National Security Bureau (NSB) Director Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) confirmed that China had deployed a “new” missile unit near Taiwan, a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmaker said yesterday.
Tsai described the new unit, located in Guangdong Province, while replying to queries last week by KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方).
“The unit, carrying the code number 96166 ... is indeed a new unit, probably a new ballistic missile brigade,” a statement by Lin quoted Tsai as saying, without providing further details.
Chinese media and US defense analysts have been reporting on the unit for several months, from which more information can be gleaned.
Xinhua news agency on July 28 last year reported the construction of facilities for a new Second Artillery missile brigade, known as the 96166 Unit, in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province, which was already home to the 96169 short-range ballistic missile unit in Meizhou.
Referring to reports, the Project 2049 Institute said in August last year that the new unit could have “unique capabilities that could complicate the strategic calculus in Asia and the South China Sea in particular.”
The new unit, which was initially collocated with an existing DF-21 brigade in Chizhou, Anhui Province, appears to have extensive experience with the 600km-range DF-11A short-range ballistic missile. The brigade could be a candidate for a new medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) such as the DF-16 or the DF-21C surface-to-surface MRBM, the institute said.
The NSB chief caused tremors in defense circles in March when he told the legislature that the DF-16, about which little was known at that time, had completed testing and was beginning deployment. Tsai also claimed that a growing number of missiles in the Chinese arsenal now came with multiple submunitions.
Reports also say that the new unit could be a candidate for the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), also known as the “aircraft carrier killer.”
“If an ASBM is successful in passing the necessary design reviews and a sufficient sensor network is in place, the Shaoguan brigade could become the first in the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] to field a lethal capability against moving targets at sea out to a range of 1,500km to 2,000km or more from launch sites,” the institute said.
In recent years, the PLA has continued to increase its deployment of ballistic missile units opposite Taiwan, while improving their accuracy. Experts estimate that China currently has more than 1,600 missiles aimed at Taiwan, mostly deployed in Fujian and -Jiangxi provinces in the southeast.
Lin said China’s continued expansion of its railway network has also helped boost the flexibility of its missile arm.
The extensive rail network enables the weapons to be transported swiftly to coastal areas when needed and even to be launched from railway cars.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP