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Missile Last updated: December, 2014

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, “China produces a broad range of sophisticated ballistic, cruise, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles.” [1] China is actively modernizing its nuclear delivery systems, which include ballistic missiles, bombers, and new-generation submarines.


View 3D Models of China Ballistic Missiles

The majority of China's existing nuclear delivery systems were designed in the 1960s and 1970s, and it is in the process of modernizing many of its missile systems. At the same time, it maintains a nuclear doctrine based on a minimum deterrent. For example, China’s 2013 Defense White Paper notes that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Force is “primarily responsible for deterring other countries from using nuclear weapons against China.” [2] Beijing has portrayed current modernizations as updates, rather than additions, to its missile force, with a special focus on enhancing the survivability of its nuclear deterrent.

Missile Table for China
 

U.S. policymakers have noted transfers of missile components and related technology by Chinese entities to nations of concern, most notably to Iran and Pakistan. [3] In 2002, China issued missile-related export control regulations and a control list, which was mostly in accordance with the control list issued by Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). [4] Beijing has engaged in consultation with the MTCR and in 2004 applied to join the regime, but its application has so far been blocked by current members, particularly the United States, who believe that China's missile-related export controls are still too weak. [5] The latest developments in China’s missile program include the successful testing in January 2014 of a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. [6] However, China’s most recent test of an HGV in August of 2014 likely was unsuccessful. [7]

Capabilities

See the table of China's ballistic and cruise missile inventory. China possesses significant missile capabilities, ranging from short-range systems to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and is currently transitioning away from its older and relatively inaccurate liquid-fueled, silo/cave-based missiles, towards more accurate, solid-fueled road-mobile missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in order to strengthen its deterrent and increase its strategic options. The country also continues to invest in the development of several types of cruise missiles capable of standoff, precision strikes.

History

Ballistic Missiles
The vast majority of China's nuclear-capable missile force is land-based, and much of China's nuclear delivery system modernization has been focused in this area. China has several types of operational land-based systems that are nuclear-capable: the medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) Dongfeng (DF)-3 and DF-21/21A, intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) DF-4, and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) DF-5/5A and DF-31/31A/31B. [8] China also has deployed nuclear capable short-range DF-11 and DF-15 missiles; however, most of China's estimated 1,000-2,000 short-range missiles are aimed at Taiwan and unlikely to be armed with nuclear warheads. [9]

China is currently in the process of modernizing its ballistic missile inventory. The upgraded version of the DF-3 — first deployed in 1971 — is the new DF-21/21A; the upgraded versions of the DF-4 — which started operation in 1981 — are the DF-21 and DF-31; and the upgraded version of the DF-5/5A — deployed in 1981 — is the DF-31A. [10] The DF-31 and DF-31A, deployed in 2006 and 2007 respectively, are both road-mobile, solid-fueled missiles and have shortened launch preparation times. [11] In 2014, China accidentally acknowledged possession of a DF-26C medium-range ICBM. The missile, known as the “Guam killer,” has a reported range of 3,500 km. [12] China also acknowledged the existence of DF-41 missiles after the Shaanxi Environmental Monitoring Center released security regulations related to the development of the DF-41. [13] The missile reportedly has a range of 12,000 km. [14] The new additions can be seen as more survivable replacements in order to maintain China’s nuclear deterrent. However, it is unclear whether the older missiles will continue to be deployed alongside the newer ones, which would amount to a quantitative increase in China’s ballistic missile arsenal.

Furthermore, China continues to develop technologies for  ballistic missile defense countermeasures including “maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRV), multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV), decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and ASAT weapons.” [15] China has also begun development on missile defense intercept systems, related to their established anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons systems, and has tested these systems on multiple occasions. [16] There is speculation that China could use a DF-31-type re-entry vehicle for a MIRV payload sometime in the near future. The DF-31 and JL-2 will also likely employ GPS technology for improved accuracy. This will strengthen China's deterrent and enhance its strategic strike capabilities.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles
China's first ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) the Xia-class, or Type-092, has yet to be used for deterrence patrols. It first became operational in 1981 and has since undergone numerous refits. In 2008, China's single Xia-class SSBN left dry dock at the Jianggezhuang Naval Base near Qingdao, on China's eastern coast, where it had undergone a multi-year overhaul. [17] However, whether it will finally become operational or function as a test platform remains uncertain. The Xia-class submarine can deploy 12 Julang-1 (JL-1) missiles, which are China's first generation of operational submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). [18]

