A military vehicle thought to be the largest ever built by China and capable of transporting and launching missiles was reportedly spotted Tuesday by a driver in the East Asian country. The missile system, known as the Transport Erector Launcher, is capable of quickly firing cruise, surface-to-air and ballistic missiles.
The version seen by motorists appears significantly larger than its predecessor of the same name, despite having one less firing cylinder, according to a Popular Science report. The former version has three firing tubes, and the new larger type has just two, suggesting that it’s for firing much larger missiles that will be able to travel further.
"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,” noted the report. “Also, it has a satellite communications dome, suggesting that it requires higher bandwidth for data links necessary to operate a more sophisticated missile.”
— Popular Science (@PopSci) August 11, 2015
The Popular Science report predicted that the missile system will carry the YJ-18 anti-ship missile, a Chinese adaptation of the Russian Klub rocket, which uses a turbofan to cruise for the duration of its flight before employing a rocket engine to reach high Mach 3 speeds in the final 30 miles of the journey.
It was unclear whether or not the launcher is a prototype or is being fully manufactured. Either way, it underscored China's attempts to continue modernizing its military in order to become the undisputed leading country in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as thwart the U.S. military's pivot toward Asia.
China was also attempting to stamp its authority in the South China Sea. In addition to building fake islands that would enable Beijing to make legal claims over the Spratly and Parcel Islands, it has been trying to gain control over valuable energy reserves that are plentiful in the seabed around both island chains. It would also give Beijing a major military advantage over its regional rivals, such as Japan and the Philippines.