This is the latest installment in my – and 19FortyFive’s – ongoing series on Red Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) ballistic missile capabilities. As previously noted, I was inspired to pen this series after attending the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s (VOC)’s annual China Forum in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago.
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In the first two parts of this series, I/we covered (1) the PLA’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and (2) intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). Following the logical downsize progression on the size and power scale, now we shall talk about close-range ballistic missiles (CRBMs) and short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs).
Some semantic/technical clarification is in order here. To the layman, “close-range” and “short-range” might seem like interchangeable terms, but that’s not quite the case here. The 2020 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat publication from the Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee provides this useful differentiation: “[M]issiles with a range from 300 km – 1,000 km are classified as short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) … [C]lose-range ballistic missiles (CRBM) … are missiles with a range less than 300 km.”
M-7 (8610)/CSS-8 CRBM
Having debuted sometime in the late 1980s, this road-mobile two-stage missile employs solid propellant for the first stage and liquid propellant for the second stage. The range is 150 kilometers, with a warhead weight of 150 kilograms. It does not have multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities.
According to Collin Meisel, a defense advisory group, in an info page written for Riki Ellison’s ever-vigilant Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA), “Given the M-7’s lack of ability to execute ‘precision strike’ missions, and its lack of mention in recent annual reports to Congress by the Office of the Secretary of Defense on ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the [PRC],’ the M-7 does not appear to play a crucial role in the PRC’s ballistic missile arsenal other than the sheer numbers it adds to their estimated 1,200-strong SRBM inventory.”
Dong Feng-12 (DF-12); M-20/CSS-X-15 CRBM
(NOTE: “Dong Feng/東風” translates to “East Wind.”)
This missile initially debuted back in 2004 with the designation of M20/B-611. To cite Mr. Meisel again, “As an SRBM, the DF-12 poses a limited threat to the PRC’s distant neighbors. However, with a range capable of reaching across the Taiwan Strait, even at its widest point, the DF-12 acts as a part of the PRC’s 1,400-missile arsenal targeting Taiwan. The DF-12 makes a notable addition to this arsenal given its rapid, precision-strike capability and BMD countermeasures. These countermeasures would likely prove to be a challenge for Taiwan’s missile defense capabilities, which do not presently include terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD).”
The DF-12 has a range of 280 kilometers and wields a 400-kilogram warhead that can employ either cluster or high-explosive (HE) munitions. It is not MIRV-capable.
Dong Feng-15 (DF-15) (CSS-6) SRBM
This was the type of missile employed by PLC during its most recent act of “missile diplomacy” (so to speak) against Taiwan back on August 4, 2022. As noted by one of the guest speakers at the aforementioned VOC China Forum, Russell Hsiao of the Global Taiwan Institute, 11 such missiles were fired, four of which overflew Taiwan.
The DF-15 is a road-mobile, single-stage, solid-propellant SRBM with a range of 600 – 800 kilometers and a payload of 50 – 350 kilotons, capable of hosting HE, nuclear, chemical, or sub-munitions type of warhead. It is not MIRV-capable. It debuted in 1989.
Dong Feng-11 (DF-11) (CSS-7) SRBMs
In the casino game of blackjack, you “always double-down on 11.” Well, in the far deadlier game of SRBM capability, the DF-11, along with the aforementioned DF-15, doubles down in providing the PRC with a credible theater nuclear capability.
This road-mobile missile’s 800-kilogram warhead can carry either conventional explosives or a nuclear payload with a yield of 350 kilotons. The range is 280 – 300 kilometers. It is a single-stage missile that uses solid propellant. There is no MIRV capability.
The next installment in our Chinese ballistic missile series shall cover their cruise missiles.
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).