DF-26 intermediate-range missile (The Guam Killer)

China debuted the new DF-26 IRBM during the 3 September 2015 Victory Day Parade. Official Chinese media commentary describe the system as “one carrier, many warheads.” Other media reports revealed it was capable of nuclear and conventional missions and its design enabled strikes against many kinds of targets, including large ships. It also requires little support equipment and has fast reaction times, according to descriptions in official Chinese media outlets

DF-21D ASBM missile. China’s deployed ballistic missile force, operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy and PLA Rocket Force after being renamed – from the Second Artillery late last year as part of the PLA’s reorganization – is expanding in both size and types of missiles. China continues to field conventionally armed SRBMs such as the CSS-6 (DF-15) and the CSS-7 (DF-11) opposite Taiwan, and has developed a number of mobile, conventionally-armed MRBMs and IRBMs. Missiles such as the CSS-11 (DF-16), CSS-5 Mod 4 (DF-21C) and Mod 5 (DF-21D) and DF-26 are key components of the Chinese military modernization program, specifically designed to prevent adversary military forces’ access to regional conflicts. The CSS-5 Mod 5 and a variant of the DF-26 have anti-ship missions

China’s conventional missile force includes the CSS-6 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with a range of 725-850 km; CSS-7 SRBM with a range of 300-600 km; CSS-11 SRBM with a range of over 700 km; land-attack and anti-ship variants of the CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM); the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM); and the CJ-10 ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). China’s conventionally-armed CSS-5 Mod 5 anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) gives the PLA the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean. During the PLA’s 90th anniversary parade in July 2017, China displayed a new MRBM designated the DF-16G, which China claims features high accuracy, short preparation time, and an improved maneuverable terminal stage that can better infiltrate missile defense systems. China also displayed the DF-26 IRBM during the PLA’s 90th anniversary parade. First fielded in 2016, this system is capable of conducting conventional and nuclear precision strikes against ground targets and conventional strikes against naval targets in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans and the South China Sea.

The DF-26 is a Chinese intermediate-range ballistic missile. It is based on the earlier DF-21 , but has a longer range. Existence of this missile was revealed in 2014. The DF-26 was first publicly revealed in 2015. It appears to be in operational service for several years. This missile is in service with Second Artillery Corps, that are de facto strategic missile forces of the Chinese army.

Chinese sources claim that currently the DF-26 is the most advanced intermediate-range ballistic missile in the world. It is worth noting that the United States and Russia can not develop missiles of this class due to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, that was signed back in 1987. The only other comparable missile is the Indian Agni V. Chinese sources claim that the DF-26 is superior to the Agni V.

The DF-26 is a two-stage solid-fuel missile. Its estimated range is around 3 000 – 4 000 km. Other sources suggest that its maximum range is in excess of 5 000 km. It is believed that the DF-26 can carry payload of 1 200 to 1 800 kg. This missile is fitted with a nuclear warhead.

The DF-26 is a road-mobile, two-stage solid-fueled IRBM with an antiship variant possibly also in development.13 According to Chinese sources, the missile measures 14 m in length, 1.4 m in diameter, and has a launch weight of 20,000 kg.14 The missile has a range of 3,000-4,000 km, which puts Guam within striking distance. Its ability to strike Guam has resulted in the nicknames “Guam killer” and “Guam express.” The DF-26 comes with a “modular design,” meaning that the launch vehicle can accommodate two types of nuclear warheads and several types of conventional warheads. The accuracy of the DF-26 is uncertain, with speculators estimating the CEP at intermediate range between 150-450 meters. It is likely that this missile has internal navigation system with indigenous Chinese BeiDou satellite navigation system. It should have an accuracy of less than 100 m. Possibly less than 10 m.

The DF-26 is transported and fired from a Chinese-built HTF5680 12X12 Transporter Erector Launcher.

The United States Navy is particularly concerned about the DF-21D, a solid-fuel missile with a range of 1,500 kilometers and armed with a maneuverable warhead. The missile and warhead are equipped with their own sensors to allow for course corrections in the terminal phase of flight. This missile would be able to sink large maneuvering surface vessels, including aircraft carriers, greatly enhancing China’s anti-access, area denial capability. The DF-21D has been tested against land-based targets, but its ability to hit moving targets in the open ocean is uncertain. China is also working on an improved version of this system in the DF-26.

