China reveals DF-21 MRBM manoeuvrable warhead

15 February 2016
Chinese TV coverage on 12 February 2016 showed what may be a DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile. Source: Via CCTV

Covering a late January 2016 exercise by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force, on 5 February 2016 Chinese state TV revealed for the first time the manoeuvrable warhead that could be from the DF-21C medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) produced by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).

However, subsequent Chinese TV reporting from 12 February shows an exercise involving what may be the CASIC DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), raising the possibility that the 5 February TV coverage could be the same missile.

The TV report shows a CASIC Sanjiang 10-wheel transporter erector launcher (TEL) associated with the DF-21C and the DF-21D. Which one cannot be discerned, but the 12 February coverage shows the end of the missile tube having the new cushion structure seen on the DF-21D in the People's Liberation Army's 3 September 2015 parade.

Only the 5 February video features a missile launch showing a warhead stage with fins. First revealed in 2007, the 1,700 km-range DF-21C MRBM is most often reported to carry a simpler land-attack version of a manoeuvring, terminally guided warhead.

The 1,400-1,700 km-range DF-21D ASBM was reported by the Pentagon in 2010 to have achieved initial operating capability. Its warhead is believed to be longer and may have internal side-mounted radar in order to make final target location calculations before its terminal attack.

The 5 February imagery suggests the CASIC warhead may not use the same 'biconic' shape as the terminally guided warhead on the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) DF-15B short-range ballistic missile.

Furthermore, a uniform patch apparently belonging to a PLA unit at the missile testing base at Korla, Xinjiang, shows a DF-21 with a differently shaped finned warhead. One possibility is that CASIC and CASC have competing guided warhead programmes for large ballistic missiles.

New details about CASC's manoeuvrable guided warhead programme were revealed in a biography of CASC engineer Chu Guang-sheng dated 17 November 2015 in the journal China Awards for Science and Technology .

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