Beyond the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM): China’s Next Generation Long Range Precision Strike Systems

Posted on Thursday, December 30, 2010 by Ian Easton


By Mark Stokes

Recent comments by Pacific Command (PACOM) Commander Admiral Robert Willard regarding China’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) program have attracted considerable media attention. As the world focuses on what indeed is an interesting new capability, China’s space and missile industry is offering hints of programs beyond a basic ASBM.

The Chinese Society of Astronautics recently honored three senior aerospace system designers for significant contributions to national defense. One of China’s most accomplished senior conventional ballistic missile designers is a gifted, relatively young, gentle mother of one – Zhu Xuejun [祝学军]. Born in December 1962, Ms. Zhu graduated from the National University of Defense Technology’s Automated Control Department in 1987 and earned a graduate degree from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation's (CASC) China Academy of Launch Technology (CALT, or First Academy) in missile systems design.

Ms. Zhu’s record of accomplishments is impressive and revealing of the types of advances that China is making in long range precision strike systems. Assigned to the CASC First Academy’s First Design Department, she was an original member of the design team for China’s first generation of conventional short range ballistic missiles, specifically the DF-15 (NATO: CSS-6). After technology management training in the United States in 1996, Ms. Zhu was assigned as senior designer for follow-on variants in 1999, most likely the DF-15A and DF-15B, which was showcased in the 2009 National Day parade. She also appears to be overseeing the development of the next generation variant, the DF-15C.

The CASC First Academy’s DF-15 SRBM has long been the centerpiece of China’s coercive military strategy directed against Taiwan. With a decision made in 1988 to deploy ballistic missiles in a conventional role, the build-up began with establishment of a seed training group on August 1, 1991 that consisted of 11 junior and field grade officers under the leadership of then-Lieutenant Colonel Gao Jin [高津]. Working closely with the CASC First Academy design team and assembly factory personnel in Beijing, the group formed the core of China’s first SRBM brigade, the 96165 Unit based in Leping, Jiangxi Province. Most original DF-15 seed unit officers are emerging as the next generation of Second Artillery leadership. Major General Gao Jin now commands Southeast China’s 52 Base, the Second Artillery’s most powerful missile army. Senior Colonel Zhou Xiaolin [周晓林] was appointed as the fourth commander of the Leping brigade in 2010. He was formerly the brigade’s senior engineer, and an initial cadre involved in the establishment of the conventional missile force.

Looking toward the future, Ms. Zhu is at the cutting edge of some of the world’s most sophisticated long range precision strike systems. As lead engineer of a newly established CASC First Academy conventional weapon system business division [战术武器事业部], she serves as chief designer for CASC First Academy’s first conventional two-stage solid-fueled conventional ballistic missile. CASC First Academy’s two-staged conventional ballistic missile recently completed conceptual design flight tests. Existing SRBMs, such as the CASC’s DF-15 and CASIC 066 Base’s DF-11A, have a single solid rocket motor. A CASC First Academy missile system with two solid motors would be indicative of a competition with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation's (CASIC) Fourth Academy’s 1700-kilometer range DF-21C medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). Appearing to be near completion of the research and development phase, the DF-21D ASBM likely is a variant of the DF-21C modified to engage moving targets at sea, such as aircraft carriers.

The China Astronautics Society also cites Ms. Zhu as serving as technical director for a maneuverable conventional missile system that remains in the atmosphere the entire range of its flight. As a type of hypersonic cruise vehicle, a system on a depressed ballistic trajectory with a maneuverable post-boost vehicle likely would complicate detection and engagement by sea-based missile defense interceptors, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3).

As a final note, the September 2010 China Astronautics Society article also highlights the accomplishments of Fan Shiwei [樊士伟], a leading figure in the top level design and development of China’s space-based sensor architecture. As Director of the PLA General Armaments Department (GAD) Aerospace Bureau General Design Research Center [总装备部航天装备局研发中心], Fan likely has played a leading role in the design and operational requirements development process for the space-based surveillance system that would support an ASBM.

