Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
Appendix III: Unclassified Working Papers
Kurt Guthe and Keith Payne: "The Unique Value of Ballistic Missiles for
Deterrence and Coercion: The Chinese Case"
A number of general points about the utility of ballistic missiles to
foreign countries can be illustrated with examples from the missile program
of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The impetus for the program was
closely tied to the Chinese pursuit of nuclear weapons, which began in the
1950s and led to a successful atomic test in 1964. Beijing saw the
development of a nuclear arsenal as a way of ending the U.S. nuclear
monopoly, preventing nuclear threats by the United States (such as those
made during the Korean War and the 1954-55 Taiwan Strait crisis), deterring
a U.S. nuclear attack, and gaining international respect. 1 These motives
are capsulized in the following statements by Chinese leader Mao Zedong:
If we are not to be bullied in the present-day world, we cannot do
without the [atomic] bomb. 2
The success [of our strategic weapons program] will boost our courage
and scare others. 3
We also need to build a few atomic and hydrogen bombs, without these
[bombs] others would say, `you are nothing.' 4
Who holds that we Chinese can't make missile-carried nuclear weapons?
Now we have succeeded! 5 (This remark was made following the
end-to-end test of a nuclear-armed ballistic missile in 1966.)
In addition, Chinese leaders believed that efforts to develop nuclear
weapons and ballistic missiles were important in building an advanced
scientific and industrial base for their country. 6
No explicit strategic rationale guided Chinese nuclear and missile
programs. 7 Military thinking was dominated by Mao's concepts of "People's
War," which downplayed the role of nuclear weapons in armed conflict. But
political leaders, military commanders, and technical specialists alike
recognized the need for a relatively small nuclear force capable of
surviving a first strike, retaliating against a set of "soft" targets
(cities and large military bases), and thus deterring a nuclear attack or
nuclear blackmail. Beijing's no-first-use pledge was consistent with this
basic requirement. 8
The PRC had bombers available for the delivery of nuclear weapons. It
acquired (and later produced) Soviet-designed Il-28/Beagle medium-range and
Tu-16/Badger intermediate-range bombers. These aircraft constituted the
core of the bomber force. They were unable to reach the United States,
however, and the Chinese had no plans to build long-range bombers.
Moreover, the vulnerability of bombers to enemy air defenses undoubtedly
was also a concern. 9 In establishing a missile research and development
(R&D) organization, Chinese leaders "understood that only long-range
ballistic missiles could strike the homeland of the United States,
Beijing's enemy and a nation that had repeatedly threatened China with
nuclear attack." 10
Party and military officials did not expect that an intercontinental
ballistic missile (ICBM) would spring forth, fully formed, from the brow of
Mao. Rather, in the early 1960s, the leadership approved a phased,
technology-driven program that would yield interim retaliatory capabilities
on the way to a missile that could hit the continental United States
(CONUS). This program, called "four types of missiles in eight years,"
provided the overall blueprint for the first-generation dongfeng (DF), or
"East Wind," series of missiles. 11
As China progressed from medium- to intermediate- to intercontinental-range
ballistic missiles, it went from targeting U.S. overseas facilities to
targeting the United States itself. This gradual advance on CONUS is
detailed in the table on the next page. 12 With the sharp deterioration in
Sino-Soviet relations during the late 1960s, Moscow and other soft targets
in the Soviet Union also were slated for missile strikes. 13 It should be
noted that the aborted DF-6 ICBM, the fractional orbital bombardment system
(FOBS) listed in the table, was not part of the original plan for the DF
series, but was added after Premier Zhou Enlai learned from an American
report that the Soviets were working on a FOBS. The Chinese were attracted
to the FOBS concept because it promised a capability for attacking CONUS
via a flight path that circumvented much of the U.S. early warning network.
A planned version of the DF-6 without a FOBS capability was intended to
threaten the Panama Canal. 14
China's Step-By-Step Missile Program to Target the United States
Designation/ Type Range Initial Operational Notional
U.S. (km) R&D Capability Targets
DF-2/CSS-1 MRBM 1,000 1960 1966 U.S. military
bases in Japan
Clark AB and
DF-3/CSS-2 IRBM 2,500 1964 1971 Naval Base in
DF-4/CSS-3 Limited-Range 4,500 1965 1980 Andersen AFB,
DF-5/CSS-4 ICBM 12,000 1965 1981 Hawaii and
DF-6/None ICBM FOBS 1966 Canceled 1973 and CONUS
Although more than eight years were required to complete the series, the DF
missiles have served as the backbone of the Chinese nuclear force up to the
present. China now is in the process of replacing its liquid-fueled
missiles with mobile solid-propellant systems (the DF-31 and DF-41 ICBMs,
for example) that offer advantages in reliability, maintainability, and
Given the main military purpose of its nuclear-armed missiles
(second-strike retaliation against a limited number of soft targets), the
size of its missile force, and the counterforce capabilities of the United
States and the Soviet Union, the Chinese not surprisingly gave priority to
force survivability rather than delivery accuracy. Regarding accuracy
requirements, a top Chinese defense official once remarked, "It is
unnecessary for us to achieve tremendous accuracy. If a nuclear war breaks
out between China and the Soviet Union, I don't think there is too much
difference between the results, provided China's ICBM misses its
predetermined target, the Kremlin, and instead hits the Bolshoi Theater."
16 The requirement for a high level of prelaunch survivability received
greater attention. While a small number of ICBMs have been deployed in
silos, most Chinese missiles have been carried on mobile launchers and
based in caves or mountainside tunnels. 17 The Chinese military also has
explored the use of camouflage, night operations, round-the-clock alerts,
rail mobility, and deceptive basing (fake silos) to ensure the
survivability of its missiles. 18
Despite the effort devoted to protecting its land-based nuclear missiles,
Beijing still was concerned about their vulnerability. Even in late 1960s,
the high command was worried that U.S. and Soviet advances in satellite
reconnaissance and improvements in missile accuracy would render Chinese
missiles and bombers vulnerable to a first strike. 19 (Some years later, in
what perhaps was a case of service parochialism, the commander of China's
navy claimed that a large-scale first strike could eliminate more than 90
percent of the land-based missile force. 20 ) Although work on a
nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and submarine-launched
ballistic missile (SLBM) had begun earlier, the counterforce threat to
land-based missiles spurred their development.
The SSBN and SLBM programs were hampered, however, by technical challenges
(developing a reliable reactor for the submarine and a solid propellent for
the missile) and political problems (dealing with disruptions caused by the
Cultural Revolution). Moreover, many Chinese defense officials and
technical specialists opposed pursuit of a sea-based nuclear deterrent on
the grounds that a small SSBN fleet with several missiles per submarine
would place "too many eggs in one basket." They also argued that the
Chinese geographical position was unfavorable for SSBN deployments. By this
they meant that China's "seacoast is far removed from the Soviet heartland,
and the island chain opposite the Chinese coast hinders easy access to
potential American targets. Worse still, the seas surrounding China,
especially the Yellow Sea, are too shallow to hide submarines with
confidence." 21 These objections did not carry the day, however, and in the
1980s, the PRC finally launched a 09-2 (Xia-class) SSBN equipped for 12
JL-1 (CSS-NX-3) SLBMs, each with a range of 1,700 kilometers (km). 22
During the next decade, China is expected to deploy a follow-on 16-tube
submarine, the 09-4, with a new missile, the 8,000-km JL-2. 23 This
SSBN/SLBM combination also has generated political and military opposition
within the Chinese elite. Some military planners contend that the next
generation of mobile ICBMs will be a cheaper alternative, that wide-ranging
SSBN patrols would be inconsistent China's strategy of coastal defense, and
that these submarines could become vulnerable to enemy anti-submarine
warfare capabilities. SSBN/SLBM advocates in the Chinese navy and elsewhere
counter that a modernized, survivable sea-based nuclear force is needed to
complement mobile land-based missiles, and that the operating range of an
SSBN adds substantially to the range of its SLBMs, increasing the
cost-effectiveness of the missiles. According to one Western source,
"[t]hese continuing debates account in large measure for the on-again,
off-again character of the 09-4's development," although because of "the
forcefulness of [the pro-SSBN] arguments and the power of the individuals
making them [the] continuation and future of deterrent seapower seem
In addition to the foregoing advantages, Chinese leaders probably have
judged that their nuclear-armed ballistic missiles offer at least two other
benefits. First, against adversaries with nonexistent or negligible
ballistic missile defenses, ICBMs, SLBMs, and shorter-range systems have
unimpeded access to targets. Bombers and cruise missiles are more likely to
confront air defenses. One reason for China's opposition to the Strategic
Defense Initiative and more recent U.S. missile defense plans is that the
deployment of defenses would diminish the edge enjoyed by ballistic
Second, although Chinese nuclear missiles were intended primarily to deter
a nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail, Beijing also is aware that these
weapons could deter other actions as well. Thus, shortly before the 1996
Taiwan Strait crisis, in which Beijing engaged in saber rattling aimed at
dissuading the Taiwanese from moving toward independence, a deputy chief of
staff of the People's Liberation Army informed a former high-ranking U.S.
official that China expected a free hand in dealing with Taipei because
U.S. leaders "care[d] more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan." 26
This widely publicized statement generally was interpreted as a threat that
China would use its nuclear missiles as a deterrent to U.S. intervention.
The incident demonstrates that a ballistic missile force built for one
deterrent purpose someday might be used for another.
During much of the time that the PRC was building up its long-range
ballistic missile force, tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) were given
short shrift. The overall ballistic missile program was focused on creating
a deterrent to U.S. or Soviet nuclear attack. Moreover, conventionally
armed tactical ballistic missiles were not seen as cost-effective
battlefield weapons. In 1975, however, the Chinese military took another
look at TBMs. In April of that year, Pyongyang asked Beijing for a 600-km
missile that would allow it to hit targets throughout South Korea from
launch sites far from the demilitarized zone. China initially refused the
request, but it did prompt the Chinese military to reexamine its own need
for tactical missiles.
By the mid-1970s, the strategic ballistic missile program was well
underway. And China confronted the possibility of a Soviet invasion at
points along the Sino-Soviet border. In such a contingency, the Soviets
would have air superiority, greatly limiting the contribution the Chinese
air force could make toward countering an offensive. The Operations
Department of the Chinese General Staff calculated that if a small number
of nuclear or conventional TBMs were used to close mountain passes, an
invasion could be stopped or at least slowed. Consequently, R&D on a new
missile was initiated in 1976. Two versions of the missile, called the
DF-61, were planned. One variant would have a 600-km range and a
conventional payload (including options for cluster bomblets or a fuel-air
explosive). The other was a 1,000-km missile with a nuclear warhead. The
600-km variant was intended for North Korea as well as the Chinese
military. (The projected transfer to North Korea was for the accumulation
of political rather than financial capital.) Within two years of its
initiation, the DF-61 program was canceled when one of its principal
supporters lost power at the end of the Cultural Revolution. 27
Several years after the demise of the DF-61, the Chinese military again
became interested in TBMs as items that could be sold abroad to earn money
for indigenous modernization programs. 28 This interest led to the
development of the M-9 and M-11 missiles. (The Chinese decision to give the
weapons an English-derived designation, "M" for "missile," signaled that
they were arms for export.) After the M-9 received good reviews at an
international arms show, the Second Artillery Corps (the organization
assigned China's land-based missiles) decided to include this missile in
its own inventory as the DF-15 (CSS-6). 29 During the most recent Taiwan
Strait crisis, four of these missiles were launched into impact zones off
the coasts of Taiwan as part of military exercises designed to intimidate
the Taiwanese. 30
At the same time it recognized the export potential of TBMs, the military
also reassessed their cost-effectiveness and determined they would offset
deficiencies in the Chinese air force. China lacks long-range strike
aircraft, aerial tankers, and aircraft carriers. Conventionally armed
ballistic missiles provide an ability to deliver firepower quickly over
extended distances. Some argue, for example, that ballistic missiles would
be useful in any armed attempt to enforce Chinese claims to the Spratly (or
The Chinese recognized the great difficulty in providing air cover for
naval operations far from protected air bases. As stated in one
official article, `Without the control of the air, there will be no
mastery of the sea.' The navy improved the avionics and armaments on
its planes, but only its main bomber, the Hong-6D (B-6D) [a Chinese
version of the Tu-16], could reach the Nansha Islands and return.
The Chinese cannot maintain continuous control of the air over the
Nansha Islands because they have neither aircraft carriers nor
in-flight refueling capability. The ongoing debates within the
military on the need for aircraft carriers reflects its dread of air
inferiority. As a stopgap measure, in the late 1980s, Beijing ordered
the Ministry of Aerospace Industry to accelerate the DF-25 missile
program. Conventionally armed, the DF-25 could reach targets as far
away as 1,700 km. Despite improvements in Sino-Vietnamese relations in
late 1991 and early 1992, the Chinese have reportedly kept alive
contingency plans to recapture the islands in the Nansha group still
under Vietnamese control in amphibious operations, with the DF-25 held
in reserve as a last resort. 31
In sum, while China acquired ballistic missiles primarily to deter nuclear
attack and intimidation, these weapons serve other purposes as well. They
are symbols of major power status, instruments of coercive diplomacy, and,
as arms exports, a source of hard currency and political influence. The
Chinese see ballistic missiles, in both strategic and tactical roles, as
having range and penetration advantages over strike aircraft. While
land-based missiles constitute the bulk of the Chinese nuclear force,
ballistic missile submarines have been deployed as a hedge against threats
to their survivability. Finally, the evolution of China's ballistic missile
force has been shaped by the dynamics of internal as well as international
politics (for example, the emergence of the Soviet threat and the fall from
grace of the DF-61's patron).
1. John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford,
Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988), pp. 211, 215, 229; John Wilson
Lewis and Xue Litai, China's Strategic Seapower: The Politics of Force
Modernization in the Nuclear Age (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University
Press, 1994), pp. 212, 233, 237; John Wilson Lewis and Hua Di, "China's
Ballistic Missile Programs: Technologies, Strategies, Goals," International
Security, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Fall 1992), p. 40.
