China’s missile buildup across the Taiwan Strait appears to be continuing apace, with reports appearing in Chinese media late last week that the Second Artillery Corps is now equipped with high-precision Dong Feng-12 (DF-12) short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM).
According to online reports and photographs (which includes official Chinese publications), the DF-12 is a re-designation of the M20 tactical SRBM, which China first unveiled at the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi in February 2011. The re-designation would confirm that the M20 is now fielded with the Second Artillery Corps, which operates China’s strategic nuclear forces and missile arsenal.
Analysts in 2011 pointed out that the M20 bore a striking resemblance to the Russian-made 9K720 Iskander (SS-26 Stone). While contemporary sources said they were unaware of China purchasing the Iskander directly from Russia, they pointed to the high likelihood that the technology was acquired via Ukraine or Belarus.
The single-stage solid propellant Iskander was developed in the late stages of the Cold War and entered Russian military service in 2006. The Iskander-M, intended for Russian forces, has a range of 400km, while that of the Iskander-E was established at 280km. Last week’s reports also set the range for the DF-12 at 280km.
Like the Iskander, the M20/DF-12 reportedly has built-in countermeasures, including terminal maneuverability, against theatre missile defense systems such as the U.S.’ Patriot PAC-2/3, which is deployed in Taiwan to protect major urban centers, and Taiwan’s indigenous Tien Kung II. It is said to be very accurate and reportedly relies on inertial navigation and global positioning system guidance, presumably China’s Beidou.
The missile carries an 880lb warhead and can deliver cluster, high explosive fragmentation, penetration and high explosive incendiary warheads. The transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle carries two missiles.
The Taiwanese military and the U.S. Department of Defense believe China has more than 1,600 missiles aimed at Taiwan. At present, the bulk of the Second Artillery threat against the island relies on the DF-11 SRBM, which is augmented by the DF-15 and DF-16 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) introduced in recent years. The addition of the DF-12 will add yet another layer of land-based missile systems targeting Taiwan and will further complicate its air-defense efforts while underscoring efforts to centralize command-and-control of China’s missile forces for greater effectiveness.
The Taiwan Strait is 230 km at its widest and as little as 130 km at its narrowest.