China’s Conventional Cruise and Ballistic Missile Force Modernization and Deployment

Publication: China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 1

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) 60th National Day, which took place on October 1, 2009, was lauded by the Chinese-media for its display of the military’s ‘precision striking capabilities.’ According to Yu Jixun, deputy commander of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Corps—China’s strategic missile forces—its conventional missiles "could launch precision strikes in all weathers and directions" (Xinhua News Agency, October 1, 2009). Indeed, new Chinese-built ballistic and cruise missiles exhibit the significant stride made by Chinese defense-industries in missile technology and development, but more importantly, the advent of a formidable class of Chinese-made conventional cruise and ballistic missile force underscore another element of the changing strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region (China Military Online,  October 2, 2009).  

The Soviet Union was able to use its large arsenal of theater ballistic missiles to threaten all of China during the Cold War, while leaving its strategic missile and bomber forces for targets in the United States and elsewhere. After more than two decades, the role has reversed and the leadership in Moscow is well aware of its increasing vulnerability to the plethora of Chinese theater nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles that are coming into service (RIA Novosti, October 17, 2007).

When the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and the former Soviet Union came into force in December 1987, China witnessed a major threat to its cities along with its nuclear and conventional forces rescinded. At the same time, China was modernizing its theater ballistic missile forces by introducing the 2,150 km range DF-21 (CSS-5) mobile solid fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) while selling ballistic technology and missiles abroad. Saudi Arabia received CSS-2 IRBMs and Iran is believed to have received technology to produce the DF-15 (CSS-6) and DF-11 (CSS-7) short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). The Chinese have upgraded the DF-21 to 2,500 km and have developed new systems that could easily place large parts of Russia under nuclear threat from mobile launchers situated deep inside China.  

The PLA’s new strategic weapons systems have the range and accuracy to accurately attack hardened targets like airfields and command and control centers in the Asia-Pacific region. The DF-21 IRBM and the DF-15D have been accurized in recent years, which are the Corps’ support weapon for the PLA’s new heavy mechanized corps. Warheads, similar to the synthetic aperture radar guided earth penetrator employed on the Pershing II IRBM have been observed utilizing satellite guidance updates from China’s own Beidou system (International Assessment and Strategy Center, July 24, 2007). The appearance of an accurized Chinese IRBM and cruise missiles might be a factor in President Vladimir Putin’s threats to pull Russia out of the INF treaty in October 2007 (RIA Novosti, October 25, 2007).   

The C602 Long-range Anti-ship Cruise Missile and the CJ-10 ground launched cruise missile are two systems that would give Russian air defense planners nightmares [1]. The C602 and especially the CJ-10 missile could easily be mistaken for the U.S. BGM-109G Gryphon GLCM that was scrapped under the 1987 INF Treaty. The technology for China to develop these missiles into a GLCM was given a huge boost with the illegal transfer of six Russian designed Kh 55 (AS-15 Kent) air launched cruise missiles from Ukraine in 2000 (International Assessment and Strategy Center, June 22, 2006). Chinese missile designers received the same missile from which the 3,000 km range Soviet SSC-X-4 ‘Slingshot’ KV-500 GLCM was developed, which were destroyed along with their TELs under the INF Treaty (

CJ-10 Ground Launched Cruise Missile

The Chang Jian (Long Sword) CJ-10 (DF-10) long-range cruise missile system reportedly started trials with the Second Artillery Force in 2004 and between 50 and 250 missiles had been deployed along with between 20 and 30 launch vehicles as of September 2009 [2]. The Chinese media initially revealed their existence during the 60th Anniversary Parade. The CJ-10 is identified by three long launch canisters, square in circumference, mounted on the rear of the Chinese WS 2400 8 x 8 tractor-elevator-launcher (TEL), and the missile has a reported range of over 1,500km and up to 2,000 km.

The DF-10 is a land-based variant of the Kh-55/AS-15 Kent, and at least six were illegally transferred from Ukraine in 2000 (International Assessment and Strategy Center, February 10, 2009). A Chinese article on the CJ-10 commented on the comparison made by Western military analysts between the CJ-10 and the defunct United States BGM-109G Gryphon, and its Soviet equivalent, the 3,000 km range SSC-X-4 ‘Slingshot,’ which was developed from the Kh-55 [3]. The article also discussed Western observers’ comments on the illegal transfer of the Kh-55 and did not deny that the transfer or the idea that the CJ-10 is based on the Kh-55.