China has launched three Jin-class or Type-094 SSBNs, which are expected to replace the Xia-class. These new SSBNs have 12 launch tubes each and deploy a longer range SLBM, the Julang-2 (JL-2), that is the sea-based version of the DF-31. [19] In 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense reported the three Type-094 SSBNs are currently operational, while “up to five may enter surface” before the next generation of SSBNs is operational. [20]A next-generation undersea deterrent in the form of the Jin-class SSBN and the JL-2 would amount to China’s first credible sea-based nuclear capability and would give Beijing greater strategic options to hedge against sudden shifts in the international security environment. [21]  China is also developing a next-generation SSBN called Type 096. It is expected to become operational in the next decade. [22]

Cruise Missiles
China continues to invest in its cruise missile programs and is currently developing and testing several different models of advanced land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) that are capable of standoff, precision strikes. [23] China's first LACM was the ground-launched Hongniao-1 (HN-1), which has a range of 600 km and can carry a 300 to 400 kg conventional warhead or a 90 kT nuclear warhead. The HN-1 is believed to use inertial guidance with terrain comparison or GPS updates. An improved version, the DH-10 (CJ-10), has an increased range of more than 1,500 km and can be ground- or ship-launched. [24] China has approximately 200 to 500 DH-10 missiles and between 40 and 55 launchers , and while these missiles may be capable of fielding a nuclear warhead, they currently appear to be conventionally armed. [25]

Anti-Ship Missiles
As a part of China's anti-access strategy it is also developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) based on a variant of the DF-21 MRBM (DF-21D). In a cross-strait conflict this could counter third party intervention. The missile has a range of 1,500 km, is armed with a maneuverable warhead, and is intended to provide the PLA the capability to attack ships at sea, including aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean. [26] With regard to anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), “The PLA Navy has or is acquiring nearly a dozen ASCM variants, ranging from the 1950s-era CSS-N-2 to the modern Russian-made SS-N-22 and SS-N-27B.” [27] In addition, the PLA Navy has developed the YJ-12 ASCM. It reportedly has a range of 400km, making it one of the longest-range ASCMs. [28]

Chinese Missile Exports and the MTCR
Though China in the past has transferred missile technology to countries of proliferation concern such as Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, Beijing has taken steps to develop and strengthen its export control legal infrastructure. Nevertheless, concerns remain about Chinese enforcement of these new rules.

In its missile sales, as with its conventional arms sales in general, China's official policy states that the weapons being exported:
(1) Must be meant for legitimate self-defense;
(2) Must contribute to regional stability; and
(3) Must not be intended for interference in another country's internal affairs. [29]

China developed the “M” class of short-range ballistic missiles for export in the 1980s as a source of hard currency to continue funding defense research and development during the early stages of the country’s economic reform. [30] Sales included transfers of M-11 (DF-11) missiles and technology to Pakistan, M-9 (DF-15) missiles and technology to Syria, and DF-3 missiles to Saudi Arabia. [31] Although Beijing began to make commitments to nuclear nonproliferation during this period, it was less concerned about missiles, which are inefficient weapons without nuclear warheads. It viewed the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as a discriminatory tool by a small group of developed countries, who continued to sell other delivery systems such as combat aircraft while restricting sales of ballistic missiles, in which developing countries such as China had invested heavily. [32]

However, in the 1990s China's views on missile nonproliferation slowly began to change. In response to U.S. pressure, including sanctions imposed in 1991 for transfers of missiles and technology to Pakistan, and Syria, China issued a unilateral pledge to abide by MTCR guidelines. [33] Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the United States intermittently placed sanctions on China or Chinese entities for missile-related transfers to countries of proliferation concern, while also occasionally lifting sanctions in response to Chinese pledges with regard to export controls and MTCR guidelines. [34]

In a major policy development, China promulgated the long-awaited regulations on missile-related transfers in August 2002 entitled Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Export Control of Missiles and Missile-related Items and Technologies, and Missiles and Missile-related Items and Technologies Export Control List. These regulations appeared to demonstrate Beijing's increasing willingness to abide by international norms at controlling missile trade. [35] The 2002 regulations and control list were relatively comprehensive and in some fields are stricter than MTCR guidelines. The regulations also follow the MTCR's "presumption of denial" approach, requiring specific approval and an export license for exports to authorized end-users. [36]

In September 2003, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing indicated to the chair of the MTCR that China was ready to positively consider membership in the MTCR. In a statement at the Plenary for the 2004 session of the Conference on Disarmament, Ambassador Hu Xiaodi announced the start of the first round of China-MTCR dialogues in Paris. [37] According to Liu Jianchao, the Spokesman of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China reaffirmed its willingness to join the MTCR in the second round of China-MTCR dialogues. [38] However, China’s application to the MTCR is still under review, as entities in China continue to provide missile production assistance and components to developing nations. [39]