2. China's Strategic Seapower, p. 230.
3. Ibid., p. 232.
4. Hua Di, China's Security Dilemma to the Year 2010 (Stanford, Calif.:
Center for International Security and Arms Control, Stanford University,
Oct. 1997), p. 10.
5. China Builds the Bomb, p. 209.
6. China's Strategic Seapower, pp. 150, 237.
7. China Builds the Bomb, p. 210; China's Strategic Seapower, pp. 19-20;
"China's Ballistic Missile Programs," pp. 5-6, 20.
8. China's Strategic SeaPower, pp. 232-233.
9. Ibid., p. 234; Robert S. Norris, Andrew S. Burrows, and Richard W.
Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Volume V: British, French, and
Chinese Nuclear Weapons (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994), pp.
10. "China's Ballistic Missile Programs," p. 7.
11. China Builds the Bomb, pp. 211-214.
12. Sources for table: China Builds the Bomb., pp. 211-214; "China's
Ballistic Missile Programs," pp. 9-10, 13-19.
13. "China's Ballistic Missile Programs," pp. 17, 18.
14. Ibid., pp. 10, 17, 19.
15. Department of Defense, Selected Military Capabilities of the People's
Republic of China, Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 1305 of the FY97
National Defense Authorization Act (Washington, D.C.: Department of
Defense, Apr. 2, 1997), p. 4; Office of the Secretary of Defense,
Proliferation: Threat and Response (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
Office, Nov. 1997), p. 10; "China's Ballistic Missile Programs," p. 29.
16. Zhang Aiping (deputy chief of the General Staff), quoted in China
Builds the Bomb, p. 214.
17. Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. V, pp. 362-364, 374, 378, 380, 382-385.
18. "China's Ballistic Missile Programs," pp. 24-25; China's Strategic
Seapower, p. 236.
19. China's Strategic Seapower, p. 143.
20. Du Zhongwei et al., "The Sea, the Navy, and the New Technological
Revolution: An Interview with Naval Commander Liu Huaqing," Liaowang, Aug.
13, 1984, p. 9, cited in China's Strategic Seapower, p. 230.
21. "China's Ballistic Missile Programs," pp. 26-27; Nuclear Weapons
Databook, Vol. V, pp. 369-370.
22. Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. V, pp. 369-370.
23. Rear Adm. Michael W. Cramer, Director of Naval Intelligence, "Worldwide
Submarine Challenges," Statement before the Subcommittee on Seapower of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, Apr. 8, 1997 (photocopy), pp. 4-5, and
accompanying briefing charts ("Type 094 SSBN," "Chinese JL-2 SLBM Range
Arcs," and "Future Chinese Nuclear Submarine Force Structure").
24. China's Strategic Seapower, pp. 236-237.
25. Bonnie S. Glaser and Banning N. Garrett, "Chinese Perspectives on the
Strategic Defense Initiative," Problems of Communism, Vol. 35, No. 2
(Mar.-Apr. 1986), pp. 28-42; Banning N. Garrett and Bonnie S. Glaser,
"Chinese Perspectives on Nuclear Arms Control," International Security,
Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter 1995/96), pp. 72-74. He Yingbo, "The Potential
Capability of BMD Systems and Their Possible Effects on International
Security," International Society of Engineers and Scientists Against
Proliferation Information Bulletin, Mar. 1997; He Yingbo, discussion with
National Institute for Public Policy staff, Apr. 21, 1998.
26. Patrick E. Tyler, "As China Threatens Taiwan, It Makes Sure U.S.
Listens," New York Times, Jan. 24, 1996, p. A3; Bill Gertz, "General Who
Threatened L.A. Tours U.S. on Chinese Mission," Washington Times, Dec. 18,
1996, p. A6. The Washington Times article identifies Lt. Gen. Xiong
Guangkai as the official who conveyed the threat to Chas. W. Freeman,
former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Regional Security Affairs.
27. Hua Di, "China's Case: Ballistic Missile Proliferation," in William C.
Potter and Harlan W. Jencks, eds., The International Missile Bazaar: The
New Suppliers' Network (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994), pp. 163-164;
"China's Ballistic Missile Programs," pp. 6, 32.
28. China also derives economic benefits from selling space launch
capability. Such capability also gives the Chinese an opening to obtain
Western ballistic missile and satellite technology.
29. "China's Case," pp. 164-166.
30. Greg Geradi and Richard Fisher, Jr., "China's Missile Tests Show More
Muscle," Jane's Intelligence Review, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Mar. 1997), pp.
31. China's Strategic Seapower, p. 227.