Global Risk

New Air Force Intelligence Report Available

06.09.09 | 6 min read | Text by Hans Kristensen

The NASIC report dispels many web-rumors.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Air Force Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published an update to its Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat. The document, which I obtained from NASIC, is sobering reading.

The latest update continues the previous user-friendly format and describes a number of important assessments and new developments in ballistic and cruise missiles of many of the world’s major military powers.

The report also helps dispel many web-rumors that have circulated about Chinese, Russian, Indian and Pakistani nuclear forces.

In this blog I’ll focus on the nuclear weapon states, particularly China.

Chinese Nuclear Forces

As the DF-3A retirement continues (there are now only 5-10 launchers left of close to 100 in the 1980s), the liquid-fuel missile is being replaced by a family of solid-fuel DF-21 variants. The NASIC identifies four, including two nuclear versions (Mod 1 and Mod 2), one conventional version, and an anti-ship version that unlike the others is not yet deployed.

Thankfully, the report dispels widespread speculation by web sites, news media, and even Jane’s after images began circulating on the Internet, that a DF-25 had been deployed, some even said with three nuclear warheads.  But it was, as I predicted last year and NASIC now confirms, in fact a DF-21.

DF-21 Road-Mobile Launchers

A column of DF-21s on the road in what could be the Delingha deployment are in Qinghai Province. Several of the vehicles have identical camouflage patterns, raising suspicion that the image has been manipulated. Four DF-21 versions exist, two nuclear, one conventional, and one anti-ship version.                                                                                       Image: Web

The report also reaffirms that the first of the DF-31s and DF-31As “have been deployed to units within the Second Artillery Corps,” and NASIC estimates that “less than 15” are deployed, up from the “less than 10” estimate in the Pentagon’s March 2009 report (which actually used 2008 data).

The NASIC report states that neither of China’s two types submarine-launched ballistic missiles is operational. This suggests that the multi-year overhaul of the JL-1 equipped Xia SSBN, which was completed last year, was not successful. The successor missile JL-2 for the new Jin-class SSBNs has not reached operational status either. NASIC gives the JL-2 the U.S. designation CSS-NX-14, not a numerical follow-on to the JL-1, which is listed as CSS-NX-3. The “14” could be a typo, but it appears several places in the report. The JL-2 is shown to have roughly the same dimensions as the Russian SS-N-32 SLBM.

NASIC lists single warheads on all of the Chinese missiles, not multiple warheads as speculated by many. “China could develop MIRV payloads for some of its ICBMs,” the report states. Yet it also predicts that, “Future ICBMs probably will include some with multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles.” Whether that prediction – which appears to hint that China has more ICBMs under development – comes true remains to be seen, and the U.S. intelligence community has stated for years that one development that could trigger it is a U.S. ballistic missile defense system.

The report echoes recent statements from other branches of the U.S. intelligence community that the number of warheads on Chinese ICBM capable of reaching the United States could expand to “well over 100 in the next 15 years.” Unfortunately, “well over 100” can mean anything so it is hard to compare this NASIC’s projection with the CIA projection from 2001 of 75-100 warheads “primarily targeted against the United States” by 2015. That projection only included DF-5A and DF-31A capable of targeting all of the United States, with the high number requiring multiple warheads on DF-5A. But the timeline for the anticipated increase has slipped considerably from 2015 to 2024.

U.S. Projections for Chinese ICBM Nuclear Warheads

Projections by the U.S. intelligence community for when China’s long-range nuclear arsenal will double continues to slide. Click image to download larger version.


Moreover, ICBMs “primarily targeted against the United States” is a smaller group of missiles than those “capable of reaching the United States,” which currently includes about 60 DF-4, DF-5A, DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs with as many warheads. For this group to grow to “well over 100 warheads” suggests that NASIC anticipates that China will deploy at least 60-70 DF-31, DF-31A and JL-2 missiles by 2024 (the DF-4 will probably have been retired by then). Assuming that includes 36 JL-2s on three Jin-class SSBNs, an additional 20-30 total DF-31s and DF-31As would have to be deployed to reach 120 ICBM warheads. If five SSBNs were deployed, then only 10 additional land-based ICBMs would be required, or 30 if the 20 DF-5As were retired.

