06 January 2007

Shashou Jiang: Theater Ballistic Missiles vs CSGs-Pt I

(As promised in this post, 2007 will see this blog cover more of the threats and concerns posed by China, Russia and other countries like Venezuela. Most of the China postings will be collected under the "Assassin's Mace" or Shashou Jiang identifier. - SJS)

The phrase "assassin's mace" is the English translation of "shashou jiang," a term of ancient Chinese strategy. "shashou jiang" was a club with which the "assassin" incapacitated his enemy, suddenly and totally, instead of fighting him according to "the rules."

Disclaimer: the following scenario is based on open sources, is admittedly simplistic and intended as a strawman for exposition and discussion. A more detailed endeavor would likely crossover into areas above and beyond the classification level of this site and audience.


June 2015. Tensions have escalated between the People’s Republic and Taiwan, again. The annual early summer exercises held by the People’s Republic, and widely believed to be staged rehearsals for an invasion of Taiwan, have lasted longer than seen in the past, with significantly greater numbers of amphibious operations and anti-ship cruise missile live fire exercises. The PLAAF has dispersed its forces to auxiliary airfields throughout the southeast provinces in China while the 2nd Artillery Corps has flushed its road-mobile DF-21 and -31 SRBM and MRBM missiles as part of these exercises. Taiwan has sortied its naval forces, increased ASW efforts and begun a call-up of reserves. The US has promised a naval show of force – the George Washington CSG is returning from operations in the Philippine Sea and the Ronald Reagan CSG is making preparations for sortie from the new forward base in Guam. BMDS configured AEGIS cruisers and destroyers are already onstation as well as accompanying the strike groups. As it has in the past, China has warned “outside nations” about interference in Chinese internal affairs.

11 June 2015. Aboard USS Ronald Reagan anchored off Guam. Preparations continue in the pre-dawn darkness for getting underway. Sea and anchor detail has been set and the crew is going about their business in a hurried, but quietly purposeful manner. In the flag spaces, more concern about the latest intel reports regarding Chinese strategic communications and corresponding missile and PLAN movements. This, in part, had spurred the flag to move up the Reagan’s departure time and earlier sortie of the USS Decatur and John Paul Jones, two Burke-class DDG’s equipped with a mix of SM-3 Blk-II ABM missiles in addition to their complement of Tomahawk and SM-6 missiles. High above the Pacific, the constellation of US early warning satellites begin to detect a series of IR events centered near Chuxiong and Tai-Hang, China. Just as suddenly reporting ceases from the SBIRS-low and one of the geo-stationary SBIRS satellites. Other satellites in the constellation continue the reports though and flash traffic of missile launches is passed.

Aboard the GW, orders for an immediate course change and speed increase to flank are passed and executed by the CSG, which also serves to open formation. On the Reagan, efforts to weigh anchor and get underway are sped up, but it still looks like it will be another 5-10 minutes before she will be making effective way. In the meantime the AEGIS BMD cruisers and destroyers with the CSGs and on BMD patrol are cuing their search to the limited reports coming in. Before the loss of the SBIRS satellites, 10 IR events were associated with Tai-Hang and another 15 at Chuxiong. Initial assessments are a series of DF-21 and -31 launches – preliminary trajectories put Guam, Okinawa and the Philippine Sea in the defended areas. The inbound missiles are incrementally picked up and launched on by AEGIS with mixed results. Penetration aids associated with the DF-31 (especially) complicated the intercepts, but estimates are at least 6 of the DF-31 enroute to Guam were intercepted by SM-3s fired from AEGIS ships operating near Okinawa. Onboard Decatur and JPJ, targets are detected and launched on, only to see the presumed RVs change their flightpath. Additional missiles are launched in an attempt to intercept the inbound RV’s.