Image 1: DF-15B During 60th Anniversary PLA Parade
Source: Air Power Australia, Special Thanks to Sean O'Conner and Dr. Carlo Kopp

Image 2: Zhu Xuejia
Source: China Space News

Under the Radar News 12.23.10

Posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2010 by Ian Easton

A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

• India and Russia pledged 30 billion dollars to co-develop a 5th generation stealth fighter during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s state visit to India. The visit also produced an ambitious oil and gas deal, but failed to seal a commercial pact for nuclear reactors.

• Pakistan test fired a medium range ballistic missile, the Ghauri Hatf 5, capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional warhead up to 1,300km. The missile is named after Afghan Muslim conquerors.

• Taiwan’s state-run National Nano-Device Laboratories scientists announced a breakthrough in advanced microchip technology, producing a 9 nanometer circuit. A chip using the new memory technology would have 20 times the storage capacity of chips currently on the market, and use 200 times less electricity to run.

• The U.S. expressed serious concern that China and Taiwan have yet to submit the ECFA bi-lateral trade deal inked in June to international observers. WTO regulations require members to report such agreements before they can take effect.

• It was revealed that New Zealand defense officials have been warning the U.S. that China’s military is fueling instability in the South Pacific. Likewise, New Zealand diplomats warned that China is on “rapacious quest” for natural resources, undermining good governance in the region.

South Korea-China relations at “an all-time low” this week due to the combination of Beijing’s continued support for North Korea and an incident in the Yellow Sea in which an illegal Chinese fishing boat rammed a South Korean coast guard vessel and sunk. Beijing demanded Seoul pay for the damage and punish the coast guard officers.

• Japan Airlines (JAL) unveiled a bamboo wheelchair that doesn’t set off metal detectors, saving passengers time and intrusive security checks.

• In a controversial move, Philippine President Aquino granted amnesty to 400 mutinous soldiers that staged three coup attempts against former president Gloria in 2003, 2006 and 2007, respectively.

• Eight Chinese suspects are given short prison sentences for selling over 530 fake rabies vaccines in China leading to the death of a ten year-old boy.

• China opened an ambitious high-speed rail line between the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, and mega city Chongqing, marking the country’s most expensive rail project per kilometer to date. As part of the project some 50,000 workers dug 159 tunnels and built 253 bridges.

• Reporters Without Borders, a rights group, called for Beijing to investigate the near lethal beating of an investigative journalist, now brain-dead, who was doing research for a politically charged story in Xinjiang. The official Xinhua news agency sought to place the blame for the beating on the journalist.

• In a surprise move, North Korea threatened South Korea with a nuclear "sacred war" just days after making conciliatory gestures, suggesting that tensions on the Korean Peninsula are far from over. This is due, in no small part, to the ongoing leadership transition underway in Pyongyang.

Dark Futures: Thinking About North Korea's Coming Leadership Transition

Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 by Ian Easton

The past year has witnessed a remarkable and troubling series of events that indicate Northeast Asia may be entering into a period of profound instability driven by North Korea’s precarious leadership transition. Pyongyang’s unprovoked sinking of a South Korean naval ship and its deadly artillery attack on a small coastal island, have escalated speculation on what these dramatic events portend for the future. Recent events seem to have quashed optimism of North Korean belligerence receding as Kim Jong-un’s ascension to power is consolidated. Moreover, there still remains a combination of factors that could shape a spectrum of political outcomes after Kim Jong-il’s death. Ultimately, the unification of Korea now appears more likely than ever to come at a far higher cost than generally thought – if it comes about at all – and the road there is paved with risks and unknowns.

Underpinning the instability is the reality that North Korea is not ready for the inevitable leadership transition ahead. Whereas Kim Jong-il benefited from many years of cultivation prior to his ascension to power in 1994, it appears likely that his youngest son could be faced with a transition lacking the benefits of time and training. This is why North Korea has been indulging in political grandstanding at the same time it cracks down internally, executing defectors and officials tied to unpopular policies.

