In mid-August 2015, eagle-eyed Chinese drivers spotted a new Chinese military vehicle that may give an indication of new missile launcher capabilities on the way.
Transporter Erector Launch (TEL) vehicles provide a mobile, survivable platform for surface-to-air, cruise and ballistic missiles, allowing them to disperse across the countryside in preparation for quick launches. This new TEL vehicle is similar to the all-terrain 8X8 TEL for the CJ-10 land attack cruise missile (LACM), but it’s much, much bigger. It appears to share a similar powertrain to the CJ-10 TEL and has the same width, but it’s much longer; it has 6 axles with 12 all-terrain wheels. There’s an extended section above the first and second axles, which would likely hold additional personnel and equipment for missile launch and flight corrections. Also, it has a satellite communications dome, suggesting that it requires higher bandwidth for datalinks necessary to operate a more sophisticated missile.
What’s more extraordinary about this new missile launcher is its two giant mystery missiles. While the CJ-10 TEL vehicle comfortably carried 3 CJ-10 missile canisters, the new TEL carries only two missile canisters, suggesting a missile much wider than the CJ-10. Also, despite the new TEL vehicle’s greater length, its twin missile canisters still extend to its rear bumper, showing that the new missile is longer and wider. The new canisters appear to be about 9-10 meters long, compared to 7 meters for the CJ-10 LACM canister.
Speculation is that the new TEL truck is for the 540km-range YJ-18 anti-ship missile, a Chinese adaption of Russian Klub rocket/cruise missile technology. The Klub missile uses a discardable turbofan engine to cruise at subsonic speeds for most of its flight, and then uses a rocket engine to reach supersonic speeds of Mach 3 in its final 50 kilometers of flight. Given that the longest Klub missiles are about 9 meters in length (including booster), the new TEL could be for the YJ-18 anti-ship missile. However, greater diameter of the new missile could point to other possibilities, such as the long-range surface-to-air and anti-ballistic HQ-26 missile, an ultra long-range (4,000km+) cruise missile, or another large supersonic cruise missile. What can be certain is that the new missile launch vehicle, its increased sophistication, along with a likely larger missile it will carry, shows China’s continued goal to develop and deploy new weapons as part of an updated and integrated architecture for extending its reach in the Asia-Pacific region.