Artillery: China Supersizes Counterbattery


August 11, 2011: The Chinese Second Artillery Corps controls most of China’s long range ballistic missiles. Most of these are aimed at Taiwan, or American aircraft carriers. But the leadership of the Second Artillery has more ambitious plans. For example, the Second Artillery recently held a training exercise in which some of its missiles were used (in a simulated fashion) to try and knock out hostile mobile ballistic missiles before they could be fired. This is an ancient artillery tactic (called counterbattery fire), but has rarely been used (or planned for use) against mobile ballistic missiles. The key to hitting mobile ballistic missiles is finding out where the targets are, especially if they are moving. Apparently the Chinese believe they have this covered, or perhaps they are planning to get this done in the near future.

In the meantime, the Second Artillery Corps regularly holds training exercises with the army, acting as a long range artillery capability for the army, hitting targets that the usual army artillery and rockets cannot reach.

Second Artillery Corps is spread over several provinces, and has been expanding over the last few years. This includes adding two brigades apparently armed with the long rumored Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D. This gives the Second Artillery Corps ten DF-21 brigades, plus brigades with several other types of missiles. Each of the DF-21 missile brigades has six missile battalions (with two mobile launchers each), two maintenance and repair battalions, a site management battalion, a signal battalion and an electronic countermeasures (ECM) battalion. The DF-21D is mainly intended for use against the USN (U.S. Navy), particularly the aircraft carriers.

The other eight DF-21 brigades use older models. The basic DF-21 is a 15 ton, two stage, solid fuel missile that is 10.7 meters (35 feet) long and 140cm (4.6 feet) in diameter. Range varies (from 1,700-3,000 kilometers) depending on model. While the 500-2,000 kg (.5-2 ton) warhead usually contains a nuclear weapon, it is believed that China also has a conventional warhead. This would be used against targets in Taiwan, since the DF-21, as a longer range ballistic missile, comes down on the target faster than the thousand or so shorter range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. That means that the DS-21 is too fast for the Pac-3 anti-missile missiles Taiwan is installing around crucial installations.

Meanwhile, as far as anyone knows, or will admit, the complete DF-21D system has not yet been tested, although the recent training exercises, hitting a mobile target, is what the DF-21D was designed for. There may have been some tests of the DF-21D over the last two years, and all the components of the system are apparently present and working. There are photos of DF-21Ds on TELs (transporter erector launcher vehicles), and announcements of new units activated last year. There have been other indicators as well.

For example, two years ago, China launched another "remote sensing" satellite, joining two others in a similar orbit. These three birds are moving in formation, at an altitude of 600 kilometers, across the Pacific. Equipped with either radar (SAR, or synthetic aperture radar) or digital cameras, these three birds can scan the ocean for ships, even though the Chinese say their purpose is purely scientific. A typical SAR can produce photo quality images at different resolutions. At medium resolution (3 meters) the radar covers an area 40x40 kilometers. Low resolution (20 meters) covers 100x100 kilometers. This three satellite Chinese posse looks suspiciously like a military ocean surveillance system. This is the missing link for the rumored Chinese ballistic missile system for attacking American aircraft carriers.

For nearly six years, there have been stories (in the West) about how China was working on targeting systems for its ballistic missiles, which would enable them to seek out and hit aircraft carriers. Such sensors would use infrared (heat seeking) technology for their final approach. This sort of thing had been discussed for decades, but China appeared (according to pundits and headline hungry media) to be putting together tactics, and missile systems, that could make this all happen. The key was having multiple sensor systems (either satellites, submarines or maritime patrol aircraft) that could find the general location of the carrier, before launching the ballistic missile (like a DF-21, with a range of 1,700 kilometers). Those sensors appear to be operational, as do the other elements needed to make the DF-21D work.


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