For Kim Jong-un to have any hope of consolidating national power before he exercises it, he needs at the very least the tacit backing of the Chinese leadership and the North Korean military. Despite Kim Jong-Il’s best attempts, Beijing and the hardliners in charge of the North Korean military may have other ideas about who the future dictator-in-chief should be. A concerned China has engaged in an unprecedented amount of high-level diplomatic activity with Pyongyang. At the very least, would-be kingmakers in Beijing and Pyongyang can be expected to hedge their bets—often the case when one is gambling on their very survival. There are also indications that the key personalities in North Korea have deeply antagonistic relationships with each other and the political schisms are cemented by rivalries between powerful institutions raw from economic reform failure.

Listed below are five possible scenarios for what might happen when Kim Jong-Il passes away. Key metrics to watch include: the time and manner of Kim Jong-Il’s death, which individual or group discovers the body, and how long that knowledge can be exploited before the news leaks out. While different leadership scenarios could spell varied political and security outcomes for the country, the entrenched authoritarian political culture and leadership system hamstring prospects of governance reform and the likelihood of stability if Kim Jong-un’s succession is seriously challenged. The extreme militarization of North Korean society, growing power factions, and a crushing economic outlook are all likely to contribute to the generally pessimistic “dark futures” ahead.

Five Possible Futures

• Dynastic Rule: Given enough time, political cunning, and luck, Kim Jong-un could successfully succeed his father and rule under the protection of family allies, such as Kim Jong-il’s four-star general sister, Kim Kyong-hui, and her powerful husband, Jang Song-taek. North Korea would continue to remain fragile and militaristic for a time, but given enough pressure from Beijing, could eventually adopt Chinese-style economic reforms and begin a process of economic stabilization. However, greater engagement with South Korea and the U.S. would be limited unless concrete moves were made to denuclearize the peninsula, something not considered likely under this scenario.

• Family Feud: The reports of a failed assassination attempt on Kim’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, including rumors of a shootout between Kim Jong-chol and his uncle Kim Hyon-nam at one of the family palaces, highlight the antipathy that exists between members of the Kim family. While the middle son, Kim Jong-chol is considered too soft for leadership, it is possible that a conflict could erupt between him and his younger brother, with unexpected power shifts and/or an outright collapse of central leadership. This could result in a military takeover, a power vacuum, or a meltdown-type scenario.

• Military Takeover: In the event that Kim Jong-Il dies suddenly, catching the inexperienced younger Kim and family allies off-balance, opportunistic hardliner generals could stage a coup and push North Korea into an even more militarized state. The threat of war on the Korean peninsula would increase dramatically due to the highly paranoid worldview of the military establishment, and the likelihood that purges they would inevitably undertake to consolidate power would eliminate more cautious voices of reason in the party and elsewhere.

• Power Vacuum: There could be a highly perilous dissolution of centralized power resulting from a power struggle in Pyongyang between members of the Kim family, the party, and the security services, with regional military commanders and/or the Chinese military stepping in to fill the security void. It is possible that Beijing would attempt to install Kim Jong-nam as the titular leader of North Korea, but his lack of legitimacy, motivation, and experience would likely make him ineffective. The fragility of a power vacuum in North Korea would make it prone to further fractionalization.

• Meltdown: An all-out civil war could ensue, in which proliferation risks from North Korea’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, along with the missiles used to deliver them, would become an international concern of the highest order. In the event of intervention from both China and the U.S., North Korea could become a flashpoint for great power conflict. At the very least, there is the potential that a North Korean failed state could become a proxy conflict, with rival factions backed by the U.S. and South Korea on one side and China on another. A diplomatic mechanism for avoiding such an eventuality does not exist.

While it is not currently known, nor knowable, how events will unfold when Kim Jong-Il dies, it would behoove U.S. policymakers to prepare for a range of unsavory contingencies. Policymakers have made assumptions about the theoretical benefits and challenges of a unified Korea, but it is unclear whether they have addressed the full range of dangers lurking along the road to unification. Current short-term focus on pressing political issues such as nuclear disarmament and the six-party talks inadvertently distracts much needed attention from the long term strategic picture.

It is one of the cruel ironies of history that totalitarian rulers, through their inherently oppressive leadership (i.e., systematically eliminating all viable opposition and wrapping themselves in a cult of personality), set the conditions for their countries to suffer from instability and civil strife long after they are gone. Recognizing that this reality will impact the future of North Korea just as it has countless authoritarian regimes throughout history may be the first step to preparing for the instability ahead.