The missile uses both GLONASS and GPS satellite systems for guidance with four different types of warheads available—a heavy variant weighing 500 kg, and three 350 kg variants: high explosive blast, sub-munition and earth penetrator [4].
The CJ-10, along with the introduction of the C-602 anti-ship long-range cruise missile and the satellite guided DF-15D intermediate range ballistic missile, may be further reasons why Russia wanted to scrap the INF Treaty.

Russia’s Response

China’s IRBM and cruise missile programs have caught Moscow’s attention, but Russian forces are limited in their ability to respond with a counter strike to a TBM or cruise missile attack, short of using their strategic bomber forces or inter-continental ballistic missile systems (ICBMs). The lack of a credible intermediate range strike system against China and possibly other nations—although it would be difficult to conceive of another—is another possible reason behind Russian threats to withdraw from the 1987 INF Treaty (RIA Novosti, November 14, 2007). The technology is readily available. The Iskander-M mobile short-range ballistic missile system has a range of 400 km, which could easily be modified to carry a nuclear warhead in excess of 500 km with high accuracy, if Russia were to withdraw from the INF treaty [5].   

If Russia were to come under the threat of a conventional Chinese GLCM or IRBM attack, hunting them down before they launched their missiles by air would be almost impossible. Su-34 and Tu-22M3 bombers could be used to hunt down the TELs and resupply vehicles after a launch but this would be fruitless given prior Western experience in hunting elusive targets from the air. The Russian military does not have anywhere near the kind of ISR assets that the Allies had in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, yet ‘The Great Scud Hunt’ achieved very little tactically given the effort involved and this was essentially in a desert environment [6]. In over 3,000 sorties conducted over Kosovo during the 77 day Operation Allied Force, NATO aircraft succeeded in only destroying 26 tanks out of the 440 in what was a very small area geographically. Serb ground forces, which consist mainly of company strength units of 80 – 150 personnel, with around six armored vehicles, operating autonomously or semi-autonomously of each other were hard to locate by their size and movement. Operating in woods they were not a large target, and by not moving in a set direction, they did not allow the formation of a clear intelligence picture (Aviation Week & Space Technology, May 3, 1999). Chinese DF-21 and GLCM detachments might be even smaller.  

Russian ground based defense against ballistic and cruise missiles is centered on the in-service S-300 series and the recently introduced S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system, all of which have an anti-ballistic missile capability [7]. The S-300 PMU-1 and PMU-2 can intercept DF-11 and DF-15 SRBMs, and the S-300VM and S-400 Triumf systems are capable of intercepting a multiple IRBM attack by all DF-21 model IRBMs. Whether or not there are currently enough deployed, or ready to be procured, along with their radars to protect Russian air space against the plethora of Chinese theater ballistic and cruise missile systems becoming available, is open to question.

The Russians clearly regard the threat from China’s ballistic and cruise missiles as serious, deploying S-400 missile and radar systems along its eastern borders ostensively to protect Russia from wayward North Korean missiles (RIA Novosti, August 26, 2009). Interestingly, no North Korean missiles are recorded as having accidentally landed in Russia.  North Korean missiles are launched eastwards toward the Yellow Sea away from Russia and China. The S-400 deployment did however coincide nicely with China’s October 1 parade.

Taiwan Strait – New Rocket Systems Taking Over from Ballistic Missiles?

A 2008 U.S. government estimate reported that all of China’s 300 km range DF-11 and 600 km range DF-15 SRBMs facing Taiwan amounted to a combined total of between 970 and 1,070 missiles along with 200 GLCMs (Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2008). The amount of these launchers facing Taiwan is around 210 to 250, assuming each DF-15 TEL is capable of firing three missiles, and each DF-11 can fire five missiles before needing to be refurbished. For every DF-15 TEL deployed there needs to be one missile-reloading vehicle and two for each DF-11, as each reloading vehicle is assumed to carry two missiles. Add a command and communications vehicle or two and this means a lot of road movement by large vehicles that could easily attract attention.  

