Thursday, April 12, 2012

Online photos point to PRC deployment of DF-16 missiles

What appears to be a new model of TEL could provide confirmation that China’s new medium-range ballistic missile has been deployed

Images of mobile launchers posted on the Internet last week could provide confirmation of the long-suspected deployment of the Dongfeng 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 transport 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 Dongfeng missile emerged in March last year when National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai De-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.

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 (pictured left, note the 4x4 wheel chassis). DF-11/15s comprise the majority of the missiles aimed at Taiwan.

It is also slightly different from the DF-21C MRBM (note the length of the missile, which extends all the way to the top of the driver's cabin, as well as a gap in the side panels between the third and fourth wheels).

My article, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here. And here for Jane's Defence Weekly, with lots more fun technical stuff (subscription required).

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