Publication: The Military Balance 2016
09 February 2016
At its September 2015 military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of victory in the Second World War, China showed several new or upgraded ballistic-missile systems for the first time. The appearance of weapons including the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and the DF-5B (US reporting name: CSS-4 Mod. 3) liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) served as a reminder that Beijing is continuing to make significant strides in ballistic-missile research and development (R&D).
Given the lack of transparency concerning China’s strategic weapons, there has been long-standing uncertainty over the nature of its strategic R&D projects, whether it was capable of bringing them all to fruition and what impact these programmes would have on the structure and capability of the country’s nuclear forces. The limited deployment of the DF-31A (CSS-10) ICBM and long-running difficulties with the JL-2 (CSS-NX-14) submarine-launched ballistic-missile (SLBM) programme, for example, served to underscore this caution.
In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that China continues to make headway in the technical ambition of its strategic systems. The JL-2, successor to China’s first SLBM, the JL-1, is on the brink of a first operational deployment on board one of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Jin-class ballistic-missile submarines, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence. The US Department of Defense (DoD) also claimed in its 2015 annual assessment of Chinese military capability that the DF-5B ICBM had been deployed with a multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) capability.