Recent Developments and Current Status

China continues to actively develop new missile technologies such as highly accurate cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles, as well as to modernize its existing ballistic missile arsenal by introducing newer versions that have longer ranges, increased accuracy, and increased survivability. [40] Within the past half-decade China has deployed the DF-31 and DF-31A road-mobile ICBMs, the DH-10 LACM, and in 2007, successfully tested anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. [41] China has also begun development and testing of missile defense interceptors and tested these interceptors in 11 January of 2010, 27 January 2013, and July 2014. [42] The PLA Navy is also developing the DF-21D ASBM and the JL-2 SLBM. The DF-21D ASBM system has already entered limited military service, but is scheduled to be fully completed and deployed by 2015. [43] With this modernization, Beijing seeks to increase its capability to shape and respond to the dynamic security environment. In September 2014, China conducted a flight test of its DF-31B ICBM at the Wuzhai test center in Shanxi Province. The DF-31B, an upgraded version of the DF-31A, has an estimated range of 10,000km. [44]

Despite the continued existence of export control legislation in China that aligns with MTCR guidelines, China is not a member of the regime, and Chinese entities likely continue to proliferate missile-related technology that could support national missile programs, including to Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea. [45] The trend in these proliferation activities has been toward “more ambiguous technical assistance (vs. transfers of hardware), longer range missiles, more indigenous capabilities, and secondary (i.e., retransferred) proliferation.” [46]

