Manoeuvrable warheads are back due to expectations of improved anti-missile missiles, lasers and railguns

On 5 February 2016 Chinese state TV revealed for the first time the manoeuvrable warhead that could be from the DF-21C medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) produced by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).

However, subsequent Chinese TV reporting from 12 February shows an exercise involving what may be the CASIC DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), raising the possibility that the 5 February TV coverage could be the same missile.

The TV report shows a CASIC Sanjiang 10-wheel transporter erector launcher (TEL) associated with the DF-21C and the DF-21D. Which one cannot be discerned, but the 12 February coverage shows the end of the missile tube having the new cushion structure seen on the DF-21D in the People’s Liberation Army’s 3 September 2015 parade.

Only the 5 February video features a missile launch showing a warhead stage with fins. First revealed in 2007, the 1,700 km-range DF-21C MRBM is most often reported to carry a simpler land-attack version of a manoeuvring, terminally guided warhead.

The 1,400-1,700 km-range DF-21D ASBM was reported by the Pentagon in 2010 to have achieved initial operating capability. Its warhead is believed to be longer and may have internal side-mounted radar in order to make final target location calculations before its terminal attack.

Chinese TV coverage on 12 February 2016 showed what may be a DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile. Source: Via CCTV

MARV Manoeuvrable warheads decades old and are back due to expectations of improved anti-missile missiles, lasers and railguns

Manoeuvrable Russian warhead

MARV (maneuvering re-entry vehicle) technology has been around for decades and the last time it was clear that the cost (in terms of payload) is not worth the price of penetrating defenses, especially when those defenses are non-existent