The Buzz

Watch Out, America: China Unveils New Massive Missile Launcher

China has built a massive new mobile missile launcher likely intended to carry its new anti-ship missile.

This month, Chinese citizens began posting pictures of a new Transporter Erector Launch (TEL) vehicle seen driving on the streets of China. The new TEL is much bigger than China’s current TELs used to carry CJ-10 land attack cruise missile (LACM).

As Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer note on their spectacular Eastern Arsenal blog:

This new TEL vehicle is similar to the all-terrain 8X8 TEL for the CJ-10 land attack cruise missile (LACM), but it's much, much bigger. It appears to share a similar powertrain to the CJ-10 TEL and has the same width, but it's much longer; it has 6 axles with 12 all-terrain wheels. There's an extended section above the first and second axles, which would likely hold additional personnel and equipment for missile launch and flight corrections.   

The authors go on to point out that the new TEL “has a satellite communications dome, suggesting that it requires higher bandwidth for datalinks necessary to operate a more sophisticated missile.”

Furthermore, China’s current CJ-10 TELs carry three missiles, while the new one only has two canisters. These canisters are both wider and longer than the CJ-10 TELs. Lin and Singer write that “the new canisters appear to be about 9-10 meters long, compared to 7 meters for the CJ-10 LACM canister.”

From this, Lin and Singer speculate that the TEL is built to carry China’s new YJ-18 anti-ship missile, which is based off the Russian Klub anti-ship missile. “Given that the longest Klub missiles are about 9 meters in length (including booster), the new TEL could be for the YJ-18 anti-ship missile,” they write.  

On the other hand, they note that the greater diameter of the canister suggests it could be intended to carry China’s “long-range surface-to-air and anti-ballistic HQ-26 missile, an ultra long-range (4,000km+) cruise missile, or another large supersonic cruise missile.”

If the TEL is intended to carry the YJ-18 ASCM, it would be a significant development for the U.S. Navy. As Lyle Goldstein noted on The National Interest back in June, the Pentagon estimates “the range of YJ-18 at 290 nautical miles—more than double that of its likely progenitor, the Russian SS-N-27 Klub ASCM (export version).  If correct, moreover, this new range will, in the near term, more or less quadruple the range of the standard ASCM fired from most PLA Navy submarines.”

Like the Klub ASCM, the YJ-18 is also believed to be a partially supersonic missile. As Goldstein noted, Chinese-language articles refer to the YJ-18 as a “dual-speed” missile, and speculate “that [the] YJ-18 would have an initial subsonic phase estimated at .8 Mach similar to the Klub of about 180km, but 20km from the target would unleash the supersonic sprint vehicle at speed of Mach 2.5 to 3.”  

Chinese-language press have also claimed that the YJ-18 improves upon the Klub missile in the areas of “digitization, automation, as well as providing more intelligent flight control and navigation technology.”

The mobility of the TELs would make it easier for China to conceal its YJ-18s from the U.S. military or any other adversary in the event of conflict. Placing them on Hainan Island or other parts of southern China would be consistent with China’s desire to implement an anti-access/area-denial strategy against the United States.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Jian Kang