As part of its program to develop future-ready, next-generation weapons, China is reportedly developing launchers for its Dongfeng series of missiles that are capable of evading detection by satellites, radars and drones.
China would be using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to make missile launchers more tactical and “invisible,” Yang Biwu, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force researcher, said on Sunday’s episode of a China Central Television (CCTV) series about PLA’s modernization, according to a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report that came out Thursday.
Over the past several days, the state-owned television has been showcasing the country’s military modernization program with documentaries on its Dongfeng series of missiles and fourth-generation main battle tanks.
“I believe that on the battlefields of the future, our counterparts will not see us or know the whereabouts of our [missile launchers],” Yang, who worked on the launch vehicle for China’s DF-17 hypersonic missile, said, as per the report.
Part of the Dongfeng series, the DF-17 is a road-mobile medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) system equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle.
Operated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), the Dongfeng series of missiles, generally referred to as DF missiles, include a range of ballistic missiles with the capability to engage targets at short, medium, intermediate and even intercontinental ranges.
The DF-17 is believed to be the world’s first active hypersonic glide vehicle weapon capable of penetrating the U.S. missile shields in the region. Yang and his team have designed a camouflage launch vehicle for the missile, according to the SCMP report.
The DF-17 missile, which is 11 meters long and has a launch weight of 15,000 kilograms (approximately 33,000 pounds), is capable of carrying conventional and nuclear warheads to a distance of up to 2,500 kilometers (over 1500 miles). It has been in service since 2019.
The launch vehicle for the DF-17 is a modified version of the one for the DF-16B ballistic missiles, the report also said, citing a military source. Both the DF-16B and DF-17 are reportedly designed as offensive weapons for a Taiwan contingency, aimed at stopping foreign military intervention in the Taiwan Strait.
The report quoted another military analyst, former PLA instructor Song Zhongping, noting that the camouflage and design of missile launchers are key parts of battlefield tactics.
“Protecting troops and weapons is the top priority in all warfare situations, and especially given China’s ‘no first use’ nuclear policy, which requires better protection during preparation for a ‘second strike,'” Song reportedly said.
The Dongfeng series of missiles are dual-capable weapons that can be used to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads, the report added.
Meanwhile, in contrast to the hypersonic weapons program pursued by China and Russia, the U.S. is focusing on developing hypersonic weapons that are to be conventionally armed.
A July 2022 report by the Congressional Research Service pointed out that due to their conventional nature, U.S. hypersonic weapons are more technically challenging to develop than those of China or Russia because they are required to have greater accuracy.
For context, the report quoted a testimony of a Carnegie expert who said that “a nuclear-armed glider would be effective if it were 10 or even 100 times less accurate [than a conventionally-armed glider]” due to nuclear blast effects.