The PLA is known having been seeking long-range land-attack cruise missile (LACM) technology since the early 1990s. So far a number of developmental cruise missiles have been reported, though no detailed information has yet been published. China’s development of strategic LACM may have been assisted by Russian and Ukrainian technologies. Some sources predicted that the first operational deployment of Chinese indigenous LACM took place in 2004~2005. The PLA Second Artillery Corps (Strategic Missile Force) has formed a Cruise Missile Brigade based at Jianshui, Yunnan Province in southern China.
During the 1991 Gulf War, 80% of the Tomahawk cruise missiles launched by the U.S. forces hit their targets within 3 meters of the aim point after a 1,600km journey. The PLA took note of the magnificent performance of these weapons and has been focusing its efforts on acquiring cruise missiles and their relevant technologies since the early 1990s. China is keen to develop its own Tomahawk-like long-range cruise missiles to deliver conventional and unconventional payloads. This is a time-consuming, technically challenging, and costly endeavour, but it offers China an opportunity to strengthen its manufacturing and technical capabilities, and it could become a source of national pride. Designations of current development projects reportedly include ChangFeng (CF), HongNiao (HN), and DongHai (DH), with possible range between 400~1,800km.
China’s LACM research and development is aided by an aggressive effort to acquire foreign cruise missile technology, particularly from Russia and Ukraine. China also seeks dual-use technologies and subsystems from the United States and other foreign countries. According to a recent report, Ukraine exported at least 18 examples of the 3,000km-range, nuclear capable Kh-55 (NATO codename: AS-15 Kent) strategic cruise missiles to China and Iran between 1999 and 2001. China may have also obtained the design of the Kh-65SE, a shorter-range export version of the Kh-55 from Russia.
Cruise Missile Guidance
The guidance system represents the most significant challenge for a long-range cruise missile programme. The proposed Chinese cruise missile is likely going to be equipped with a multiple guidance system with an inertial navigation system (INS), global positioning system (GPS), and terrain comparison (TERCOM).
China would require an extensive database of accurate topographic information to use terrain comparison (TERCOM) guidance. But TERCOM would probably be relatively ineffective in areas such as the South China Sea, which present few navigational reference points. Published reports suggest that GPS would initially be used as the primary guidance system, possibly to be supplemented subsequently with TERCOM.
The potential use of the American GPS system would render this system vulnerable to jamming of the unencrypted civil signal (CA code) from GPS satellites within view of the Chinese area of operations, or to local jamming and spoofing in the target area. Chinese cruise missiles could still find their targets using inertial navigation system (INS) technology, but without GPS updates they would be significantly less accurate.
It is likely that even if the US tried to deny GPS signals to China, the PLA’s cruise missiles could still function via the Russian GLONASS, or in the future the European GALILEO navigation signals. China is also developing its own “Compass Satellite Navigation System”, which would eventually comprise 5 Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites and 30 medium Earth orbit satellites to provide a global cover.
China is relatively experienced in small turbofan engine technology. China has developed a range of small turbojet engines to power its anti-ship cruise missiles such as HY-4 (C-401) and YJ-82 (C-802). China is also actively seeking to develop the more advanced turbofan engine for its next generation fighter aircraft. China has developed 16.87kN thrust WS-11 turbofan engine to power its JL-8/K-8 jet trainer aircraft. The same technology can used to develop a suitable turbofan engine for the cruise missile.
As well as nuclear warhead and conventional high-explosive (HE) warhead, the future Chinese cruise missile may also be able to carry special warhead such as electromagnetic pulse (EMP).