Jeffrey LewisDH-10

I have now had several conversations about China’s newest cruise missile, the DH-10.

The conversations all stem from the fact that people mistakenly believe that the 2008 edition of Chinese Military Power indicates the PLA deploys the DH-10 armed with nuclear weapons.

What Chinese Military Power says, as far as I can tell, is that the DH-10 is nuclear-capable, but — for the moment — conventionally-armed. The other, mistaken interpretation, derives from this paragraph, which notes the implications of nuclear-armed Chinese cruise missiles:

New air- and ground-launched cruise missiles that could perform nuclear missions would similarly improve the survivability, flexibility, and effectiveness of China’s nuclear forces.

Now, I see why one might read that to say that the missiles are not just nuclear-capable, but nuclear-armed. But the language is could and would, not do and will.

For the time being, CMP lists the DH-10 under “Building Capacity for Conventional Precision Strike” and on the map for “Regional Conventional Missiles” — my emphasis, of course.

(What I understand less are the claims that China is placing the DH-10 on bombers. Chinese Military Power very clearly describes the “ground-launched DH-10” cruise missile. As you can see by this picture, which is believed to be a DH-10 prototype, the missile is large and resembles the Tomahawk cruise missile. China is, according to CMP, “upgrading its B-6 bomber fleet … with a new variant which, when operational, will be armed with a new long-range cruise missile” — but this is most likely the air-launched YJ-63 which, according to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center in 2006, would be conventionally-armed.)

Ground-launched conventionally-armed cruise missiles are consistent with the general trend in the Second Artillery to emphasize conventionally-armed missiles. Other manifestations of this trend are the deployment of large numbers of advanced short-range ballistic missiles near Taiwan and conversion of some DF-21s to a conventional role, including an anti-ship model. I discussed the bureaucratic rationale within the Second Artillery for investing in conventionally-armed ballistic missiles after CCTV spent serious time fawning over late Yang Yegong.

Cruise missiles, in particular, are useful in targeting Taiwanese airbases tucked into the mountains on the far side of the island. (Imagine crouching behind a wall, while someone tries to lob tennis balls at you.) Cruise missiles, of course, can hug terrain and negate such favorable geography.

All of this is really just an elaborate plug for Dennis Gormley’s new book, Missile Contagion: Cruise Missile Proliferation and the Threat to International Security (Praeger Security International, 2008).

I am going to the book launch on July 24. Be there or be square.


  1. Lemon (History)

    Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles like the C-803 are fairly useless against land targets. At terminal stage they go supersonic thereby making the things impossible to fly in the “terrain following mode”. The DH10 mentioned above by Jeff and the recently unveiled KD-88 however are supposed to be more effective against land targets.

  2. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    It is nice to count on ACW to correct mistaken beliefs stemming from the Pentagon’s MPC 2008 about nuclear “capable”. Kind of like buying a “cable ready” TV.

    The DH-10 and like subsonic cruise missiles are somewhat less useful than one might think for attacking “behind the mountain” bases with conventional munitions.

    First, they are slow enough to be shot down —- not easily, but doable. However, they are so cheap that the PLA can build lots of them, and “flood” a defensive system.

    Second, the payload is quite limited and roughly comparable to a Tomahawk. Sure, it can lug a bunch of cluster bomblets to make life miserable for the ground crew, perhaps even creating employment for an army of runway (and makeshift runway —- the highways in Taiwan) repairers.

    However, most of the real infrastructure, like aircraft hangers, repair shops, munition dumps, fuel and supplies, etc. are in very well hardened bunkers in Taiwan.

    Some, but not all, of the bunkers were recently upgraded to resist the best bunker busters in PLA inventory.

    What they really need is a “heavy lifter” cruise missile that can take a bunker buster similar to a BLU 113 for the really well protected bunkers, and a lighter version for the less protected hangers and shops.

    The old trick of going through the doors of a hanger may not work as well this time around, as that weakness is now pretty well known and Taiwan may have put in the “fix” for this weakness.

    However, all bunkers and fortifications need air vents, and if you can send a bunker buster down an air shaft, it is still a pretty sure fire way of making life miserable inside the bunker.

    In order to do that, for example, the BLU 113 is a 4,000 payload that has to be dropped at a good height and precisely guided to its target —- rather than just lobbed with a CEP of 10 meters.

    The aircraft / cruise missile / platform delivering it risk being shot down well before it comes within range of target —- unless it is one very fast supersonic / stealthy platform.

    Thus, air dominance is a necessary part of the equation, unless the bunker buster is delivered by a ballistic missile or like vehicle.

    This is not something that the PLA can do anytime real soon.

  3. dylan

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about. Why does ACW assume that because CMP refers to a ground-launched DH-10 that must mean they think there is also an air-launched DH-10? Might it not be a warship (surface or submarine) launched variant they have in mind?
    Secondly, might there not be another air-launched cruise missile in development for launch from the H-6, and in fact might it not be the DH-10 or the YJ-63 but this missile…

  4. Yale Simkin (History)


    The July 21, 08 Aviation Week and Space Technology, Page 55 “Broad Spectrum War”, describes an air-launched variant of the DH-10, and showing a six-pylon H-6 upgraded bomber. “The upgraded H-6 bomber has strengthened wings that allow it to carry six of the newest DH-10 air-launched cruise missiles”