Photos of what appear to be a new Chinese intermediate-range "strategic" missile have appeared on Chinese websites. The missile’s existence is prompting U.S. intelligence agencies to examine whether China’s military has secretly produced another new weapons system as part of its large-scale buildup.
The new road-mobile missile was shown deployed on a transporter-erector launcher. It is the latest indication that China’s military is moving forward with at least four other long-range precision guided missiles that threaten U.S. and Asian security.
The camouflage-painted missile was shown as it was photographed from a passing car. It first appeared online Feb. 29 on at least two Chinese military web sites.
The new missile was described in online posts as a "strategic" missile, meaning it is likely capable of being armed with nuclear warheads.
U.S. intelligence agencies were recently alerted to the new missile and officials say it is being analyzed closely.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the photos.
The disclosure appears to be another manifestation of China’s growing nationalism and boasting of military prowess. China often showcases new weapons systems around the time of major Communist Party meetings. Two major nationwide sessions in Beijing—the annual National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress—are currently underway.
Chinese military bloggers said the new missile is different from the already deployed DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile, and also six feet longer than the DF-21 medium-range missile.
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center who specializes in Chinese military affairs, said the 12 wheels on the transporter indicate the system is likely an intermediate-range missile, meaning it has a range of between 1,864 miles and 3,418 miles.
"China's new IRBM has two targets: the United States and India," Fisher said in an interview. "This missile can cover Guam, the future U.S. strategic redoubt, from most of eastern China, as it will give the [People’s Liberation Army] a new missile to counter India's new Agni nuclear missiles, which will also allow the PLA to concentrate their ICBMs on U.S. and Russian targets."
Fisher said the Chinese continue to reject U.S. and other nations’ calls to be more transparent about their strategic nuclear forces and to engage in nuclear talks about the future nuclear balance.
The latest photographs suggest the Chinese are continuing to develop more nuclear missiles.
The Obama administration’s response to these developments, Fisher noted, "is to unilaterally disarm: fewer and fewer U.S. ICBM warheads, and now no U.S. nuclear-armed regional missiles after the retirement of the TLAM-N nuclear cruise missile."
He added, "The message being sent to Beijing is this: if you continue to build up your nuclear missile forces, the United States will reward you by reducing theirs."
The Pentagon is currently completing a nuclear-forces review that mandates the military examine lowering the number of U.S. nuclear warheads to between 300 and 400 warheads—fewer than in the current Chinese nuclear arsenal.
According to Fisher, China's new nuclear-armed intermediate-range missile is a strong indicator that in Asia, the Chinese military’s warfighting strategy may call for early and offensive use of nuclear forces.
Recent cuts in the U.S. nuclear deterrent force are not likely to be met with any Chinese restraint or transparency, he said.
"The lesson is clear," Fisher said. "The United States has to get back into the medium-range missile business to deter China."
For the United States to begin building intermediate-range missiles, both cruise and ballistic, it would have to abrogate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.
One first step would be to develop a variant of the long-range SM-3 surface to air anti-missile interceptor using a precision-guided seeker capable of attacking naval and land targets, Fisher said.
The first indication of a new IRBM came a year ago when China’s state-run Global Times newspaper reported that the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) was planning a new 4,000 kilometer range intermediate range ballistic missile by 2015.
The transporter-launcher shown in the photos released recently indicate that it was produced by the CASIC Sanjiang Space Group. That missile producer also makes China’s DF-11 short-range missile and the DF-21 medium-range missile.
The new missile is likely to designated as the DF-25, DF-26, or DF-27.
A variant of the DF-21 is a major concern to the U.S. military because it is a precision-guided system capable of hitting U.S. aircraft carriers at sea hundreds of miles from China’s coasts.
The launcher for the new missile is about 25 to 30 percent larger than the DF-21 missile, but smaller in size than the intermediate-range road-mobile missiles known as the DF-31 and DF-31A.
Analysts believe the new IRBM will provide China with more precise targeting of U.S. forces in Asia and against India.
"From the region stretching from Beijing to Hainan Island, the PLA could handily reach Guam with this new missile," Fisher said. "Guam is intended to be the new center for U.S. forces in East Asia, to both reduce dependence on the Japanese isles, and to lessen the vulnerabilities faced by U.S. forces in Okinawa."
The missile also could be equipped with an enhanced version of the precision-guided warhead used on the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile.
If so, the new missile is yet another weapon the Pentagon is calling "anti-access, area denial" capabilities designed to force the Untied States further away from Asia and thus give China greater power to enforce maritime claims and control over strategic waterways in Asia.
The photos, as shown below, were posted under the thread titled "Damn! This Stuff Is Even Beyond DF-41; It Should Be Called Divine Horse/ Instrument."