Image: Satellite image of North and South Korea at night, delineated by border line
Source: The Australian

Under the Radar News 12.17.10

Posted on Friday, December 17, 2010 by Amy Chang

A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • Japan's Cabinet adopted a new defense buildup program which eyes more proactive policies and "dynamic defense capability," which is designed to increase readiness, mobility and flexibility of Japan’s Self Defense Force.

  • Opium poppy cultivation surged in Southeast Asia by 22 percent in 2010, with production value rising over $100 million from 2009 figures to $219 million. It is hypothesized that the growth in production transpired from the poverty and instability of the global economic crisis.

  • The Russian government has offered to build a nuclear power plant in Indonesia.

  • Laos and North Korea have signed a cooperation agreement to enhance relations between their ruling parties, including increasing exchange visits and areas of traditional cooperation.

  • China's western push strengthens Pakistan links, including the acceleration of rail-link construction and a pipeline connecting the two countries. The investments indicate China’s long-term intentions to strengthen economic links in the region.

  • As part of a US$1.2 billion deal, Lockheed Martin has delivered the first of six C-130J Super Hercules airlifters for the Indian Air Force.

  • China, the world’s second-largest consumer of oil, is poised to buy more Saudi oil than the United States. While Saudi Arabia has also recently bought more Chinese goods (such as food, textiles, and hardware) than American ones, the U.S. remains its main supplier of military arms and technology.

  • China proposed investing $8 billion to set up a development bank with other member nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Though details are vague, the bank would fund energy exploration and infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines.

  • Thailand and Cambodia have revoked the need for entry visas between the two countries as a "gift" for their citizens to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

  • South Korean officials brushed off as "unrealistic" Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's remarks on a possible dispatch of his country's Self-Defense Forces to the Korean Peninsula in case of contingencies.

  • While some Pakistanis displaced by the devastating floods that hit their country are able to return to their homes, the United Nations and its partners warned today that humanitarian needs (food aid, shelter materials, and medical aid) remain enormous amid dwindling resources.

  • The Defense Consultative Talks between the U.S. and China restarted the bilateral military-to-military relationship. The two sides also discussed maritime safety and security concerns in Africa, North Korea, and Iran.

  • For more from Project 2049, follow us on Twitter.

    After the Flood: Pakistan Domestic Security and Implications for Sino-Pakistan Relations

    Posted on Friday, December 10, 2010 by Amy Chang

    Recovering from its worst flood in 80 years, Pakistan is facing—among a laundry list of woes—gas shortages, food and water scarcity, agricultural losses, infrastructural damage, and a significant population of displaced persons. The calamities left by the deluge exacerbate Pakistan’s fragile political-security environment, allowing regions and actors (such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban) beyond government control to thrive and expand, while security loopholes in Pakistan’s judicial and law enforcement system undermine effective responses.

    As international relief contributions pour into Islamabad, China has dispatched rescue teams and four military rescue helicopters and pledged donations totaling USD$250 million. While China’s support was positively received by both the Pakistani population and officials, underlying Beijing’s aid is concern for Pakistan’s steadily declining situation. The recent natural disaster complicates Pakistan’s security efforts in militant safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that lie close to the China-Pakistan border.

    China’s longstanding concern about the destabilizing effect of Pakistan’s militant insurgents on radical Muslims in Xinjiang has led to joint counterterrorism efforts. This July, the two countries completed their third joint military exercise, codenamed Sino-Pak Friendship 2010, which included counterterrorism drills to enhance interoperability.

    While China is ostensibly a close partner in counterterrorism, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hints that China could do more to stabilize the country and help recover its losses, including expanding military cooperation and investment. One possibility is to enhance cross-military, police, and counterinsurgency training initiatives. China could also support capacity building and supervise the effective allocation of aid funding. It is uncertain to what extent Chinese are ensuring the distribution of funds to the organizations and people with greatest need. Going forward, both countries must address the rampant corruption and the lack of accountability in Pakistan’s security and government apparatuses to improve both the image and implementation of Chinese support for Pakistan.

