The Chinese navy has unveiled a new short-range ballistic missile that can reportedly dodge missile defenses.
The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), which is government-owned, unveiled the new missile, the CM-401, to the public at the biennial Zhuhai Airshow, which began on 6 November. The event is also a general arms expos.
CASIC featured a pair of launch platforms at the event: An 8×8 truck-mounted type with a pair of missiles inside self-contained launch canisters and also one that appears to be designed as a deck-launch platform aboard ships, also with two missiles.
There are few detailed specifics about the weapon and its launchers so far, but observers believe that the missile itself has a maximum diameter of approximately 2.8 feet. This is similar to that of the Russian Iskander-M quasi-ballistic missile. The CM-401’s general shape looks similar to Russia’s missile, but it appears to be smaller overall,” The Drive‘s “The War Zone” reports.
According to additional specs, the missile has a minimum range of nine miles and a max range of just over 180 miles.
Graphics accompanying the CM-401’s display indicate it is designed with “porpoising” or “skip-glide” trajectory “that involves the warhead abruptly pulling up at least once as it begins the terminal stage of its flight,” The Drive notes. The missile also reportedly travels at between Mach 4 and Mach 6, which also makes it more difficult to target with missile defenses.
Analysis: Given the missile’s size and design, some experts believe that it could have a range much longer than 180 miles — something in the range of 650 miles. If so, that obviously gives China additional strategic advantages.
China officially adheres to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), “a voluntary arrangement between 35 different countries not to export missiles that can carry a 1,100 pound payload more than 186 miles away,” The Drive notes. By understating the range publicly, however, that also gives China ‘cover’ if it wants to export the missile, which seems likely.
As for the system itself, China is just as likely to deploy the land-based version to its manmade islets in the South China Sea as an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapon as it is aboard its new Type 055 destroyers. It’s puported speed and skip-glide trajectory capabilities mean that the missile was designed specifically for the purposes of denying the U.S. Navy and allied warships access to wide swaths of the SCS during a conflict.
That said, there are a number of ways the U.S. can and would counter such systems such as striking China’s island defenses early in any conflict. But in situations short of conflict, the CM-401 gives Beijing a powerful enforcement tool and provides it with additional options should push come to shove.
As for export customers, Pakistan seems a good fit given its continuing rivalry with India. The CM-401 would give the much smaller Pakistani navy some new capabilities while land-based versions would put Indian capital warships (like aircraft carriers) at greater risk.
The Saudis are also prospective customers. The kingdom has purchased Chinese missiles in the past and the CM-401 would be a good fit for the smallish confines of the Persian Gulf in any conflict with regional competitor Iran.