The lack of US intelligence on a new type of short-range ballistic missile allegedly deployed by China has led some defense specialists to conclude that the projectile could be a medium-range missile already known to US authorities.
Debate over the existence of the Dong Feng-16 (DF-16) emerged soon after National Security Bureau (NSB) Director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) informed the legislature on March 16 that his agency had intelligence proving that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had finished testing and had deployed a new type of missile. In his testimony, Tsai said that some of the missiles, with a range of between 800km and 1,000km, were targeting Taiwan.
The faster re-entry of a longer-range ballistic missile, experts said, would make it more difficult for interceptors, such as Taiwan’s PAC-3, to defend against them.
With scant specific references in the literature and no confirmation from other intelligence agencies, some experts have wondered whether Tsai’s DF-16 might not be a variant of an existing short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), such as the DF-11 or DF-15, of which more than 1,000 are targeted at Taiwan.
However, some defense specialists approached by the Taipei Times said that as older SRBMs had been developed in the 1980s and fielded in the 1990s, it would not be surprising, as per industrial cycles, for an altogether new type of missile to be developed.
While variants of a missile are indicative of minor design improvements — for example, the DF-15C, which some reports say could serve as a longer-range upgrade at the Second Artillery’s Leping SRBM Brigade in Jiangxi Province — new designations, such as the DF-16, imply fundamental design changes, such as advances in solid rocket fuel, guidance systems and warhead design.
However, the lack of specifics provided by Tsai, who claimed Taiwan had sources unavailable to its allies, has led some analysts to conclude that rather than a brand new type of SRBM, the DF-16 could in fact be a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) already known to US intelligence, the CSS-X-11.
A spokesperson for the NSB would not comment on the matter when contacted by the Taipei Times yesterday.
That view was reinforced by comments by an unnamed military intelligence official, also on March 16, to the effect that the new missile could have a range of between 1,000km and 1,500km, making it, according to the US definition, a MRBM rather than a SRBM.
A week prior to Tsai’s announcement, an article in the Washington Times said the US intelligence community had assessed that on Jan. 11 last year, the PLA had successfully intercepted a CSS-X-11 MRBM launched from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center in Gansu Province using a SC-19 anti-satellite missile. The story, based on a US Department of State cable made public by WikiLeaks, said that while little was known about the CSS-X-11, it could be an extended-range variant of the CSS-7 (DF-11) short-range missile.
US missile warning satellites had detected the launches and the intercept at an altitude of about 250km, the report said.
An intercept at an altitude of 250km would confirm that the ballistic missile had a range of at least 1,000km.
The “X” in CSS-X-11 means the missile was still in development at the time of the report, meaning that if the MRBM has since been deployed, it would be known as the CSS-11.
The last US Department of Defense report to Congress, which covered events through December 2009, made no mention of the CSS-11.
According to Roger Cliff, an independent military expert, the DF-16 and CSS-11 could therefore be one and the same, as it is unlikely “US analysts would be unaware of the deployment of a new type of missile.”
“If anything new [such as the DF-16] is test-fired, DSP [Defense Support Program] and SBIRS [Space Based Infrared System] satellites will pick it up and be able to calculate its trajectory [and range],” Cliff said.
Equally improbable was that China would have two new MRBMs in development simultaneously, Cliff said.
However, not all experts were convinced that this was the case.
Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, did not agree that it would not make sense to have more than one missile program.
“Why wouldn’t China have two MRBM programs?” he told the Taipei Times yesterday. “It has two distinct tactical missile design and production teams producing two families of formal SRBMs. These teams have also started producing competing SRBMs, the 150km range P-12 and the 360km range B-611M.”
“The PLA values redundancy, as we see it in many other weapons system families. Redundancy fosters competition and thus faster technology breakthrough and development timelines, to achieve a far more rapid military buildup,” Fisher said. “That one SRBM design/production team may be building up to a competing MRBM line does not strike me as improbable or odd, but consistent.”
KAOHSIUNG VOTE: A city official allegedly wrote a message calling on supporters of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu not to participate in the vote next month Prosecutors on Wednesday initiated an investigation of Kaohsiung Civil Affairs Bureau Director-General Tsao Huan-jung (曹桓榮) for allegedly telling supporters of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) to interfere with a recall vote against Han, while pan-green politicians denounced the mayor and his team for devising ways to obstruct voting. After receiving complaints from residents, the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office launched its probe of Tsao for alleged breaches of the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選舉罷免法). Complainants provided evidence that Tsao on Saturday last week wrote on messaging app Line that Han supporters should not vote in the June 6 recall vote, saying:
The Taipei Grand Mosque yesterday said its earlier decision to cancel Eid al-Fitr celebrations on Sunday to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would stand, even though there have been no new domestic cases of COVID-19 in more than a month. It will be the first time in 60 years that the event has not be held at the mosque. The Ministry of Labor had asked all mosques to suspend Eid al-Fitr celebrations and prayers this year, due to COVID-19 concerns, and encouraged Muslims to pray at home. This year Ramadan began on April 23 and is to
BILINGUAL ASSISTANCE: The center launched a chat bot that features Chinese and English interfaces to provide foreigners with instant information about the pandemic The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday said that it would discuss with other nations the possibility of allowing businesspeople to visit on a case-by-case basis. Asked about loosening border restrictions, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said at the daily CECC news briefing that while the center is cautious about opening the nation’s borders, it would aim to diminish obstacles for important trade interactions without risking transmission of the novel coronavirus. Several foreign representatives in Taiwan have expressed an interest in the matter and the center would conduct related negotiations with the help of the
DELUSIONAL: The male patient said he did not know that the woman had mental problems, but the court said that her being restrained in isolation should have given him pause The Taiwan High Court has ordered the Jhudong branch of the Taiwan National University Hospital and a male patient to jointly pay a former female patient’s family NT$400,000 in compensation after the man had sex with the woman, who has mental problems, while hospitalized. The 26-year-old woman has been diagnosed with a mental disorder, a symptom of which is that she obsessively seeks to have sex, her mother said. The mother filed a formal complaint and sought damages from the hospital and the male patient surnamed Chen (陳) after finding out that her daughter had sex with the man while