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Analysis: Capabilities of Chinese missiles

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Andrei Chang
Hong Kong (UPI) Jan 18, 2008
Recent Google Earth satellite photos have revealed the positions of Chinese ballistic missiles (SSMs) under the control of the People's Liberation Army's Second Artillery Force located in Meizhou, Guangdong province and Yongan, Fujian province.

Both missile sites are near small cities to reduce the chance of their location being disclosed. The missiles must be transported to launch sites in the mountains when the need arises. The troops are therefore normally stationed in the small cities.

With the development of the market economy the SAF units, which were mostly stationed in remote mountainous regions in the past, have become the most unstable combat forces in the PLA. There are frequent instances of servicemen seeking early release from the military to transfer to local civilian positions, or even deserting their posts. Because of this, the newly established SAF missile brigades are located in small cities where well-equipped military camps and barracks have been constructed.

Satellite photos indicate that DF-11 and DF-15 SSM launch vehicles are deployed at these two sites. The bases of the SAF's short-range missile brigades are mostly equipped with blue-roofed missile depots.

On normal days, missile launch vehicles and maintenance vehicles are anchored inside the depots. There are normally two such depots at each base, plus at least four other large warehouses. In addition, there is also one command building, one office building and one sports field. Similar bases of the PLA SAF all have such sports fields.

Missiles positioned 500 kilometers (310 miles) around the perimeter of Yongan would place the whole island of Taiwan within striking range. Obviously, the objective of deploying DF-15s at this site is to cover the whole of Taiwan Island and even the waters along the island's eastern coast.

In the event of a confrontation, the DF-15s can be mobilized by railroad and forward deployed along a line between the cities of Xiamen and Fuzhou. The deployment of DF-15s in Fujian province near Xiamen reveals the SAF's tactical intent of undertaking "forced segregation" of the U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups that could be expected to approach the area once the conflict breaks out. The Yongan missile base is located deep in the mountains, with flat launch positions newly built among the hills.

It appears that DF-11s are deployed at the SAF base in Meizhou in Guangdong province. The direct distance from Meizhou to Taiwan is 550 kilometers (340 miles), and the missiles can be mobilized to the Shantou front line along the Meizhou-Shantou railway and then launched at Taiwan. The construction layout of the Meizhou missile base is very similar to that at Yongan.

Three missile depots painted in blue were sighted at the base, plus one command building, one communications center and one football field. The DF-11 short-range missiles are deployed at this base. Another explanation for the blue-roofed structures found in the satellite photos is that that they are used for maintenance and support vehicles.

There are at least 14 such missile depots at the Meizhou base and at least 10 missile depots at the Yongan base. This scale of missile deployment indicates that estimates that one missile base is equipped with at least 27 launch vehicles is quite close to the truth.

The export variant of the P-12 short-range ballistic missile is armed with a medium-stage global positioning system guidance device and has a circular error probable, or CEP, of 50 meters (164 feet). Judging from the performance perimeters of the P-12, DF-15 and DF-11, their CEP, through constant upgrading, should be greater than 50 meters.

In a previous report this author touched upon the issue of how the Chinese military view the role of the civilian GPS guidance system. Missile experts within the Chinese military tend to believe that unless there is large-scale warfare, there is little possibility that the United States would completely shut down regional GPS service. In addition, the GPS modules that China has developed so far are mostly compatible with Russia's GLONASS positioning satellites. Nonetheless, there are only very limited periods of time that GLONASS covers the Taiwan region.

Judging from the training tactics used in attacking mock targets at Dingxin Airport in Gansu province, as shown on satellite photos, the PLA Second Artillery Force would mainly employ specially designed warheads to achieve massive destruction when attacking Taiwan's airport in the event of a conflict. China has developed a series of special warheads for the serial WS-2 rocket gun (MRLS), which gives some clues of such a strategy.

These newly developed warheads include blasting warheads, blasting cluster warheads, shrapnel cluster warheads, cloud-blasting warheads and blasting-burn warheads. Some of these warheads have been exported to the overseas market along with PL-12 short-range missiles.

The cluster warhead specifically developed for the WS-1B MRLS has a weight of 152 kilograms (335 pounds), with a total of 475 submunitions and a dispersing coverage of 28,000 square meters. The cloud-blasting warhead has a weight of 90 kilograms (198 pounds) and a destruction radius of 70 meters (230 feet).

The blasting-burn warhead has a weight of 70 kilograms (154 pounds), an effective destruction radius of 70 meters, and an effective dispersing radius greater than 70 meters. The warhead of the DF-11/DF-15 SSM normally has a weight of 500 kilograms.

Thus, the total ammunition load of the cluster warhead is supposed to reach 1,562, of course with much greater dispersing coverage but weaker destructive power. If the weight of the blasting-burn warhead is up to 500 kilograms, its effective projection coverage can reach 388 meters (1,273 feet). The PLA Second Artillery Force may use this type of warheads to attack the fuel depots located at Taiwan's military airports.

(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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