|Naval DH-10 Cruise Missiles|
Images have surfaced of a naval variant of the DH-10 LACM on a China Navy test vessel. The missile canisters spotted appear to be virtually identical to the land-based variant. This sort of arrangement is reminiscent to the deployment of the BGM-109 Tomahawk on United States Navy surface combatants by way of the MK-143 Armored Box Launcher. The MK-143 enabled vessels such as the Iowa Class Battleships and Spruance Class Destroyers to launch the BGM-109.
The images suggest that the DH-10 would be installed in the same way as the YJ-62 or YJ-83 anti-ship missiles. This is advantageous for the current generation of China Navy surface combatants, giving designs such as the 052C land attack capability with minimal structural modification. However, the downside is that the arrangement would sacrifice anti-ship capabilities by substituting the YJ-62 or YJ-83 systems with DH-10 launchers. It also means that only a maximum of eight missiles can be carried and that is assuming the launch canisters can be stacked on top of one another.
In spite of its disadvantages and simplicity compared to the deployment of vertically launched LACMs by other navies, the adoption of a naval variant of the DH-10 is a considerable capability leap for Beijing. This development would enable China to complete its “cruise missile triad”, complementing the already in-service land-based system and the air-launched variant, the CJ-10. Missiles launched from land-based platforms are restricted to striking targets around China’s periphery, not so dissimilar to the range limitations faced by the Second Artillery Force’s inventory of conventional ballistic missiles.
Missiles launched from the air force’s H-6 bombers provide more operational flexibility and reach for China’s cruise missiles, similar to the way in which the United States Air Force deploys cruise missiles from its bomber fleet. However, without aerial refueling capability and heavy fighter protection, the H-6 is an aircraft restricted to limited regional operations. The bomber’s obsolete design, slow speed and its vulnerability to interception are weighing heavily against its potential strategic roles.
The China Navy, on the other hand, is the only branch of the Chinese military capable of projecting limited power far beyond China’s shores. While it is debatable whether the China Navy would seek the same sort of global reach as the United States Navy, the possession of ship-launched LACMs would essentially enable Chinese warships to conduct long range precision attacks against land targets around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The implications are strategic locations that were traditionally distance away from China mainland could now be potentially brought within the firing range of DH-10 armed vessels.
The fact that DH-10 is mounted on a test vessel that has yet sail suggests that it is still very early its development cycle. If the rumored Type 052D destroyer, the successor of the 052C that is reportedly under construction is mounted with DH-10, then a universal vertical launch system for Chinese armed forces is a reality.
It would also be interesting to monitor the future development of an undersea DH-10 systems as arming Beijing’s fleet of conventional and nuclear attack submarines with submarine-launched DH-10 missiles will have far reaching implications.