China Reorganizes Northern Nuclear Missile Launch Sites

Released on = July 12, 2007, 9:25 am

Press Release Author = Federation of American Scientists

Industry = Non Profit

Press Release Summary = China has significantly reorganized facilities believed to
be launch sites for nuclear ballistic missiles near Delingha in the northern parts
of Central China, according to commercial satellite images analyzed by the
Federation of American Scientists.

Press Release Body = China has significantly reorganized facilities believed to be
launch sites for nuclear ballistic missiles near Delingha in the northern parts of
Central China, according to commercial satellite images analyzed by the Federation
of American Scientists.

The images indicate that older liquid-fueled missiles previously thought to have
been deployed in the area may have been replaced with newer solid-fueled missiles.
From the sites, the missiles are within range of three Intercontinental Ballistic
Missile (ICBM) fields and a bomber base in the southern parts of central Russia.

Analysis of Changes
The Chinese launch sites, which are located at an elevation of approximately 10,000
feet, are in an area that for years has been rumored to be a deployment area for
liquid-fueled DF-4 long-range nuclear ballistic missiles. In November 2006, FAS and
NRDC published Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning, which used
satellite images to describe the two launch sites. Several other apparent sites
nearby did not have any infrastructure and many appeared abandoned.

The southern launch site has changed most dramatically. In late-2005, the site had
what appeared to be a large missile garage, approximately 40 small buildings
(possibly crew quarters), and more than half a dozen service trucks. A gate was also
visible. In the new image from late-2006, all of those features are gone with only a
single service truck visible on the launch pad, and the access road appears to have
been paved.

Delingha Launch Site 1 Changes
The southern launch site at Delingha (3724\'27.47\"N, 97 3\'21.18\"E) changed
dramatically between late-2005 and late-2006. All buildings were been removed and
only a few small trucks remain. The 250-feet (80-meters) launch pad and the access
roads have been paved.

The second launch site some 2.5 miles (4.3 km) to the north has also changed
significantly, but here operations appear to have increased. In late-2005, this site
included what appeared to be a missile garage, an underground facility,
approximately 15 buildings, and less than a dozen service trucks of various sizes.
The new satellite image from late-2006, however, shows that the large garage has
been removed, the number of buildings nearly doubled, the access roads paved, and
work appears to be in progress next to the underground facility .

Delingha Launch Site 2 Changes
The northern primary launch site has been expanded significantly between late-2005
and late-2006. Numerous new buildings have been erected, the access roads have been
paved, work appears to be in progress next to the underground facility, and six
13-meter trucks that resemble launchers for the DF-21 MRBM are clearly visible on
the launch pad. Check it out on Google Earth.

Most interestingly, clearly visible are eight 13-meter trucks lined up on the launch
pad. The satellite image is not of high enough resolution to identify the trucks and
their features with certainty, but they strongly resemble the six-axle transport
erector launchers (TELs) in use with the 10-meter DF-21 medium-range ballistic
missile. A vague line across the trailer two-thirds toward the rear resembles the
position of the hydraulic pumps used to erect the missile canister to a vertical

Other Delingha Launch Sites
Possible DF-21 launchers are also visible at several of a dozen smaller possible
launch sites. This one, north of the main site (Site 2), has also been upgraded with
a new building.

Changes to Other Delingha Sites
The two launch sites described above are the most actively visible in the satellite
images. But there are more sites that appear to be involved in missile operations.
North along the main road is what appears to be five smaller dispersed parking or
launch platforms. None of these sites had any vehicles or infrastructure visible in
2005, but the new image shows one 13-meter truck present at four of the five sites.
One of the sites appears to be upgrading with new access roads, a building, and half
a dozen service vehicles (see right).
Further to the west, approximately 10 miles (17 km) from site 1 and 2, is another
road leading north into the mountains. Along this road, another eight possible
dispersal launch sites are visible. No 13-meter trucks, buildings, or other vehicles
are visible at these sites.

