Much has been written for years about China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, or what most media refer to as the “carrier killer” for the threat it poses to aircraft carriers. the US Navy. But there is a more powerful missile, the DF-26, which seems to have even deadlier uses besides “killing” aircraft carriers: As China continues its military reinforcementone of the areas of greatest concern for the U.S. military has been the continued development of its Anti-Access/Zone Denial (A2/AD). China’s A2/AD strategy combines a range of military capabilities, from improved air defense systems and advanced fifth-generation combat aircraft to more capable warships, in an effort to limit the capability of the US military to operate effectively in East Asia.
China is pursuing its A2/AD strategy through the development of military capabilities capable of both directly targeting US warships and warplanes operating in theater as well as critical facilities such as ports and airbases on which they depend. By excluding the US military from the region in this way, China could succeed in both reducing US influence in the region in peacetime while significantly degrading its ability to carry out effective military action in support of its allies. and partners in the region. if hostilities broke out.
Enter the DF-26 IRBM
A central element of China’s A2/AD strategy is its development of increasingly capable ballistic missile systems. One such system is the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which is capable of hitting targets as far away as Guam and gives China the ability to target most US military installations in the east. of the Pacific Ocean.
The DF-26 IRBM was first publicly unveiled at a military parade in Beijing in 2015 and was first deployed by units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2016. The first units dedicated DF-26 missiles were established in 2018, and the US Department of Defense has valued that the PLA Rocket Force could operate up to 200 DF-26 launchers.
the DF-26 is a two-stage, solid-fuel, road-mobile missile that is likely a larger variant of the Chinese missile DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). The DF-26 has an estimated maximum range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers, which puts Guam and other regional US military installations within range. The DF-26 is China’s first conventionally-armed ballistic missile capable of striking Guam, a fact that has earned the DF-26 its nickname “Guam’s killer”. The missile is both transported and fired using the Chinese-made HTF5680 12 x 12 (TEL) transporter-erector launcher.
The DF-26 is believed to have a maximum payload capacity of between 1,200 and 1,800 kilograms and is capable of mounting both conventional and nuclear warheads. The DF-26 appears to be unique among Chinese ballistic missile systems in that the weapon may have been designed so as to ensure that it was “hot-swapable” and capable of rapidly switching between nuclear and conventional payloads.
The DF-26 also appears to have served as the basis for the development of a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) variant. There was already speculation that the DF-26 could be used to strike targets at sea, and this speculation only intensified after a trial 2017 of a missile that was fired into the Bohai Sea near the Korean Peninsula, which some say involved the use of a DF-26 or a new variant of it.
Since then, the PLA has tested both the DF-21D – believed to be China’s first ASBM model – as well as what some have now called the DF-26B. In August 2020, a test of the two weapons demonstrated that they may be capable of hitting moving targets at sea. If true, these weapons would pose a major threat to US aircraft carriers operating in the region.
Eli Fuhrman was an associate fellow in Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest and a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies program, where he focused on security issues in East Asia and US foreign and defense policy in the region.