The DH-10 land-attack cruise missile is listed as “conventional or nuclear,” the same designation used for the nuclear and conventional Russian AS-4. But unlike the 2009 DOD report on Chinese military forces, which lists 150-350 DH-10s deployed with 40-50 launchers, NASIC lists the operational status as “undetermined.”

Russian Nuclear Forces

NASIC states that “Russia retains about 2,000 warheads on ICBMs,” which is far too many for the land-based ICBM force and so probably includes SLBMs as well. The ICBM force will continue to decrease due to arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints. Even so, “Russia will probably retain the largest ICBM force outside the United States,” and “most of these missiles are maintained on alert, capable of being launched within minutes of receiving a launch order,” according to NASIC.

The multiple-warhead RS-24 ICBM is, according to NASIC, not a new missile but a modified version of the SS-27 (Topol-M).

The NASIC report formally designates the “multiple” warhead RS-24 ICBM to be a modification of the SS-27 Mod 1. This has some significance because Russia under START is not allowed to increase the warhead loading on missiles declared under the treaty, but in anticipation of the treaty expiring in December 2009 apparently has been working on doing so anyway. The RS-24, which will exist in both silo and road-mobile versions, is not yet deployed but Russian military officials have said this will happen in December.

On the submarine force the modified SS-N-23 known as Sineva is listed as carrying the same number of warheads (4) as the original version, far less than the “up to 10” listed by NASIC in 2006 and by Russian news media. The range is listed as the usual 8,000+ km even though the Russian Navy claimed in October 2008 to have test-flown the missile to 11,547 km. NASIC also continues to list two remaining Typhoon-class SSBNs as capable of carrying the SS-N-20, even though the missile is reported to have been withdrawn from service. I suspect this is because the report uses START-counted missile tubes. A third Typhoon SSBN has been converted as a test platform for the SS-N-32/Bulava-30, and NASIC lists this submarine with 20 tubes for the new missile.

Interestingly, the kh-102 cruise missile, a replacement for the AS-15 long rumored to be under development, is not listed by NASIC.

Indian Nuclear Forces

Even though Indian news media reports and private/corporate institutes have reported for years that Agni I and Agni II were deployed, the NASIC report shows that operational deployment of the road-mobile Agni I SRBM has only recently begun, with “fewer than 25” missile launchers deployed. NASIC seems to back our assessment from last year that the Agni II at that time was not yet fully operational, by listing “fewer than 10” launchers deployed.

Two short-range sea-based ballistic missiles are under development: Dhanush and Sagarika. Neither is operational yet, and NASIC safely estimates that the Sagarika will become operational sometime after 2010.

Despite Indian news media reports of development of a nuclear-capable cruise missile, no mentioning of such a weapon system is made by NASIC.

Pakistani Nuclear Forces

There are fewer than 50 launchers for the road-mobile Ghaznavi and Shaheen I SRBMs listed in the NASIC report, and the 2,000+ km Shaheen II MRBM is not yet operational but may be soon. Pakistan also appears to have two nuclear-capable cruise missiles under development: the ground-launched Babur and the air-launched Ra’ad.

Other Nuclear Weapon States

Although “friendly” nuclear weapon states are not included because they are not a “threat” to the United States, the report’s section on cruise missiles is nonetheless interesting because it – unlike the ballistic missile sections – describes weapon systems of “friendly” nuclear weapon states such as France and Israel. Yet nuclear systems, such as the French ASMP-A, are excluded. Israeli submarine-based cruise missiles, which have been rumored to have nuclear capability (I’m not convinced), are not included either.

Curiously, even after two nuclear tests and the intelligence community stating for more than a decade that North Korea has nuclear weapons, the NASIC report does not list any of North Korea’s weapons as “nuclear” or “conventional or nuclear.” That is, I think, interesting.

Background Information: 2009 NASIC report | Previous NASIC reports