The DF-21 Medium-Range Ballistic Missile
The DF-21 is a medium-range ballistic missile estimated by the U.S. Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA) to have a range of approximately 1,330 miles (2,150
kilometers). It is China\'s first solid-fueled ballistic missile and believed to
carry a single warhead with a yield of 200-300 kilotons. Full operational deployment
began in 1991. The missile is approximately 33 feet (10 meters) long and launched
from a six-axle transporter erect launcher (TEL). Two versions of the missile are
deployed, according to the DOD. Some might have been converted to carry conventional

The Defense Intelligence Agency estimated in 1996 that the DF-21 was expected to
complement and possibly take over the strategic targeting role of the DF-3 by 2000.
But introduction was slow. Whether this is now happening, and whether the DF-21 is
also replacing DF-4s in some roles is unknown. The DOD's annual report on China's
military power for years showed great uncertainty about the number of DF-21s, the
2006 report listing a range of 19-50 missiles on 34-38 launchers. The 2007 report,
however, lists 40-50 missiles on 34-38 launchers, which suggests the DOD believes
the number of missiles has increased while the number of launchers has stayed the

Possible Targets
From Delingha the DF-21 is in range of northern India (including New Delhi) and
three Russian ICBM fields and a bomber base.

Uncertainties and Implications
It is important to caution that there is no information publicly available that
confirms that the Delingha sites are launch sites for ballistic missiles, or that
the 13-meter trucks indeed are DF-21 launchers. First, the changes at the sites may
be routine because nearly all of China\'s ballistic missile are mobile, and the
support units are designed to follow the launchers wherever they go. Second, the
rumored DF-4 deployment in the area may have been wrong, or the DF-21 may have moved
in years ago but only been publicly visible now. U.S. and Russian spy satellites
probably have monitored the changes at Delingha on a daily basis and provided a much
more detailed understanding of what is happening at the sites.

Yet the indications that the DF-21 is deployed at Delingha appear to be strong. And
if the dozen 13-meter trucks visible on the satellite images at Delingha indeed are
DF-21 TELs, then 32-35 percent of China's estimated inventory of DF-21 launchers are
deployed in central China.

With a DIA-listed range of 1,330 miles (2,150 kilometers) the DF-21s would not be
able to reach any U.S. bases from Delingha, but they would be able to hold at risk
all of northern India including New Delhi. Moreover, and this is perhaps the most
interesting implication of the discovery, DF-21s would be within range of three main
Russian ICBM fields on the other side of Mongolia: the SS-25 fields near Novosibirsk
and Irkutsk, the SS-18 field near Uzhur, and a Backfire bomber base at Belaya.

Whereas targeting New Delhi could be considered normal for a non-alert retaliatory
posture like China\'s, targeting Russian ICBM fields and air bases would be a step
further in the direction of a counterforce posture. But again, it is unknown exactly
what role the Delingha missiles have, and the DF-21 may not be accurate enough to
pose a serious risk to hardened Russian ICBM silos. Regardless of targeting,
Delingha appears to be very active.

One of the most striking features about the sites is their high vulnerability to
attack. All appear to be almost entirely surface-based facilities (although Site 2
has an underground structure), and a mobile missile launcher is extremely vulnerable
once it has been discovered. The sites were possible DF-21 launchers were detected
are located within a distance of about six miles (10 kilometers). A single
high-yield nuclear warhead would probably be sufficient to neutralize the entire
force visible in the images.

But an adversary might not even have to cross the nuclear threshold. A single U.S.
B-2 bomber loaded with non-nuclear JDAM bombs (see this video) would probably be
sufficient to neutralize the dozen launch sites seen in the images. The United
States has begun to incorporate such advanced conventional weapons into its
strategic strike plans to give the president \"more options.\" Since China has
repeatedly pledged that it \"will not be the first to use such [nuclear] weapons at
any time and in any circumstance,\" some might conclude that a conventional strike on
Chinese nuclear forces would not trigger Chinese use of nuclear weapons. But whether
Beijing would indeed stand idle by as its nuclear forces were taken out by
conventional weapons is highly questionable.

To see the satellite images and read the full analysis, please visit: .

To schedule an interview with Hans M. Kristensen or another FAS expert, please
contact Monica Amarelo at email or call 202-454-4680.

* * *

The Federation of American Scientists ( was formed in 1945 by atomic
scientists from the Manhattan Project. Endorsed by 68 Nobel Laureates in biology,
chemistry, economics, medicine and physics as sponsors, the Federation has addressed
a broad spectrum of national security issues in carrying out its mission to promote
humanitarian uses of science and technology. Today, FAS projects study nuclear arms
control and global security; conventional arms transfers; proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction; information technology for human health; and government
information policy.

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Web Site =

Contact Details = Federation of American Scientists
1717 K Street, NW
Suite 209
Washington, DC 20036

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