Aboard the Reagan the bridge crew is witness to the SM-3’s bright streaks of light over the horizon as they reach out to attempt an intercept. General quarters have already been sounded and Zebra set throughout the ship when from high overhead an intermittent incandescent flash momentarily blossoms – once, twice. Fractions of a second later multiple explosions strike Reagan. Fire erupts on the flight deck as aircraft and equipment are destroyed. High up on the island, the radar and communications equipment are reduced to tatters. Casualties are many, but not as bad as it would have been if the carrier had been at flight quarters. However, except for the aircraft which had been wisely stricken below to the hangar bay, Reagan’s airwing was effectively destroyed. Still afloat, fighting fires and working damage control, Reagan would be effectively unavailable for many months while repairs would be made. On board the GW, the nearby sea erupts as the submunitions dispensed by the DF-21 MaRV’s explode. Suddenly a huge ball of flame and smoke, followed closely by the rolling thunder of the explosion, form where once was the USNS Alan Sheppard (the T-AKE servicing GWCSG with stores and ammo). Reports start filtering in from the rest of the CSG – some minor damage for a couple of the destroyers. Over on the Yukon though, more bad news as she has come to a stop and has begun a list to port, her crew fighting fires and hull damage while precious JP flows to the sea. GW herself has suffered no hits.

12 June 2015. When the damage was later tallied, only one ship, Sheppard, was sunk as a result of the Chinese missile strike, but the Reagan CSG was effectively removed from a combat role and the GWCSG impacted by loss of auxiliary support vessels. Plans are underway to merge the survivors of the Reagan CSG with GW but in light of the loss of fixed wing support from Okinawa (Kadina was struck by DF-21s, destroying the RQ-4C Global Hawk and all the P-7 and older P-3s on deck deployed there as well as a Marine VFA(AW) squadron and many of the F-22’s) the CSG deployment and continued stationing of AEGIS BMD ships in areas with unlocated PLAN submarines is under re-consideration. Several days will be required to get the airfield back to minimal operations and it would be a good month before replacements from the States could be supported. Longer still will be the time before the warning constellation could be fully re-established and the satellites lost to the pre-emptive laser/ASAT strikes replaced.


‘What if-ing’ is an interesting exercise and there is always the tendency to make the opponent 10 feet tall. In light of this, how plausible is the above scenario? Let’s break it down by significant components, and then look at some of the challenges for both sides.

DF-21 (NATO code-name: CSS-5) and DF-31(NATO codename: CSS-9): The older design of the two, the DF-21 (DF: Dong Feng or East Wind) is a solid-fuel, road mobile missile that replaced the CSS-2 (single stage, liquid fuel, transportable IRBM w/range of 2,650 km), beginning in the mid-90s. The DF-21 has a range of 2-2500 km (depending on variant) conventionally armed, or up to 1800 km with a 500 kt nuclear warhead. The most recent variant, the Mod 2 version, apparently is modeled on the former US Pershing II (former because the Pershing II was eliminated under the INF Treaty), employing an advanced terminal imaging radar and endo-atmospheric maneuvering to increase accuracy to 300m. As of mid-1995 the DF-21 was deployed at two main operating bases, one in Tonghua near North Korea, and the other at Chuxiong in southern China near the border with Burma. The missiles located at Chuxiong, approximately 100 kilometers west of Kunming, are in range of several targets in India and Southeast Asia. This facility is headquarters for one of the two launch brigades, each with up to three launch battalions, subordinated to the Second Artillery Corps 80303 Unit, a Division headquartered in the eastern suburbs of Kunming, Yunnan province.

The DF-31 is an intercontinental-range, road-mobile, solid-propellant ballistic missile developed by Academy of Rocket Motor Technology (ARMT, also known as 4th Aerospace Academy). The missile was developed as a land-based version of the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The most advanced ballistic missile currently in service, the DF-31 features higher mobility and therefore better survivability compared to the last generation Chinese ICBM. The operational deployment of the DF-31 reportedly began in 2002/03, with 12 missiles in service so far. China also developed an improved model DF-31A with an extended range of 10,000 km, improved accuracy and multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV) capability. Siting of the DF-31 is estimated to be at Tai-Hang, where it is reported that the 2d Artillery Corps has launched a 3,000-km highway transportation test in a bid to improve the DF-31's mobility and camouflage. Located some 400 km southwest of Beijing between Hebei and Shanxi provinces, the area is characterized by 1,000-2,000 meter-deep gorges and steep bluffs. One study suggests that the “Great Wall Project” (an upgrade to China’s strategic missile force begun in the mid-90s) may have created a network of tunnels up to 5000 km long in the mountain range. The Project would have included the construction of dozens of missile bases, perhaps including those used for the DF-15s launched against Taiwan. This complex, should it exist, might also be a logical deployment area for the DF-31 and DF-41 ICBMs as they enter operational service.

