U.S. intelligence agencies recently confirmed China’s development of a new intermediate-range nuclear missile (IRBM) called the Dongfeng-26C (DF-26C), U.S. officials said.
The new missile is estimated to have a range of at least 2,200 miles—enough for Chinese military forces to conduct attacks on U.S. military facilities in Guam, a major hub for the Pentagon’s shift of U.S. forces to Asia Pacific.
As part of the force posture changes, several thousand Marines now based in Okinawa will be moved to Guam as part of the Asia pivot.
In April, the Pentagon announced it is deploying one of its newest anti-missile systems, the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to Guam because of growing missile threats to the U.S. island, located in the South Pacific some 1,600 miles southeast of Japan and 4,000 miles from Hawaii.
And on Feb. 10, the Navy announced the deployment of a fourth nuclear attack submarine to Guam, the USS Topeka.
Chinese military officials said the Topeka deployment is part of the Pentagon’s Air Sea Battle Concept and posed a threat to China.
Disclosure of the new Chinese IRBM follows the announcement this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the U.S. military is sharply reducing its military forces.
"How can [U.S. policymakers] possibly justify such reductions in defense spending when American forces as far away as Guam, Korea, and Okinawa are targeted by these nuclear missiles," said one official familiar with reports of the DF-26C.
It was the first official confirmation of China’s new IRBM, which officials believe is part of the People’s Liberation Army military buildup aimed at controlling the Asia Pacific waters and preventing the U.S. military entry to the two island chains along China’s coasts.
The first island chain extends from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands southward and east of the Philippines and covers the entire South China Sea. The second island chain stretches more than a thousand miles into the Pacific in an arc from Japan westward and south to western New Guinea.
Few details could be learned about the new missile and a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on intelligence matters.
The missile is said to be on a road-mobile chassis and to use solid fuel. The fuel and mobility allow the missile to be hidden in underground facilities and fired on short notice, making it very difficult to counter in a conflict.
The DF-26C is expected to be mentioned in the Pentagon’s forthcoming annual report on China’s military power, which is due to Congress next month.
Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told a congressional hearing this week that missile and other nuclear threats from China and Russia continue to grow.
"The current security environment is more complex, dynamic, and uncertain than at any time in recent history," Haney said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Advances of significant nation state and non-state military capabilities continue across all air, sea, land, and space domains—as well as in cyberspace. This trend has the potential to adversely impact strategic stability."
Russia and China in particular "are investing in long-term and wide-ranging military modernization programs to include extensive modernization of their strategic capabilities," Haney said. "Nuclear weapons ambitions and the proliferation of weapon and nuclear technologies continue, increasing risk that countries will resort to nuclear coercion in regional crises or nuclear use in future conflicts."
Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, said Chinese reports have discussed a DF-26 missile as a medium-range or intermediate-range system. Medium-range is considered between 621 miles and 1,864 miles. Intermediate-range is between 1,864 and 3,418 miles
Online reports of three new types of medium- and intermediate-range missiles have said the weapons could be multi-role systems capable of firing nuclear or conventional warheads, along with maneuvering anti-ship and hypersonic warheads, Fisher said.
According to Fisher, two likely transporter erector launchers (TEL) for the new missiles were displayed last year on Chinese websites. They include two versions from missile TEL manufacturing companies called Sanjiang and Taian.
Three years ago, the state-run Global Times reported that the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) was working on a new 2,400-mile range missile that would be deployed by 2015.
That Chinese manufacturer also produced the DF-21 missile, prompting speculation that the DF-26C is a follow-up version of that system.
"China is developing and will soon deploy new longer-range theater missiles as part of its anti-access, area denial strategies, to be part of a combined force of new long-range bombers armed with supersonic anti-ship missiles, plus space weapons and larger numbers of submarines," Fisher said in an email.
These forces are being deployed to push U.S. forces out of the first island chain and to have the capability to reach the second chain, including Guam, he said.
"China also consistently refuses to consider formal dialogue about its future nuclear forces or to consider any near term limits on them," Fisher said. "China is giving Washington and its Asian allies no other choice but to pursue an ‘armed peace’ in Asia."
According to Fisher, the Chinese missile buildup has forced the Navy to redesign its first aircraft carrier-based unmanned combat vehicle into a larger and longer aircraft.
The new Chinese long-range missiles also highlight the urgent need for a new U.S. long-range bomber to replace an aging fleet of strategic bombers.
To counter the Chinese threats, the United States should field its force of anti-ship ballistic missiles on submarines to match Chinese capabilities and deter China from using its naval power against U.S. allies such as Japan and the Philippines, Fisher said.
Russian officials have cited China’s intermediate-range missiles as one reason Moscow is seeking to jettison the U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans medium and intermediate ballistic and cruise missiles.
U.S. officials have said Russia is violating the INF treaty with a new cruise missile and testing its long-range missiles to INF ranges.
"It is time to retire the INF treaty because the United States now requires this class of missiles in order to deter China," Fisher said.
"The bottom line: We are in an arms race with China and if America falters, so will our strategic position in Asia, which will surely increase the chances of conflict, nuclear proliferation and even nuclear war."
The Pentagon’s latest report on China’s military forces, published last year, said the PLA is investing in "a series of advanced short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter-space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities."
The weapons "appear designed to enable anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) missions, what PLA strategists refer to as ‘counter-intervention operations,’" the report said.
The Washington Free Beacon first reported on March 7, 2012, that the Chinese military had revealed online photos of a new intermediate-range nuclear missile.
The new missile is believed by U.S. officials to be the DF-26C.
China’s military frequently uses the Internet to reveal the first photos of new weapons systems.
Analysts said the missile TEL shown in the photo is smaller in size than China’s DF-31 intercontinental missile and larger than the DF-21 missile.