Friday, July 14, 2006

Chinese MIRVs

A while back I noted that China's missile forces were, well, sub-par. But that we should take notice if China replaced it's outdated missiles with multiple warheads. It seems Beijing is doing just that, and more:
Good Defense News article (subscription only) on the deployment of the DF-31 and the DF-31A. These are the first Chinese missiles capable of MIRVing (3-5 warheads each of up to 150 kilotons). The former have an 8000 mile range, which simply reinforces and expands existing Chinese strategic capability. The latter, however, has a 12500 mile range, which makes possible the targeting of the entire United States and all of Europe. Defense News says that the deployment of 60 DF-31s is expected, but doesn't give figures for the DF-31A. In any case, we can expect that the number of Chinese missiles capable of reaching the US will triple or quadruple in the next four or five years.

China has also begun construction of the Jin class, its first group of genuine SSBN. My guess is that the first will enter service in 2008 or 2009. Each will be able to carry 16 SLBM versions of the DF-31. It will be interesting to watch how the PLAN deploys these boats in the next ten to fifteen years. Soviet naval doctrine was designed primarily to protect SSBN sanctuaries, but the Chinese seem to expect the PLAN to play a more active conventional role. We'll see how they weigh those two roles.
As Rob notes, this has no immediate effect on Washington's policies except to bury the idea of missile defense - no BMD system will be able to respond to hundreds of warheads coming from China and Chinese submarines. This greatly expands China's capacity to deter the US in the long run, and maybe the not-so-long run. If China can put two or three of these submarines - with missile complements - in the water by 2010 or so, I'd say China would have a pretty free hand with Taiwan.

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