MaRV (Maneuvering Reentry Vehicle) development and use. Related to the MIRV (Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicle – MIRV’s can be MaRV’s), a MaRV is an individual re-entry vehicle which does not follow a strict ballistic trajectory, but maneuvers or changes direction as it comes down. These can be guided MaRV’s, which might use aerodynamic features (fins) or maneuvering rockets to alter course and GPS, inertial guidance or terminal homers (radar or IR) to acquire a target. Alternately, they might simply be RVs with an asymmetric shape, causing them to spiral or tumble as they re-enter the atmosphere. The original impetus behind MaRVs was defeat of ABM systems by out-maneuvering interceptor missiles. Mind you, we’re not talking dog-fighting type turning engagements between an RV re-entering the atmosphere at better than Mach 8 versus an interceptor – leave that to Hollywood. Other methods include the use of penaids (penetration aids – chaff, jamming and decoys) and overwhelming with numbers of RVs. In the “old days” of the Cold War (prior to START II) with the proliferation of MIRVd warheads on large throw weight boosters (e.g., SS-18) this was the preferred method since then, MaRV’s nearly always carried a penalty in accuracy. Further work and modeling in hypersonic engineering and miniaturization and hardening of electronics has enabled a new generation of MaRVs that have the ability to extend their flight path either down or cross range (still limited by physics though) and not pay as dear a penalty in accuracy. The Pershing II was an earlier example and current efforts by Russia in developing a MaRV for the SS-27 is a more recent one. Note that not all MaRV’s are intentional. The Iraqi Al-Husayn and SCUD missiles fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War nearly all became MaRV’s when they broke up upon re-entering the atmosphere and began to tumble erratically, usually separating into multiple pieces and complicating Patriot intercept solutions.

Open Ocean Surveillance. The “gotcha” of anti-CSG efforts. For most of its existence the Soviet Union strove to develop a myriad of ways and tactics to locate, identify, and target American carrier battle groups because of the nuclear threat they posed. Everything from “tattletale” vessels training the battle group (from the infamous “fishing trawler” to SS-N-2 armed Kashin and Kanin-class DDGs early on) to open ocean reconnaissance flights using Tu-95 Bears and Il-38 Mays and satellites and over the horizon radar. Each has their strong suite and corresponding limitation.

  • Tattletales: Able to provide the most timely and accurate information as to location, type and operations. Also likely to be the first to fire on the CSG, or alternately, absorb the first hit from the counter-tattletale (it is by no accident that the missile tubes on the mod-Kashin pointed aft instead of forward…). Subs (especially those armed w/ASCMs) might also fulfill the role of tattletale, though the requirement to provide frequent updates to shore-based C2 facilities, for example, could prove their undoing at the hands of the CSG organic ASW assets.

  • Reconnaissance aircraft: It’s a big ocean. Recce aircraft are range and station time limited, especially in the open ocean areas. Through maneuver, emissions control, and deception a CSG can be a very difficult thing to find – in the open ocean. Just ask any carrier aviator who has tried to find the ship at night or under EMCON conditions and they will underscore that point. As the littorals are approached though, the task of avoiding detection becomes correspondingly tougher as the number of aircraft can be increased for both area coverage and once located, dwell time. Still, if it is radar-only coverage, especially in limited visibility conditions and areas of high traffic, the advantage could shift to the CSG.