Sources:
[1] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2011, www.defense.gov.
[2] Information Office, State Council of the People's Republic of China, "中国武装力量的多样化运用 [The Diversified Employment of China's Armed Forces]," 16 April 2013, www.xinhuanet.com.
[3] Office of the Director of National Intelligence (U.S), “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, Covering 1 January to 31 December 2011,” www.dni.gov.
[4] “外交部:防扩散合作将成为中美关系亮点 [Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Nonproliferation Cooperation will be the Highlight of China-U.S. Relations],” Sina News, 20 November 2002, http://news.sina.com.cn.
[5] Shirley A. Kan, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” CRS Report RL31555, 21 May 2006, via: www.fas.org.
[6] “Strategic Weapons Systems”, Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment-China and Northeast Asia, Janes Defence Weekly, 14 January 2014.
[7] Jeremy Bender, “The US and China Are In A Race To Develop Next-Generation Hypersonic Missiles,” Business Insider, 3 September 2014, www.businessinsider.com; James Acton, Catherine Dill, and Jeffrey Lewis, “Crashing Glider, Hidden Hotspring: Analyzing China’s August 7, 2014 Hypersonic Glider Test,” 4 September 2014, www.armscontrolwonk.com.
[8] Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66(6), p. 135-136, http://bos.sagepub.com.
[9] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2013, www.defense.gov.
[10] Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2010,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66(6), p. 135-136, http://bos.sagepub.com.
[11] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2011, www.defense.gov.
[12] “‘Guam Killer’ Missile Inadvertently Revealed in China: Report,” Want China Times, 11 September 2014, www.wantchinatimes.com.
[13]“陕西环境监测站报告揭开我国最强战略武器的面纱” [Shaanxi Environmental Monitoring Center Report Removes the Veil of China’s Strongest Strategic Weapon], 2 August 2014, 人民政协报, www.rmzxb.com.cn.
[14] “China ‘confirms new generation long range missiles’,” The Telegraph, 1 August 2014, www.telegraph.co.uk.
[15] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People's Republic of China 2009,” www.defense.gov; U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2012, www.defense.gov.
[16] Leonard David, “China’s Potential Anti-Satellite Test Sparks US Concern,” Space Insider, SPACE.com, 8 January 2013, www.space.com.
[17] Hans M. Kristensen, “China’s Xia-Class SSBN Leaves Dry Dock,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 3 August 2008, www.fas.org.
[18] “Type 092 Xia Class SSBN,” GlobalSecurity.org, www.globalsecurity.org.
[19] Robert Sherman, “JL-2 (CSS-NX-4),” Federation of American Scientists, 3 September 1999, www.fas.org.
[20] Hans M. Kristensen, “China’s Bulava?” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 17 August 2010, www.fas.org; Hans M. Kristensen, “Chinese Jin-SSBNs Getting Ready?” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 2 June 2011, www.fas.org; and U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2012, www.defense.gov.
[21] Toshi Yoshihara, James R. Holmes, "China's New Undersea Nuclear Deterrent: Strategy, Doctrine, and Capabilities," Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 50, 3rd Quarter, 2008, pp. 31-38; U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2012, www.defense.gov.
[22] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2013, www.defense.gov.
[23] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2012, www.defense.gov.
[24] "Land-Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM) Hong Niao/Chang Feng" in the China Nuclear Forces Guide, August 2002, www.globalsecurity.org; Duncan Lennox, "China's New Cruise Missile Programme 'Racing Ahead'," Jane's Defence Weekly, 12 January 2000, p. 12.
[25] Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2011,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 67(6), p. 81-87, http://bos.sagepub.com; U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2012, www.defense.gov.
[26] "Ballistic Trajectory- China Develops New Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile," Jane’s Intelligence Review, 4 January 2010.
[27] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2011, www.defense.gov.
[28] “PLA YJ-12 Missile the Most Dangerous Threat to US Navy: US Expert,” Want China Times, 5 July 2014, www.wantchinatimes.com.
[29] Zhou Rong, Speech at the 5th International Defence Exhibition and Seminar, South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI), 24-28 November 2008, www.sassi.org.
[30] Hua Di, "China's Case: Ballistic Missile Proliferation," in The International Missile Bazaar: The New Suppliers' Network, ed. William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), p. 164.
[31] Hua Di, "China's Case: Ballistic Missile Proliferation," in The International Missile Bazaar: The New Suppliers' Network, ed. William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), p. 168-172.
[32] Hua Di, "China's Case: Ballistic Missile Proliferation," in The International Missile Bazaar: The New Suppliers' Network, ed. William C. Potter and Harlan W. Jencks (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), p. 176.
[33] R. Jeffrey Smith, "U.S. Lifts Sanctions against Chinese Firms," The Washington Post, 22 February 1992, p.A15, via: www.lexis-nexis.com.
[34] Shirley A. Kan, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” CRS Report RL31555, 21 May 2006, via: www.fas.org.
[35] Jing-Dong Yuan, "Missile Export Controls Significant Step for Beijing," South China Morning Post, 29 August 2002, via: http://cns.miis.edu; Philip P. Pan, "China Issues Rules on Missile Exports," The Washington Post, 26 August 2002, p. 11.
[36] Phillip Saunders, “Preliminary Analysis of Chinese Missile Technology Export Control List,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 6 September 2002, www.nonproliferation.org.
[37] “Statement by Mr. Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs of China, at the Plenary of the 2004 Session of the Conference on Disarmament (February 12, 2004, Geneva),” Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva, 16 April 2004, www.china-un.ch/eng/.
[38] “中方愿加入第二轮导弹及其技术控制制度对话会 [The Second Round of China-MTCR Dialogue],” Sohu News, 3 June 2004, http://news.sohu.com.
[39] Mary Beth Nikitin, Paul K. Kerr, and Steven A. Hildreth, “Proliferation Control Regimes: Background and Status,” Congressional Research Service, 25 October 2012, p. 35, http://fas.org.
[40] U.S. Department of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” 2012, www.defense.gov.
[41] Carin Zissis, "China’s Anti-Satellite Test," February 2007, www.cfr.org.
[42] Anne Tang, ed., “China Reaffirms its Missile Interception Test Defensive,” Xinhua News Agency, 12 January 2012, www.news.xinhuanet.com; Zhu Ningzhu, ed., “China Carries Out Land-based Mid-course Missile Interception Test,” Xinhua News Agency, 28 January 2013, www.news.xinhuanet.com; Wendell Minnick, “China Developing Capabilities To Kill Satellites, Experts Say,” Defense News, 4 August 2014, www.defensenews.com; “China Conducts Successful Land-based Missile Interception Test,” Xinhua News Agency, 24 July 2014, http://news.xinhuanet.com; Mark Gruss, "U.S. State Department: China Tested Anti-satellite Weapon," Space News, 28 July 2014, www.spacenews.com.
[43] Zhang Han, Huang Jingjing and Song Shengxia, “New Missile ‘Ready by 2015’: Global Times,” People’s Daily, 18 February 2011, www.english.peopledaily.com.cn.
[44] “China tests 10,000-km range nuclear missile,” The Hindu, 4 September 2014, www.thehindu.com. 
[45] Office of the Director of National Intelligence (U.S), “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, Covering 1 January to 31 December 2011,” www.dni.gov.
[46] Shirley A. Kan, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” CRS Report RL31555, 21 May 2006, via: www.fas.org.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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  • Actively modernizing the delivery systems of its nuclear triad
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