Dragon's teeth - Chinese missiles raise their game
By Robert Hewson
China now builds and supplies missiles that can be used in combat from the beach, across the coastal/littoral environment, and out to extended-range engagements far over the horizon. This has largely been achieved through an evolutionary process of staged improvement.
At the same time, China has shown that it can embrace entirely new concepts to serve the essential operational requirements of the People's Liberation Army, the navy and naval air force, and the air force.
The potential use of tactical ballistic missiles against targets at sea is the best example of this and the intent that drives the process is clear: China has spent a great deal of time analysing how best to neutralise US naval forces in the Pacific - in particular the carrier strike groups.
The C-602 stands apart from the rest of China's anti-ship missiles because it is such a radical departure in terms of range and accuracy. It is effectively a cruise missile, repackaged for the maritime attack role. Its basic design is clearly scalable and the C-602's performance today is probably at the lower end of this configuration's theoretical capabilities. It has been offered on the export market since 2005.
At first sight the C-602 export designation would suggest a linkage to the much older C-601 missile (YJ-6/YJ-61 family), a 1960s-era Chinese design based on the Soviet SS-N-2 'Styx'. However, the turbojet-powered C-602 is a completely new, very modern design with a maximum range of 280 km.
Most of what China has accomplished in the development of its anti-ship missile -capabilities parallels that of Europe, the US and elsewhere. But one element of China's ship-killing strategy stands out as a remarkable application of technology, and an unprecedented threat.
In Chinese terms, this is a Shashaojian - the assassin's mace - a 'silver bullet' weapon that would, literally, drop from the clear blue sky.
A 2004 report by the US Office of Naval Intelligence made it plain that China was developing the capability to use its DF-21 tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) against tar¬gets at sea. The DF-21 carries a single warhead of about 500/600 kg over a distance of 1,500 km to 2,000 km, or more.
Designed as a nuclear delivery system, the DF-21 can also be fitted with a conventional payload. If made to work, such a weapon would be a 'carrier killer' without equal.