Project 640: China's National Missile Defence in the '70s
On 15 December 1963, the then Chinese leader Chairman Mao Zedong said that China’s military strategy was defensive in nature, and therefore China should develop defensive (strategic) weapons as well as offensive weapons such as nuclear weapons and missiles. On 6 February 1964, during his meeting with Dr Qian Xuesen ('Father of Chinese Rocketry'), Chairman Mao again expressed his views on the importance of the missile defence capability. According to Mao, missile defence capability should not be dominated by the two superpowers only, and China must also develop its own missile defence weapons, no matter how long it would take. This conversation, later known as “640 Directive”, was cascaded to the whole defence industry as Mao’s order to develop a missile defence system that could defend the country against nuclear-armed strategic missile attacks.
On 23 March 1964, over thirty top scientists from across the Chinese defence industry attended a meeting organised by the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (COSTIND) in Beijing to discuss the feasibility of a missile defence system. On 10 May 1965, the Central Special Committee issued a notice to the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Ministry of Machinery Industry, China Academy of Science, PLA Artillery Corps, and Base 20, asking them to list the missile defence in their annual and long-term plans. A plan outlining the missile defence weapon development submitted by COSTIND was approved by the Central Special Committee in August 1965.
On 23 February 1966, COSTIND organised another conference to outline detailed development plans for the missile defence programme, which was given a codename “Project 640” after Chairman Mao’s “640 Directive”. Under the plan, the whole project was divided into five key sub-systems. Key elements of the project included the FanJi (“Counterattack”) series anti-ballistic missiles (ABM), the XianFeng (“Pioneer”) anti-missile super gun, and a land-based missile early warning network. The meeting also decided to speed up the building of a dedicated ABM test range and the development of the nuclear warhead for the ABM system. The project entered full-scale development in the early 1970s.
Under the instruction of the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, the 2nd Academy of the 7th Ministry of Machinery Industry (Ministry of Aerospace Industry) was officially renamed Academy of Anti-Ballistic Missile & Anti-Satellite in 1969 to be in charge of the ABM system development. Its subordinated 210 Institute was assigned to the development of the anti-missile super gun. Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics was responsible for the development of the anti-missile laser. The 2nd Academy also began to develop the anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon technology in the early 1970s.
Project 640 faced enormous technical and financial difficulties from the very beginning. The country, troubled by its financial hardship and internal political turmoil of the ‘Culture Revolution’, was simply unable to support an expensive project like this. Additionally, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union and later the closure of the U.S. Safeguard ABM system made an independent Chinese missile defence system seemingly unnecessary. After Mao’s death in 1976, the development of the missile defence began to slow down. In March 1980, the new Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping decided to cancel the whole project so that the country could concentrate on economic development.
FanJi (FJ) Anti-Ballistic Missile
The 2nd Academy initiated three development programmes in the early 1970s: FanJi 1 low- to medium-altitude ABM, FanJi 2 low-altitude ABM, and FanJi 3 high-altitude ABM.
The FanJi 1 was a two-stage, semi-active radar-homing, hypersonic interceptor missile designed to intercept ballistic missile warheads at low- to medium-altitude. The first-stage of the missile used liquid propellant and the second-stage used solid propellant. The missile was 14m in length. Flight tests of two dummy missiles were carried out successfully in August and September of 1979. At the same time, the PLA proposed a missile defence zone around the capital Beijing using the FanJi 1. However, the development programme was cancelled by the Chinese government in March 1980 due to financial and political reasons.
Between October 1971 and April 1972, the 2nd Academy tested six flight tests of a 1:5 scaled model of the FanJi 2 low-altitude ABM, with five of them being successful. The development programme was cancelled in 1973.
The FanJi 3 high-altitude ABM system was proposed by the 2nd Academy in 1974, but the development stopped in 1977.
“XianFeng” Anti-Missile Super Gun
The Anti-missile super gun developed by the 210 Institute was given a codename “Project 640-2”. Initial research was carried out on a 140mm smoothbore cannon, which fires 18kg projectiles to a maximum distance of 74km. In January 1967, an anti-missile super gun known as “Xianfeng” (“Pioneer”) was proposed. The super gun was 26 metre in length and weighted 155 tonnes. Mounted on a fixed gun rack, the 420mm-calibre super gun was designed to fire 160kg unguided rocket-propelled projectiles to intercept the incoming nuclear warheads. Various tests were carried out in the early 1970s, but the design was proven impractical. The development of the super gun was put on a halt in 1977 and finally cancelled in March 1980.
Ground-Based Missile Early Warning Network
Compared to the ABM system, the development of the associated missile early warning and tracking system was much more productive. The first stage of the project included five missile early warning stations located in Khashi, Nanning, Kunming, Hainan, Jiaodong, and Xiangxi; and a command & control centre in Weinan (No.28 Station). Later the network also included a computing station codenamed “Qin Ling”, a recovery and tracking station codenamed “Chang Jiang”, a mobile tracking station codenamed “Qian Shao”, a second mobile tracking station codenamed “Huang He”, and an additional early warning station codenamed “Chang Cheng” in Changchun.
The key elements of the missile early warning network included 7010 phased array early warning surveillance radar and 110 mono-pulse missile tracking radar. Both radar systems played key roles in providing initial missile early warning capability for China, as well as supporting China’s ICBM tests and space programme.
Developed by 14th Electronic Institute in Nanjing in 1976, 7010 radar was a fixed, land-based phased array surveillance radar designed to detect, identify, and track intercontinental ballistic missiles and other objects in outer space. The development of 7010 radar began in 1970 and the radar became fully operational in 1976. The 40m X 20m radar antenna was built on the Huangyang Mountain slope 1,600m above the sea level in Xuanhua, Hebei Province, about 140km northwest of Beijing. A second site was built in Henan Province. In July 1979, the 7010 radar sites provided accurate data on the re-entry time of the de-orbited U.S. Skylab spacecraft. On 12 January 1983, 7010 radar successfully predicted the time and place of landing for the failed Soviet Union nuclear-powered satellite Cosmos 1402. The radar site was abandoned in the early 1990s.
110 Mono-Pulse Missile Tracking Radar
110 radar was developed jointly by 14th Electronic Institute in Nanjing and the Electronic Institute of China Academy of Science (CAS) in the 1970s. The radar antenna was 25m in diameter and weighted 400 tonnes. The radar antenna was housed in a large radome 36.5m in height and 44m in diameter. The radar became fully operational in 1977, with only one station built at the Zhanyi Space/Missile Tracking Station in the southern Yunnan Province.
Following the cancellation of Project 640, the missile early warning and tracking network evolved into the space tracking, telemetry and command (TT&C) network in the 1980s to support China’s space programme. However, it may have retained some functions for missile early warning and space surveillance.
Last update: 11 April 2009
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