January 13, 2010: China has followed a different path in developing strategic weapons. It hasn't. Although the technology was available from Russia, China has, instead, concentrated on creating more accurate, and cheaper, shorter range weapons. This appears to be in recognition of the fact that a war involving nuclear armed ICBMs would be a losing proposition, with no winners. This would be especially true against the United States. In effect, China has dropped out that arms race. With only a few dozen ICBMs, none of which can reach all of the United States, China sees most of the long range ballistic missiles it has as non-nuclear weapons. The only Chinese missiles of this type, armed with nuclear warheads, are aimed at Russia, and perhaps Japan, the two nations that might, for historical reasons, be tempted to threaten China with nuclear attack. Meanwhile, China has created a line of shorter range ballistic and cruise missiles meant for non-nuclear war.
Take, for example, the continued rumors about the DF-21 ballistic missile being equipped with a high-explosive warhead and a guidance system that can find and hit a aircraft carrier at sea. The DF-21 has a range of over 1800 kilometers and can also haul a 300 kiloton nuclear warhead. It's a two stage, 15 ton, solid fuel rocket that could carry a half ton penetrating, high-explosive warhead, along with the special guidance system (a radar and image recognition system).
As the story goes, the Chinese have reverse engineered, reinvented or stolen the 1970s technology that went into the U.S. Pershing ballistic missile. This 7.5 ton U.S. Army missile also had an 1,800 kilometers range, and could put its nuclear warhead within 30 meters of its aim point. This was possible because the guidance system had its own radar.
The Chinese have long been rumored to have a system like this, but there have been no tests. If the Chinese do succeed in creating a "carrier killer" version of the DF-21, the U.S. Navy can modify its Aegis anti-missile system to protect carriers against such attacks. There are also electronic warfare options, to blind the DF-21 radar. Another problem the Chinese will have is getting a general idea of where the target carrier is before they launch the DF-21. This is not impossible, but can be difficult.
This kind of accuracy made the Russians very uncomfortable, as it made their command bunkers vulnerable. The Russians eventually agreed to a lot of nuclear and missile disarmament deals in order to get the Pershings decommissioned in the 1980s. Now Russia is concerned about the Chinese use of this guidance system, and wants the Chinese to join existing treaties that forbid them. China refuses.
China also continues developing long range cruise missiles, and adapting them to operate from aircraft. The latest missile to get this treatment is the DH-10. This weapon is similar to early U.S. cruise missiles, and has a range of 1,500-3,000 kilometers and uses GPS, along with terrain mapping. The DH-10 was first shown publicly in the recent 60th anniversary of the communists taking control of China, on October 1st.) The aircraft carried version is called the CJ-10. This is believed to be based on some American cruise missile technology.
While China has also developed anti-ship missiles similar to the U.S. Harpoon and French Exocet. But these are only effective on a modern aircraft that can maneuver and are equipped with electronic countermeasures to enable it to get close enough to a well defended target (like a U.S. Navy task force.) China, however, has both old and new aircraft assigned to its naval aviation force.
China is also replacing older short range ballistic missiles with GPS guided 406mm missiles, carried in self-propelled rocket launchers. The WS-2 system consists of an 8x8 truck mounting six canisters, each holding a 1.3 ton, 406mm WS-2 rocket. The WS-2 has a max range of 200 kilometers. Warheads can be as large as 200 kilograms (440 pounds), for the 70 kilometers range version. At 200 kilometers, the warhead is about half that size. The warheads use cluster bomb munitions. The WS-3 version has GPS guidance, a smaller warhead and a longer range (over 300 kilometers). This enables the missile to hit targets all over Taiwan. While the original WS-2 rocket was unguided, and could land within 600 meters of the aiming point at maximum range. The WS-3, using GPS or inertial navigation, as well as terminal homing guidance, can take out key installations on Taiwan.
The WS-2 is similar to the U.S. 610mm, 1.8 ton ATACMS rocket, which has GPS guidance and a range of 300 kilometers. Each ATACMS rocket costs about a million dollars. The WS-2 rocket probably goes for less than $100,000 each, although the WS-3 probably costs several times that.