability to deal with it, could indeed serve as a game changer.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

China's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Visit to Washington DC

Reliable sources indicate that Ambassador Wang Yi (王毅), head of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is scheduled to visit Washington DC the week of June 22nd. The TAO (国台办) is an administrative, ministry-level institution in charge of Taiwan affairs under the State Council – China's cabinet. Wang’s visit, one year after assuming the position as TAO Director, comes closely on the heels of the highly publicized visit of KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung to China, a major follow-on round of SEF-ARATS talks in Nanjing, and unsubstantiated reports of meetings between Taiwan National Security Council (NSC) Secretary General Su Chi and officials in Washington DC.


Born in 1953, Wang Yi is a professional diplomat, former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and former ambassador to Japan. Wang Yi’s wife is said to be the daughter of Qian Jiadong, foreign affairs secretary to Zhou Enlai and PRC Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva. During his tenure as Vice Foreign Minister between 2001 and 2004, Wang was intimately involved in the North Korea Six Party Talks and frequently traveled to Washington. Hu Jintao’s appointment of Wang Yi to serve as ambassador to Japan was viewed as a significant upgrade in Beijing’s relations with Japan, given the fact that Vice Minister-level authorities are normally assigned to countries sitting on the UN Security Council. His assignment to lead the Taiwan Affairs Office a year ago also has been viewed as a sign of Hu Jintao’s desire to avoid problems on his watch, particularly in managing Taiwan’s maneuvering for greater international space.

In June 2008, Wang replaced Chen Yunlin, who had been in the position for more than a decade. Chen was appointed as the chairman of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS). TAO visits abroad are a standard aspect of China’s diplomatic initiative to bring the world around to its way of thinking. They also offer an opportunity for U.S. officials to express their views regarding Taiwan and cross-Strait relations. Wang Yi’s predecessor, Director Chen Yunlin, is said to have visited Washington, D.C. in February 2004, January 2005, and September 2006, and April 2007. TAO deputy director and ARATS vice chairman Sun Yafu is said to have visited New York and San Francisco in January 2007. TAO deputy director Li Bingcai visited Los Angeles in July 2006; and Deputy Director Wang Zaixi visited Japan in April 2006 and New York in November 2005.

Wang himself is no stranger to Washington. From August 1997 to February 1998, Wang was a visiting scholar at Georgetown University and he visited a number of occasions to discuss North Korea-related issues while Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Wang Agenda

Assuming rumors of his visit are true, what could be on Ambassador Wang Yi’s agenda? Most obvious would be to safeguard Beijing’s interpretation of the “one China” framework, brief senior officials in Washington on positive trends in cross-Strait relations, and influence the views of new Obama administration appointees in the run up to a possible Taiwan policy review. Wang’s talking points likely will cover U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, specifically the issue of a potential follow-on sale of F-16 C/D aircraft as well as the unresolved submarine and UH-60 BLACKHAWK Congressional notifications. With his leadership in Beijing increasingly confident in its relative position in the bilateral relationship, one shouldn’t discount a putting a marker down that outlines consequences of any further arms sales.

A Taiwan Policy Review: Past and Present

Ambassador Wang’s visit also will be taking place as senior officials get settled in to their new positions and start to develop an interagency consensus on cross-Strait policies. Taipei Times carried an article in April saying "Washington may soon launch a new Taiwan Policy Review that could have an enormous impact on bilateral relations." Senior Congressional sources were noted as saying that a "formal review is being considered by the Obama administration but that no decision has been made." The article also highlights a Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) piece in which China specialist David Shambaugh asserts that there is a “growing discussion” in Washington of the need to undertake a thorough Taiwan Policy Review “given the dramatic and positive changes in cross-strait relations.” The article notes that a policy review was conducted in 1979 and again 15 years later in 1994. Then by extension, another 15 years down the road, it's time for another one.

A Taiwan policy review -- or a China policy review with Taiwan as a subordinate issue -- is normal with a changeover in political power in Washington. Reviews took place in 1961 with the new Kennedy administration, in 1969 with the incoming Republican administration under Richard Nixon, in 1977 with new Carter administration, 1981 with the incoming Republican administration, 1993 with the Democrat administration, 2001 with the Bush administration, and probably with the new Obama administration. In most cases, key issues for interagency review include the form and substance of relations with both the PRC and Taiwan, with a heavy emphasis on defense relations, including arms sales.

-- Kennedy Administration. In 1961, the new Kennedy administration evaluated dual diplomatic recognition of the ROC and the PRC;

-- Nixon Administration. Less than two weeks after his inauguration in January 1969, President Nixon signed National Security Study Memorandum 14 (NSSM-14), which directed an interagency policy review of US policy toward the Republic of China (ROC) and the PRC be completed by 10 March 1969. This review established the groundwork for the opening of relations with the PRC and the President's visit to China in February 1972;

-- Carter Administration. A policy review initiated in June 1977 culminated in the 1979 switch in diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the PRC, abrogation of the 1954 US-ROC Mutual Defense Treaty, and implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA);

-- Reagan Administration. During its first 18 months, President Reagan's interagency team appears to have been absorbed with China issues. An initial initiative appears to have been an interagency review on arms sales policy toward China, which was the key deliverable during the first principal-level visit to Beijing in June 1981. Eventually, the Taiwan arms sales issue came to a head and was temporarily resolved with the 1982 Communique. In 1982, the U.S. and ROC began annual Arms Sales Talks in which Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense presented its list of requested items for U.S. review;

