China has deployed a large number of launchers for its new advanced intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) to the country’s eastern and western areas for intensive training, as it and the United States continue their posturing over the disputed South China Sea.
Satellite images by Maxar Technologies showed the Chinese military had deployed many DF-26 IRMB launchers to a training site in Shandong province in the east, according to a report by the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS) on Thursday, adding it was the first time it had seen the DF-26 operating in the area.
Last week, Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review, said in a YouTube video that China’s Rocket Force had deployed about 16 launchers for the DF-26 IRBM to its Qingzhou base in Shandong and another in Korla, in the far-western Xinjiang region.
Chang had said the locations put India – with which China has been involved in a months-long border stand-off – within its range and posed a threat to the United States’ naval base in Yokosuka and other military outposts in Japan.
The DF-26 IRMB is a mobile-road ballistic missile armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead with a range of 5,000km (miles).
Chang said China had built two huge warehouses for the DF-26, indicating large deployment to the border area, but Chinese military expert Zhou Chenming said the DF-26 was in Korla for training, given the “missile shooting range in the uninhabited Gobi desert”. Zhou added: “It’s not the first time the DF-26 has been there, but the first time pictured by satellites.”
Zhou said the powerful DF-26 was not needed to deal with India, while the Qingzhou base in the east was “just the rocket force’s training school”.
Given its range, Zhou said DF-26 missiles could target foreign warships if they entered Chinese sea territory.
“But China would not deploy the DF-26 to the front line and coasts, because it would be more easily found and destroyed by the US’ ship-borne tomahawk missiles,” he said.
The US has stepped up its presence in the disputed East China Sea and South China Sea in the past two years. It has sent two aircraft carrier strike groups and an expeditionary strike group to the region for freedom of navigation operations since last week, according to the US Navy.
Military commentator and former People’s Liberation Army instructor Song Zhongping said: “China’s ultimate goal is to expel US aircraft carriers as far as possible.”
In a test in August, China’s Rocket Force launched a DF-26 missile from its northwestern province of Qinghai to target a moving ship in the South China Sea.
The DF-26 has previously been deployed to at least four other locations in China, according to the FAS and Chang.