Images of mobile launchers posted on the Internet last week could provide confirmation of the long-suspected deployment of the Dong Feng 16 (DF-16), China’s most recent medium-range ballistic missile.
The pictures, which were taken at an undisclosed location, showed a pair of 5x5 wheeled transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles surmounted by wide, half-oval-shaped covers for the missile ramp, driving in an urban area. In three of the pictures seen by the Taipei Times, street signs had been digitally blurred out.
News of a potential new class of Dong Feng missile emerged in March last year when National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Der-sheng (蔡得勝) told the legislature that the Chinese military had completed testing the DF-16 and begun its deployment. The revelation caught the intelligence community by surprise and sparked debate on whether China had in fact developed a new class of missile or that what Tsai was referring to was simply an extended-range variant of the DF-15 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM).
Analysts said at the time that the DF-16 could have maneuverable capability to counter air-defense systems, such as Taiwan’s PAC-3s, with the higher re-entry speed associated with its higher ascent making it more difficult to intercept.
Up until now, little news concerning a DF-16 has emerged, though defense analysts agree that it would make sense for the Chinese military to develop a medium-range missile to fill the gap between the DF-11 and DF-15 SRBMs — most of which are directed at Taiwan — and the long-range DF-21.
The TELs seen in the images that came out last week have larger missile ramp covers, which would indicate the presence of a missile larger than the DF-15.
Although the location where the pictures were taken has yet to be confirmed, Mark Stokes of the Project 2049 Institute, an expert on the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Corps, speculates that the DF-16 could be deployed at 52 Base 827 Brigade (Unit 91166) in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. The location of the base, added to the missile’s suspected 1,000km to 1,200km range, could make 91166 a “swing unit,” with the ability to target not just Taiwan, but as China starts flexing its muscles within the region, also serve as a deterrent in the South China Sea and Vietnam, more specifically.