A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier: Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions

By Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan Book

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China’s military modernization is focused on building modern ground, naval, air, and missile forces capable of fighting and winning local wars under informationized conditions. The principal planning scenario has been a military campaign against Taiwan, which would require the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to deter or defeat U.S. intervention. The PLA has sought to acquire asymmetric “assassin’s mace”1 technologies and systems to overcome a superior adversary and couple them to the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems necessary for swift and precise execution of short-duration, high-intensity wars.

A key element of the PLA’s investment in antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities is the development and deployment of large numbers of highly accurate antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) on a range of ground, air, and naval platforms. China’s growing arsenal of cruise missiles and the delivery platforms and C4ISR systems necessary to employ them pose new defense and nonproliferation challenges for the United States and its regional partners. This study surveys People’s Republic of China (PRC) ASCM and LACM programs and their implications for broader PLA capabilities, especially in a Taiwan scenario. Key findings are presented below.