    Prior to the floods, China has also invested heavily in infrastructure such as nuclear power projects, hydropower dams, gold and copper mines, telecommunications, highways and railways, and defense production. Continued Chinese investment is vital to easing economic burdens, restoring order, and preventing future environmental destruction. It is especially helpful in FATA, where efforts can undermine Taliban recruitment efforts and provide employment opportunities for local citizens. China also welcomes the opportunity to expand its strategic access in South Asia and the Persian Gulf through these incentives.

    In addition to robust military cooperation, China has dedicated resources providing humanitarian relief and infrastructure rebuilding efforts in Pakistan. While the relationship will face challenges, recent bilateral developments and the number of high-level bilateral visits this year—including President Zardari’s recent visit to China for the Asian Games and the planned visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to Pakistan this December—are compelling evidence to a durable Sino-Pakistan relationship for the foreseeable future.

    Photo: A baby cries as his mother joins the scramble for food aid packages on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh in Punjab.
    Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

    Under the Radar News 12.10.10

    Posted on by Amy Chang

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

  • After decades of importing and reverse-engineering Russian arms, China can now produce many of its own advanced weapons—including high-tech fighter jets like the Su-27 (model for the Chinese J-11 fighter)—and is on the verge of building an aircraft carrier.

  • The Philippines is due to ink a significant military hardware deal with China.

  • Upon constructing a lighthouse in a disputed area of the South China Sea, China maintains that it has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands.

  • Chinese steel giant Sinosteel Corporation and Australia's Rio Tinto signed an agreement to extend cooperation at the Australian Channar iron ore mine.

  • Taiwan is preparing for the mass production of the Hsiung Feng 2E (HF-2E) land attack cruise missile (LACM) and the Hsiung Feng 3 (HF-3) anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM).

  • Laos, one of Asia's poorest countries, inaugurated a $1.3 billion hydroelectric dam. The dam is expected to bring in $2 billion over the next 25 years and significantly helps its economic growth. However, social and environmental problems remain outstanding.

  • Southeast Asian central banks consider an eventual currency convergence to strengthen economic cooperation between the neighboring nations.

  • In an effort to maintain strong bilateral naval exchanges, the Chinese guided-missile frigate Xiangfan made a port call to Vietnam after 10th Sino-Vietnamese joint patrol in the Beibu Gulf.

  • Iranian defector claims ongoing nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran, including North Korea technicians travelling to Iran.

  • After the implementation of a 70,000 yuan government subsidy, sales of Chinese electric vehicles have increased in select cities (Hefei, Shanghai, Changchun, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou).

  • For more from Project 2049, follow us on Twitter.

    Under the Radar News - 12.03.10

    Posted on Friday, December 3, 2010 by Tiffany Ma

    A weekly compilation of underreported events in Asia

    China and Pakistan agree to launch a new US$13 billion Five-Year Development Plan to further bolster economic cooperation between the two countries. Projects involve the development of infrastructure, energy, agriculture, fisheries, and communication.

    Suspicion over China’s allegiance on the inter-Korean conflict and its ambivalent attitude erodes South Korean trust in its largest business partner.

    The missile destroyer U.S.S. Mustin arrived in Cambodia on a goodwill visit, the naval crews of both countries will conduct community service projects.

    The U.S. seeks support for retaining the U.S.-operated Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan; Secretary of State Clinton also offered a fuel deal as an incentive.

    In an effort to streamline their armed forces, Taiwan's military will trim over one hundred generals by 2015.

    China considers a sale of advanced fighters, air defense systems, helicopters, tanks, and mobile artillery to Bangladesh.

    Japan will engage in a large-scale military exercise with the U.S. amidst rising tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands. Ships from the U.S. Seventh Fleet and the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. George Washington will take part in the exercise.

    A Senior PRC official argues in favor of protecting the intellectual property rights of Chinese copycat manufacturers.

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates approved a list of essential counterinsurgency skills to be incorporated into training for troops headed to Afghanistan.

    The son of jailed former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian wins a local city council election despite charges of family corruption and scandal.

    Jump to TOP