China’s antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) program is perhaps the most dramatic example of the PLA’s strategy to control the Near Seas from its continental position, if only because the PLA is implementing a maritime strike technology no other country has mastered. The DF-21D missile is China’s ASBM and is a modified version of an existing medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) in the Second Artillery’s inventory. The DF-21D has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers and employs a maneuvering reentry vehicle armed with a unitary or submunition warhead. The reentry vehicle likely receives midcourse updates from the Second Artillery’s command network, with the warhead’s terminal guidance to a target provided by active radar and infrared homing. With the employment of midcourse countermeasures, high hypersonic speed, and warhead maneuvering, the DF-21D warhead is thought invulnerable to existing missile defenses. China’s annual production of MRBMs, the missile class used for the DF-21D ASBM, is estimated at ten to eleven per year, with the capacity to perhaps double this rate during a surge in production. By the end of the decade, the PLA could possess at least eighty DF-21Ds mounted on mobile TELs, a force large enough to execute many multimissile volleys against adversary naval task forces. Along with its cruise missile cousins, China’s antiship ballistic missile program is another aspect of the missile and sensor revolution that calls into question surface naval operations within a useful range of China and its Near Seas.

China’s Maritime Reconnaissance Complex

China’s antiship missile systems and strategies will only be as good as the intelligence, targeting, and command systems that support them. The PLA operates complementary and redundant C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) networks that by 2020 are likely to fully support China’s missile forces.

China operates land-based sky- and surface-wave over-the-horizon radars capable of detecting the rough position of surface naval forces as far as three thousand kilometers out to sea. To identify specific surface ships, such as U.S. aircraft carriers, for targeting by China’s submarines, antiship ballistic missiles, or Flanker regiments, China would employ its growing constellations of reconnaissance and navigation satellites. China has roughly fifteen imaging satellites useful for military reconnaissance missions, employing electro-optical, multispectral, and synthetic aperture radar sensors, capable of remote sensing by day or night and in all weather conditions.

In 2013 this imaging satellite constellation was not sufficiently numerous to provide the PLA with continuous coverage of the maritime areas out to the Second Island Chain. However, steady launches of additional imaging satellites should give China the targeting capability the DF-21D requires within the next five to ten years.60 For example China’s synthetic aperture radar satellites provide all-weather, day and night coverage, with imaging resolution of five meters or less, sufficient to detect any U.S. Navy warship. By 2020 China’s reconnaissance satellite constellations are likely to be capable of revisiting targeted areas every thirty minutes, frequently enough to track adversary naval task forces under way. China’s planned constellation of communications and data link satellites will reliably connect the imaging satellites to PLA commanders by 2020. In addition, China’s Beidou-2/Compass global navigation satellite constellation will be complete by 2020, giving China’s aircraft, ships, and missiles an independent and highly accurate navigation and timing capability.

China’s attack submarine and surface naval forces, including the Type 052D guided missile destroyer equipped with long-range phased array radars, will be other sources of information on adversary naval and air forces. China also operates ocean-bottom sonar beds in its Near Seas, similar to the antisubmarine listening networks the United States operated during the Cold War. In the air, China has adapted the indigenously produced Y-8 cargo aircraft for airborne early warning, electronic surveillance and warfare, and communication relay missions. China will also likely use its civilian maritime patrol craft and even fishing vessels to spot adversary naval targets for its reconnaissance and command network.

Finally, in the future China will use its continental position to develop an extensive land-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capability for patrolling the Near Seas and conducting other military operations such as data relay, electronic warfare, deception, and direct attack. The PLA is establishing a broad research and industrial base for UAV development, customized for the requirements of the Second Artillery, the air force, and the navy. Over the next decade, China will very likely deploy medium- and high-altitude long-endurance UAVs deep into the western Pacific Ocean for surveillance, targeting support for antiship missiles, data relay, and electronic warfare. Such a land-based UAV capability will supplement and provide critical redundancy for China’s satellites and will likely possess capacity and resilience that expeditionary U.S. and allied forces will have trouble matching.


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