The PLA can now start to remove the earlier models of their DF-11 and DF-15 missiles as new developments in Chinese self-propelled multiple rocket systems have created more survivable, easily deployed systems that can overwhelm existing air defenses within their range. The WS-2 Wheeled Self-Propelled Wheeled Multiple Launched Rocket System uses a six-tube launcher, on a simple 6 x 6 truck.  The rocket has a 200 kg warhead, a peak speed of Mach 5.6 and a maximum range of 200 km with the newer WS-2D quoted as having a maximum range of 380 km [8].  The WS-3, the GPS guided version of the WS-2 has the same performance figures, including warhead weight, and with a CEP of 20 meters that could easily, and far more cheaply, swamp Taiwan’s defenses than the DF-11 and DF-15 ballistic missile systems

The numbers of missiles and TELs quoted in the Department of Defense report to Congress are taken as accurate by many observers, and undoubtedly, the majority of China’s SRBMs are facing Taiwan, but there are others.  There would be a few launchers and missiles for use for test firing as part of their reliability program and to trial new warheads. More importantly at least 12 DF-15D TELs and their attendant vehicles are in Xinjiang as part of the PLA’s new heavy mechanized corps [9].  Some of the DF-15 TELs deployed to Leiping would be for China’s heavy corps in Shenyang and dedicated for use against North Korea. A critical issue for Taiwan’s future defense is how to counter China’s accurized warheads.  

The Future

China’s ballistic and cruise missile forces have increased in capability over the past decade and are now starting to pose a considerable conventional threat to nations within Southeast, South and West Asia as well as European Russia. With the expected deployment of satellite guided multiple rocket launchers opposite Taiwan, the DF-11 and DF-15 missiles would no longer be required and can be deployed opposite India and the South China Sea. The DF-15s could be refurbished to carry a nuclear or precision-guided conventional warhead. The over the horizon radar (OTHR) system under development on Hainan Island when fully developed would provide the PLA with early warnings of incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and would provide accurate targeting of United States carrier battle groups [10]. The latter is of special concern to the United States as is China’s continued development and deployment of new ballistic and cruise missile systems, as its regional neighbors pursue an arms race, equipping their forces with both offensive and defensive systems to counter China’s growth in strategic weapons.


1. ‘Zhongguo C602 xinxing yuancheng fanchuan daodan,’ (C602 new type long distance anti-ship
Missile), Bingqi Zhishi, (Ordnance Knowledge), 12A/2008, Number 286, p. 2.
2. ‘“Zhenmi zhishuai” zai puguang  ___ Cong Guoqing 60 zhuonian Dayuebing kan jiefang dier paobing budui’, Tanke Zhuangjia Cheliang, 2009 Niandi, 11 Qi, Zhongdi 295 Qi,pp. 22-25.
3. ‘Lingshou bian guojia “youlu zhongliang” ___  haiwai pojie Zhongguo CJ-10 luji xunhang daodan,’  Tanke Zhuangjia Cheliang, 2009 Niandi,12 Qi, Zhongdi 297 Qi, pp. 15-18.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Rosenaeu, William. Special Operations Forces and Elusive Enemy Ground Targets: Lessons fromVietnam and the Persian Gulf War, RAND, Santa Monica, 2002, pp. 4 0 – 43.
7. NATO reporting names for the S-300 PMU-1 is SA-10d Grumble; the S-300PMU-1 is SA-20 Gargoyle; the S-400 is SA-21 Growler; and the S-300VM is SA-23 Giant/Gladiator.  Performance figures for the S-300 series are from taken from ‘S300VM (Antey-2500)’, S-300PMU-1 Air Defense Systems and Favorite Long Range Air Defense System’ in ‘Air Defense Systems’, Rosobornexport Catalogue, Rosobornexport, Moscow, 2003, pp, 10-13.
8. ‘“Zhongguo Weishi” xilie yuan chengduo guohuojian wuqi xitong’,  (“Chinese protect soldiers” series long range rocket weapon system Bingqi Zhishi, 2009 Niandi, 1A Qi, Zhongdi 260, pp. 30 – 32.
9. Wang Hui,  ZTZ-98 zhuzhantanke zhuangjia, (ZTZ-98 Armored Main Battle Tank), Inner Mongolia Cultural Publishing Company, 2002, p. 74.  
10. China’s OTHR system interferes with HAM radio operators who discuss it on their QRZ Internet forum. ‘Ever hear of the “Chinese Dragon”?’ (over the horizon radar? Annoying!, QRZ Forums,, accessed February 22, 2009.