Were Chinese Missiles Really Filled With Water?!

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Were Chinese missiles really found to be filled with water, instead of fuel?! Take a look at the astonishing claim, and find out if it’s even plausible!


Claim : Chinese Missiles Were Filled With Water!

Bloomberg recently published a story on the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), suggesting that Chinese President Xi Jinping purged its leaders after missiles were found to be filled with water instead of fuel, and that missile silos had improperly functioning lids.

Here is an excerpt from the Bloomberg story (archive):

US intelligence indicates that President Xi Jinping’s sweeping military purge came after it emerged that widespread corruption undermined his efforts to modernize the armed forces and raised questions about China’s ability to fight a war, according to people familiar with the assessments.

AsiaTimes then published an article, calling claims that there were water in Chinese missiles “a fake story” (archive).

Water in Chinese missiles’ tanks is a fake story

The idea that water is substituted for fuel is preposterous: Corrosion-prone rockets are kept empty until needed

The story is technically naive when it comes to China’s missiles. China does not keep its liquid-fueled rockets filled with propellant. This means they are empty sitting in silos. If fuel was stored in a rocket booster the internal tanks and plumbing would soon be ruined by corrosion. The military fuels them if there are warning conditions requiring loading the missiles with fuel.

So did Bloomberg publish a fake story on Chinese missiles being filled with water, instead of fuel? Is that even plausible? Let’s find out…

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Were Chinese Missiles Really Filled With Water?!


Why Water-Filled Chinese Missiles Is Plausible!

Unless you are working in the upper echelons of the Chinese government or the PLARF, it is quite impossible to know the truth. However, here are the reasons why claims that Chinese missiles were found to be filled with water is plausible.

Fact #1 : PLARF Also Operates Cruise Missiles

First, I should point out that the Bloomberg story never identified what kinds of Chinese missiles were found to be filled with water, instead of fuel.

Most people jump to the conclusion that it must be referring to their ballistic missiles. But that is not necessarily the case.

The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force also operates over 300 cruise missiles like the Dongfeng 100 (DF-100), and Chang Jian 10 (CJ-10). Those missiles are mostly liquid-fuelled, being powered by jet engines that run on jet fuel.

The report doesn’t … specify what types of missiles are implicated. I’d note, for example, that the PLARF operates 300+ cruise missiles, which are mostly liquid-fueled.

– Masao Dahlgren, fellow at the Missile Defense Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Siphoning fuel is a common form of military corruption, and there is much less security over these cruise missiles. So it would be plausible for corrupt individuals to replace fuel in these cruise missiles with water.

Fact #2 : Liquid Fuelled Rockets Are Kept Empty

The AsiaTimes article is correct that liquid-fuelled rockets are generally kept empty, as liquid rocket fuel is both toxic and corrosive. Hence, these rockets are only fuelled when they are needed (for tests, exercises, or security alerts).

The Chinese Dongfeng 5 (DF-5) ICBM, for example, requires 30 to 60 minutes to fuel up, which is why it is due to be replaced by the solid-fuelled DF-41 rocket.

However, it is plausible that some of these rockets might have water left in their propellant tanks, after they were fuelled during tests or training exercises, and then defuelled and washed with water.

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Were Chinese Missiles Really Filled With Water?!

Fact #3 : Missile PBV May Be Filled With Water

It is also plausible that water was found in the Post-Boost Vehicle (PBV) found on ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. The PBV uses onboard rocket motors to deliver multiple warheads onto different trajectories, allowing a single ballistic missile to hit multiple targets.

These rocket motors are almost always liquid fuelled. So it is plausible that some of these PBV rocket motors were found to contain water, instead of fuel. Such a scenario could be due to gross negligence, as @LIM49Spartan explained (archive) on X (formerly Twitter):

I’ve had some time to think about the Chinese “filled with water” claims; and I think I know what happened. Every modern ICBM has what’s called the “Post-Boost Vehicle”; which aims and releases the warheads following ICBM burnout.

As the amount of liquid propellants in these post-boost vehicles are relative small, and these PBVs are sealed inside the ballistic missiles, they are unlikely to be siphoned by corrupt PLARF officers.

However, it does not preclude corruption by high-level PLARF officers to cover up mistakes made by manufacturers, that may have been exposed by external audits on these missiles.


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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

He continues to devote countless hours every day writing about tech, medicine and science, in his pursuit of facts in a post-truth world.


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