Chinese army sends DF-26 ballistic missiles to northwest region
- Long-range missiles can carry nuclear or conventional warheads and strike medium to large vessels up to 4,000km away
- State media says they are being used in plateau and desert areas for training
The People’s Liberation Army has sent its DF-26 ballistic missiles to China’s northwest region in an apparent bid to beef up training of its missile force.
State broadcaster CCTV reported on Thursday that the far-reaching anti-ship ballistic missiles were being used in active training in the country’s northwestern plateau and desert areas.
The DF-26 can carry a nuclear or conventional warhead and strike medium to large vessels as far as 4,000km (2,500 miles) away.
On Friday, nationalistic tabloid Global Times highlighted the timing, with the mobilisation coinciding with US warship the USS McCampbell “trespassing” in China’s territorial waters near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea that are claimed by Beijing.
But Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said it would not be necessary to resort to a long-range missile like the DF-26 if China wanted to take action over such “intrusions”.
“You don’t kill a tiny chick with a cleaver you would use on a bull,” Song said. “Mentioning the DF-26 is more about muscle-flexing in response to provocations generally.”
Song added that China had already deployed anti-ship missiles to both the Paracels and the Spratly Islands, which would be far more effective in dealing with any potential conflict.
“US warships in the South China Sea will fall within the firing range of these artilleries in the event of any incidents,” he said.
The mobilisation was seen as a measure to strengthen training of China’s missile force.
The PLA Rocket Force has set up training grounds and target ranges in the vast plateau and deserts of the northwest and carries out test firing in the sparsely populated region.
The ranges are equipped with monitoring facilities and electronic jamming to simulate a battlefield, and they are also outside the range of detection of US radars such as the THAAD – or Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – system deployed in South Korea.
The CCTV report showed seven military trucks carrying DF-26 missiles travelling along a road amid rough terrain and sand dunes but did not say when the mobilisation took place.
“Over the past few years, we have trained and held drills everywhere from the east coast to the northeast, and the desert in the northwest,” brigade commander Yao Wenshan told the broadcaster. “Our special mission is to kill at one strike from thousands of kilometres away.”
The DF-26 missile was first seen in public at a military parade in 2015 and it was confirmed to have entered into service in April last year.
This week was the first time the missile has been shown to be in operation, including close-up footage and shots from its launch panel.
China has another anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D, which is also believed to be able to strike an aircraft carrier, but with a shorter range of about 1,450km.