  • Satellites: Hollywood (again) has popularized the all-seeing/all-knowing aspect of space-based surveillance. To be sure, electro-optic, radar- and ELINT satellites, as well as the Mark 1 Mod 0 eyeball have all been employed with varying degrees of success from Earth orbit. Radar satellites require copious amounts of power, are by nature large arrays and readily identifiable by orbital characteristics. The Soviets expended considerable effort in this area with little return. Why? Like EO, it is a matter of limited dwell time due to orbital mechanics. To be effective, a constellation of radar satellites must be maintained on orbit to gain the coverage in low earth orbit required of these platforms. Owing to either the size, power requirements, electro-optics or all of the above, considerable expense is engendered in building, launching and maintaining these vehicles. By all accounts, the Soviets had one of the most robust conventional/heavy lift launch programs through the 80s and 90s (while the US, on the other hand, concentrated its launch requirements on the temperamental and expensive shuttle system). Even so, they were limited in what could be put up (conservative estimates place the size of a RORSAT or EO system somewhere between the size of a semi-trailer and a single-wide mobile home. These issues (dwell, lift, and cost) are exacerbated where human observers are involved. ELINT satellites, on the other hand, are probably the most capable in this area, with sensors that in theory could be deployed on a variety of dedicated or shared platforms that range in size and orbital placement.

  • Over-The-Horizon (OTH-R): Over-the-horizon (OTH) radar systems were first developed during the Cold War as part of the early warning defense network. With the end of the Cold War, research into OTH radar continued, with a new focus: detection of illegal aircraft engaged in drug smuggling. Current research had its genesis in U.S. Air Force and Navy laboratories in the 1960s, as well as at Stanford University. At present, the United States, Russia, China, and Australia employ OTH radar for surveillance purposes. Much of the current effort is concentrated on the development of relocatable OTH radar (ROTHR), first demonstrated by the Navy in the early 1980s. OTH-R provides detection of ships and aircraft at ranges in excess of a couple thousand miles. This extended range is achieved when transmitted HF energy is refracted by the ionosphere onto distant targets. The faint energy reflected back from these targets (backscatter) is detected by a separate radar receive antenna after returning along the refraction path. The surface of the earth and the targets in the area of interest reflect some of this energy back through the ionosphere to a separate receive site, where it is processed to generate target track information. OTH-R operates in the High Frequency (HF) band (3 to 30 MHz) which is also typically not affected by stealth shapes or materials. OTH-R, in any of its several types in use, requires very large antenna arrays which are fixed in location and have a processing center located nearby. Using ROTHR as an example of OTH-R configuration and operations, we see that the ROTHR achieves a nominal half degree azimuth angular resolution with a 2.58-km-long linear phased receiving array consisting of 372 twin-monopole elements. Each monopole pair has a receiver and analog-to-digital converter attached to it. A digital beamformer forms 18 beams which are then Doppler processed to separate the moving targets from the ground clutter. Range resolution is achieved by transmitting a 25-kHz continuous frequency-modulated waveform. A radar resolution cell on the ocean surface is therefore about 6 km in range by about 15 km in azimuth, for the frequency and range used. Radar frequency is variable and is selected using real-time sweep frequency ionospheric soundings. The propagation path is by ionospheric refraction which provides a "mirror" but with considerable variability. This variability is not predictable on a short-term basis; in addition, target illumination is generally by multiple paths. Tracking information thus has varying degrees of accuracy due to the changes and uncertainties of the ionosphere caused by factors such as the time of day, season, sun spot number, and other solar activity. HF radar must measure and adapt to the environment in real time, and oblique backscatter soundings routinely taken.

China, of course, is not wont to re-invent the wheel and thus benefits from the Soviet’s efforts as well as purchase of state of the art Russian systems, like OTHR to build their ocean-surveillance system. Additionally, there is a significant indigenous effort underway to build upon this base, as exemplified by extensive research and development to the challenging task of better separation of surface targets from clutter induced by the sea’s surface. Having access though, to 50-odd years worth of experience and state of the art systems does not guarantee results out of the box. As well, the US Navy has 50+ years experience in operating carrier groups in counter-surveillance, deception and denial environments with measurable success. In part two of this essay, we will examine those challenges.



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