-- Clinton Administration. The Clinton administration is said to have initiated an interagency Taiwan policy review about two months after inauguration. Eighteen months later, Assistant Secretary of State Winston Lord proclaimed that the "lengthy, detailed interagency policy review that we have conducted is the first of its kind launched by any administration of either political party since we shifted recognition to Beijing in 1979." The reality, however, is that the review was more cosmetic than substantive, presumably to ward off Taiwan supporters in Congress as the administration began to restore military to military relations with the PLA. The Clinton administration raised the cap on US government officials able to visit Taiwan, including a relaxation on military officer travel, and also changed the name of Taiwan's representative office in Washington;

-- Bush Administration. In 2001, a Taiwan policy review resulted in the release of a number of key weapon systems, elimination of the annual arms sales talks, and a general deepening and broadening of defense relations. Instead of submitting requests for defense articles and services through the annual arms sales talks forum, Taiwan MND was able to send letters of request at any time of the year.

The Obama Administration Taiwan Team

An Obama administration Taiwan policy review would likely be centered at the Assistant Secretary level, overseen by Kurt Campbell at the State Department, LTG (ret) Chip Gregson at DoD, and Jeff Bader on the National Security Council staff (see previous post for background info). Kurt's nomination was announced on April 24, 2009, while LTG (ret) Gregson's was announced on April 20th. Yesterday's (4 June) Nelson Report indicated that Kurt's Senate Foreign Relations Committee Asia Subcommittee hearing is set for 9 June, and that a full committee vote could come as soon as 16 or 17 June.

At the Pentagon, Derek Mitchell serves as Gregson's principle deputy, although his specific portfolio isn’t clear yet. Given the fact that Afghanistan may absorb a significant portion of LTG (ret) Gregson’s time, one could speculate that Mitchell may play a more active role on China/Taiwan issues than his predecessors.

Michael Schiffer has assumed the position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for East Asia. Under the guidance of LTG (ret) Gregson and Derek Mitchell, he'll be directly overseeing the development and execution of defense policy toward Taiwan, as well as the PRC, Japan, and the Korean peninsula. Since 2004, Michael has been at the Stanley Foundation. From 1995 to 2004, Schiffer was a senior staffer for US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). He was most recently in Taiwan in December 2008 for a conference co-hosted by the Washington DC-based Brookings Institute and Taiwan's Epoch Foundation. Michael Turton did an excellent write up of the event, as did J. Michael Cole.

Other positions likely to have an input on Taiwan issues include Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (OSD/AT&L) Ashton Carter. Together with former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, Kurt Campbell, and others, Ash Carter has been involved in Stanford-Harvard Preventative Defense Project and was in Taiwan last year just after the inauguration of President Ma Ying-jeou. Evan Medeiros is rumored to be the pick to serve as deputy for China/Taiwan under Jeff Bader on the National Security Council staff. For trade issues, Tim Stratford remains the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for China (and Taiwan) Affairs at the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Who will fill the AIT Taipei Director position remains an open question, although Bill Stanton, currently the DCM at the US Embassy in Seoul has been rumored to be one candidate.

Final Ramblings on the Triangular Relationship

Neither Ambassador Wang’s visit nor a Taiwan/China policy review is likely to come up with much new in the triangular relationship. However, it could be interesting to “liberate thinking,” as Beijing is fond of saying, and assess how a more active U.S. cross-Strait policy could make a difference. An enduring resolution of cross-Strait political differences is unlikely barring Beijing’s acceptance of Taiwan’s nascent democracy, including the prospect of a return to power of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and accepting the principles upon which it was founded. Beijing seems to fear the re-emergence of a Taiwan-centric political party, like the DPP, during national elections on the island in 2012 or 2016. Beijing’s subtle cross-Strait and foreign policy seems to be geared toward strengthening the KMT’s position in its domestic political competition. If this is an accurate assessment, it seems pretty shortsighted. Beijing could try to internalize its own propaganda regarding innovation and “liberal thinking.”

The most enduring solution could be for key opinion leaders within Beijing’s hardline camp and key opinion leaders with Taiwan’s independence movement to take a trip to Palau, exchange bottles of Kaoliang and Maotai, crack them open over a private dinner, come up with mutually acceptable arrangement, then hit an upscale KTV to top off the evening. I’m only half-joking here. But there are an infinite number of creative solutions that the two sides could come up with, if the two sides really wanted to resolve their differences. Or maybe it’s that the two sides can’t because of domestic political dynamics. This is where the U.S. may have a role to play. The Obama administration could help to create an environment in which more liberal thinking could take place, especially in Beijing.

U.S. policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, has helped to keep the peace for 30 years. With this in mind, the attitude seems to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, let’s look at it in a different way. Significant portions of the annual defense budgets of the United States (U.S. $515 billion in 2009), the PRC (declared budget of U.S. $70 billion in 2009), and Taiwan (U.S. $10 billion) are driven by planning scenarios involving possible PRC use of force against Taiwan. When significant resources have to be dedicated to prevent a crisis, then something is broken. Put simply, the so-called status quo carries a significant price tag. But it seems to be a price that mainstream, status quo-bound political leaders in Washington, Beijing, and Taipei are willing to accept.

To sum up, will Ambassador Wang Yi’s visit resolve anything? The answer is probably no. But it’s fun to liberate one’s thinking sometimes and consider the possibilities.