Two weeks after China allegedly unveiled a new ICBM system “in response to Trump’s provocative remarks”, a report which however was subsequently denied by Chinese officials, China had no qualms about revealing another highly accurate ballistic missile in recent Rocket Force drills, which is capable of threatening not only Taiwan and the contested South China Sea islands, but also U.S. and Japanese bases in Asia.
As AP reports, the medium-range DF-16 featured in a video posted last week on the Defense Ministry’s website showing the missiles aboard their 10-wheeled mobile launch vehicles being deployed in deep forest during exercises over the just-concluded Lunar New Year holiday.
While the Rocket Force boasts an extensive armory of missiles of various ranges, the DF-16 fills a particular role in extending China’s reach over waters it seeks to control within what it calls the “first-island chain.”
Some more details from the missile’s public profile,the DF-16 is a new-model missile that has a longer range than the DF-15 (between 1,000–1,600 km (620–990 mi)). A Taiwan official announced on March 16, 2011 that Taiwan believed China had begun deploying the missiles.
The DF-16 represents an increased threat to Taiwan because it is more difficult to intercept for anti-ballistic missiles systems such as the MIM-104 Patriot PAC-3. Due to its increased range, the missile has to climb to higher altitudes before descending, giving more time for gravity to accelerate it on re-entry, faster than a PAC-3 could effectively engage it. The DF-16 is a MRBM longer and wider than previous models with a 1,000–1,500 kg (2,200–3,300 lb) warhead. Its bi-conic warhead structure leaves room for potential growth to include specialized terminally guided and deep penetrating warheads. It is launched from a 10×10 wheeled TEL similar to that of the DF-21, but instead of a “cold launch” missile storage tube it uses a new protective “shell” to cover the missile.
In other words, as Sino-US diplomatic tensions over Taiwan, and the South China Sea contested islands continue to escalate with the US warning it would never concede sovereignty over the disputed naval area as per Rex Tillerson’s recent confirmation hearing, China has now openly unveiled, and telegraphed, its nuclear “first strike” optionality on both the islands – and Taiwan – should it need it.
First displayed at a Beijing military parade in 2015, the missile is believed to have a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), putting it within striking distance of Okinawa, home to several U.S. military installations, as well as the Japanese home islands, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The two-stage DF-16 replaces the older, shorter range DF-11, with a final stage that can adjust its trajectory to strike slow moving targets and evade anti-missile defenses such as the U.S. Patriot system deployed by Taiwan.
It also carries up to three warheads weighing as much as a ton and carrying conventional high explosives or a nuclear weapon. Further increasingly its lethality, the missile is believed to be accurate to within as little as 5 meters (16 feet) of the target, similar to that of a cruise missile.