The DF-17 missile is China’s great military hope for the next few years: hypersonic, “aircraft carrier killer” and very difficult to intercept

October 1, 2019, People’s Liberation Army Parade, Beijing. To the sound of the ” Torrente de Acero ” military march, the huge 10-wheeled trucks that were transporting the DF-17 ‘East Wind’, the great missile on which China has all its hopes pinned, appeared in front of the authorities’ platform. defeat America. Let’s see why.

The harsh reforms imposed by Deng Xiaoping in the mid-1970s began to bear fruit in the 21st century, and China began to overshadow the United States.

Thucydides said it tacitly when narrating the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, the two powers of his time: when there is a hegemonic power and an emerging power appears, the possibilities of war skyrocket. That is exactly what is happening.

It is not about a war going to break out, it is about playing with that possibility when negotiating : imposing trade sanctions on a militarily weak China is not the same as imposing trade sanctions on a China capable of wiping out the US Navy from Pacific Ocean.

The military power is steel border which delimits the bargaining power of both parties. This steel frontier was monopolized by the United States, especially thanks to its Navy, which in turn based its power on fleets of aircraft carriers.

A single nuclear aircraft carrier does not need to refuel in 10 years, carries almost a hundred aircraft, carries thousands of sailors and is escorted by several destroyers. For example, an Arleigh Burke destroyer like the ones usually escorted by aircraft carriers can easily shoot down anything traveling at less than 600 km / h, and is surely capable of handling projectiles moving at more than 1,800 km / h.

The antimissile capacity of the American ships has become so high that not even supersonic missiles or fighters have an easy time to overcome the defense and sink the ship. In fact, aircraft carriers are designed to withstand multiple missiles.

If we combine hyper speed with maneuverability, it means that now the missile is traveling at an enormous speed and on top of that it varies the course, making it extremely difficult to calculate an interception point

Against this background, China needs new means with which to balance the balance against the US fleets. These new media have two facets: one is the ability to detect enemy ships in the Philippine Sea. This is achieved by means of satellites in charge of photographing vast bodies of water at full speed looking for enemy fleets. The other facet is to design a missile capable of circumventing anti-missile defense . To meet this need, the DF-17 was born.

Hyper speed and maneuverability, the keys to the DF-17

DF-17 missile China

There were two major technical challenges to materialize the DF-17, namely hyper speed and maneuverability.

Hypervelocity means exceeding at least 7-8 times the speed of sound , to make it difficult for enemy anti-missile defense and their interceptor missiles to shoot you down. For its part, maneuverability means that you do not follow a predictable ballistic trajectory, but can alter course in mid-flight.

If we combine hyper speed with maneuverability, it means that now the missile is traveling at an enormous speed and on top of that it changes the course, making it extremely difficult to calculate an interception point. Until a few years ago, a missile could be either very fast or very maneuverable, but both qualities were impossible at the same time.

Imagine the challenges of combining hyper-speed and maneuverability from the point of view of materials engineering and aeronautical design … You need a weapon capable of withstanding brutal friction with the air and at the same time that it can maneuver inside it!

As if all the above were not enough, to be able to shoot the DF-17 from China and hit an aircraft carrier in the Philippine Sea you need a lot of range, so the ‘East Wind’ can travel between 1,800 and 2,500 km to its target. .

How exactly does the missile work?

DF-17 missile China

The erector truck puts the missile in a 90º position and they begin to prepare for launch. Meanwhile, the crew from their cabin enter the flight data from a computer, do all the checks and ask for the latest permits. The missile is then propelled to some point high in the atmosphere.

Once high in the atmosphere of the missile body, the “hypersonic glider” , the key to the DF-17, is released.

The glider is just that, an aircraft without propulsion that takes advantage of its inertia and the gravity of the earth to exceed between 5 and 10 times the speed of sound. As soon as the missile breaks off high in the atmosphere, the glider follows a non-ballistic path that allows it to increase its speed and ultimately strike an enemy ship like lightning.

The innovation of all this is in the glider, and it is that until now the missiles with these ranges were normally ballistic, that is, they made a great quasi-ballistic parabola (it was not 100% perfect) relatively predictable and at full speed.

To give you an idea, a ballistic trajectory is like that of a bullet, that is, a more or less flattened parabola, that is, the missile barely maneuvers, it simply decides how much energy to use to obtain the perfect parabola that allows it to fall. on the white.

The problem with these types of missiles was that they could be shot down, since powerful US radars and computers had the ability to calculate the exact parabola and launch an interceptor missile.

As for the nuance of “quasibalistic” and not completely “ballistic”, it implies that it is very difficult to achieve a perfect parabola, and that some missiles are capable of minimally varying their parabola to make interception difficult, hence they are not 100% ballistic. .

What is important about all this is that the challenge of designing hypersonic missiles has been overcome for the first time in history by China with the DF-17, and only in 2019 has Russia been able to emulate its success, although it is not clear to what extent the Russian Avangard missile will be operational. For its part, the United States will still take a few years to build weapons of this type.

In the event of war, China’s strategy is to launch huge rounds of missiles at all US bases and fleets located between Pearl Harbor and China, and there is no doubt that the “East Wind” missile will be the ” silver bullet “reserved to destroy the main ships of the US Navy.

The DF-17 missile is an important step in the technological, military and political competition between the two great powers of the 21st century, China and the United States.

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