The most rewarding aspect of the Monterey Institute is the students. Okay, it’s the weather. But the students are a close second.
We have, for instance, an embarrassment of Chinese-speaking graduate students. One of our best, Jonathan Ray, has been staring at Chinese social media sites. While most young Chinese men largely surf for smut, Jonathan has discovered titillating images of the sort familiar to readers of this site: wonkporn!
Over the past few months, images of at least three new Chinese transporter-erector-launchers have appeared on various Chinese social media sites. Here is our best effort at beginning to sort through them. Consider this a first cut. What we really need to do now is to start modeling the canisters to work out what sort of missiles might be inside.
Show and TEL
Jeffrey Lewis and Jonathan Ray
Second Artillery Transporter-Erector-Launchers in Chinese Social Media
Over the past year and a half, Chinese bloggers have posted images of at least three new-style transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) and their respective missile canisters. These images depict (1) a TEL with at least six axles, (2) a 6-axle TEL, and (3) an 8-axle TEL.
Since 2009, China has steadily replaced the old-style TELs for its DF-15 and DF-21 ballistic missiles with new-style TELs produced by the Wanshan Special Vehicle (WSV) Company. WSV-produced TELs are clearly different in style from previous Chinese TELs and resemble those manufactured by MAZ/MZKT in Belarus, with whom Wanshan established a joint-venture company. The TELs are similar in style to those that North Korea has displayed for its Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and new KN-08 ICBM. (WSV appears to have produced the TEL for the KN-08.)
The photographs posted by Chinese bloggers appear to show three more new-style TELs that are clearly larger than known TELs for the DF-11, DF-15 or DF-21. The angles on the photographs are poor and in some cases key features are obscured, either deliberately or through hasty photography.
With these cautions in mind, our preliminary assessment is that these TELs are for three different missiles, including the DF-31/DF-31A. Other possibilities include a new MRBM or IRBM, a new ICBM under development, or China’s SC-19 exo-atmospheric interceptor. More definitive conclusions require estimates of canister size and the maximum loading of the TELs.
At Least 6-Axle TEL
On November 3, 2011, Weibo (Chinese Twitter) user “Richard潇” posted the a picture of a TEL with at least six axles. (Four wheels are visible, with two wheels obstructed by the photographer’s hand.) The TEL’s wheel-configuration is similar to a TEL that appeared in Pyongyang in 2010 carrying the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). Although the chassis appears similar, the image taken in China shows a TEL with a canister and a different erector.
The original picture and post are no longer on “Richard潇”’s Weibo account, but a copy is available on his BBS blog:
The text reads: “Hanchuan, accidentally encountered a missile [s: very formidable].” (The “s:” appears to be a Chinese emoticon to express awe.)
Hanchuan (汉川) is a county-level city in Xiaogan (孝感), Hubei Province. The Wanshan Special Vehicle Company’s factory is located in Xiaogan, Hubei Province.
On February 17th, two bloggers posted pictures of a six-axle TEL, claiming it is a DF-25 IRBM. The bloggers reposted the image from an automobile news site. One of the two bloggers claims that the photographer was on vacation in Xinyi City in Xuzhou (新沂市, 徐州), Jiangsu Province. There are no reported Second Artillery bases within 200 kilometers of Xinyi City. The image may show either a new IRBM deployed at an unreported launch brigade or in transit from the Nanjing Guided Missile plant 200 kilometers to the south.
On February 8th Xilu.com, a Chinese military news site, posted what looks like an eight-axle TEL, but with the cargo cropped out. The image was titled – “The Second Artillery’s Newest Dongfeng Exposed; The chassis that an internet user photographed is a model number never seen before” (“二炮最新东风导弹曝光网友拍摄底盘是从未见过的型号”) – but not accompanied by any explanatory text. Chinese bloggers were disappointed but not surprised.
Then on March 6, Sina Military Forum user “Red Arrow 73 (红箭73)” posted a different and complete picture of a similar (possibly even the same) eight-axle TEL carrying what he claims is a DF-31.
There are no geographic data about the location of this TEL.
This is the largest TEL spotted in China to date. In 2010, the Department of Defense said, “China may also be developing a new road- mobile ICBM, possibly capable of carrying a multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV).”
Fewer than 10 bloggers have reposted the picture, and have speculated the missile is a DF-41 and that the design is similar design to the Russian Topol-M. In 2012, one press report in the U.S. claimed the Second Artillery conducted a “DF-41” flight test although the report is not independently confirmed. One thread on a Chinese blog describes the TEL’s missile as “又粗又长,” which translates as “both rough and long.” The conversation soon degraded; it is not safe for work if your boss speaks Chinese.
A similar 8-axle WSV-manufactured TEL appeared in North Korea’s 2012 military parade carrying the KN-08 ICBM. As in the case of the Musudan, however, despite a similar chassis, the TEL in China carries a canister and has a different erector. Shipping documents obtained by Asahi and published by James Hardy for Jane’s, as well as a press release posted on the WSV website, suggest that WSV manufactured the TELs seen carrying the KN-08.
China’s Ongoing TEL Upgrades
While these three TELs are of different sizes, they all appear to be WSV-manufactured and, at least in style, resemble MAZ models. In the 2009 National Day Parade, China paraded DF-15 and DF-21 with new WSV-style TELs that replaced older towed configurations.
For example, here are before and after images of the DF-15:
Here are “before” and “after” images of the DF-21:
The 2009 parade also included a DF-11A, which was carried on a WSV-style TEL. (The DF-11 appears to be the first Chinese missile that received a WSV-style TEL dating to at least 1999.)
China displayed the DF-31A, however, with an old-style towed erector-launcher (sometimes called a MEL or Mobile Erector Launcher).
For some time, observers have wondered when China’s road-mobile ICBM force would receive new vehicles.
We now have images of what appear to be three new TELs, one or more of which is apparently for the DF-31 series.
(1) The smallest appears to have six axles. This TEL is larger than the TEL for the DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), which has five axles, and may correspond to a new MRBM or IRBM.
(2) It is unclear how many axles the next largest TEL has, but the wheel configuration indicates six or more and a different chassis from the 6-axle TEL. It is possible that this is either a DF-31 or DF-31A TEL. The old DF-31 TEL had eight axles, but in a towed configuration.
(3) Finally, the 8-axle TEL is the largest seen to date in China. It is presumably for China’s longest-range mobile ICBM, either a DF-31A or the reported DF-41.
One possibility is that the three TELs are for the DF-31, DF-31A and the reported DF-41. Another possibility is that the TELs are for an unreported IRBM, the DF-31 and either the DF-31A or a reported DF-41. A third possibility is that one of the TELs is associated with China’s SC-19 hit-to-kill interceptor.
Further constraining the possibilities requires modeling the TELs and canisters in an effort to gauge the canister size and maximum load to provide a preliminary assessment of the missiles carried inside.