China Anti-Ship Advances Said To Threaten U.S. Pacific Clout
By WENDELL MINNICK TAIPEI — China’s advances in its anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) program could force a revision in U.S. naval strategy in the Asia-Pacific region within a decade, according to a new report by a Washington-based organization specializing in future Asian affairs.
The report — “China’s Evolving Conventional Strategic Strike Capability,” by Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute — says China’s ASBM program “could alter the strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific region.” Chinese anti-ship missiles could force the U.S. Navy to operate farther from areas of conflict, such as Taiwan and the South China Sea, thus reducing combat effectiveness, according to the report.
The Project 2049 study says that according to a 2009 U.S. Defense Department report on China’s military modernization, ASBMs would provide China with pre-emptive and coercive options in a crisis.
“China is seeking the capability to hold surface ships at risk through a layered capability reaching out to the second island chain,” according to the report. This would place Okinawa and Taiwan within that “layered capability.”
“An ASBM will give the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a precision strike capability against aircraft carriers ... operating within 1,500-2,000 kilometers from the eastern coast of China. ... Follow-on variants could extend an ASBM’s range out to Guam,” said Stokes, a former senior country director on China and Taiwan in the Office of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense.
“This paper contains a wealth of information and is valuable for that alone,” said Bud Cole, author of the book “The Great Wall at Sea.” Stokes’ basic conclusion about the “potential threat to seaborne units that an effective ASBM system would present is not debatable,” Cole said.
But he said the report does not provide a “solid estimate of the progress being made by the Chinese to solve the difficult technical problems that must be overcome to deploy an effective ASBM system.” Stokes did identify the road-mobile Dong Feng-21D (DF-21D) medium-range ballistic missile as the most likely ASBM candidate. China also is developing a C4ISR capability for geo-location and tracking of targets, and onboard guidance systems for terminal homing to strike surface ships, his report says.
China has decided on a phased approach for development of a conventional global precision strike capability by 2025. Stokes divides the development into four phases:
■ An operational ASBM based on the DF-21D with a range of 1,500 to 2,000 kilometers by 2010.
■ A “boost-glide” capability and extended range of 3,000 kilometers for the DF-21D by 2015.
■ A long-range capability of 8,000 kilometers by 2020.
■ A global precision strike capability by 2025.
“There are also indications of investment into research and development of a maritime variant of existing extended-range land-attack cruise missiles, such as the Dong Hai-10 [DH-10],” said Stokes, who was a U.S. Air Force attaché in Beijing in the early 1990s.
Both the DF-21 and DH-10 were spotted during a Sept. 6 rehearsal parade for the 60th anniversary of the Oct. 1 founding of China.
Those who argue that U.S. ships are now protected by an elaborate ballistic missile defense system, including the Standard Missile-3, do not consider the advancements made by China, Stokes’ study says.
“An ASBM flying a depressed, boost-glide trajectory — one in which the missile would remain within the upper atmosphere or near space for most of its flight — could negate the effectiveness of sea-based mid-course missile defense interceptors” such as the Standard Missile-3, he said.
There is a clear relationship between China’s ASBM and the antisatellite (ASAT) program, according to the report: “Both the ASAT and ASBM programs’ ... guidance and control packages share a common technological foundation. Both the ASBM and ASAT kinetic kill vehicle require compact and high-speed onboard computing and software.”
Much of the ASBM program is under the control of the 863 Program under China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), according to Stokes, and 863 is China’s answer to the U.S. missile defense efforts and Europe’s Eureka Program. Ironically, 70 percent of the engineers and scientists working for 863 and MOST received academic degrees in Europe and the United States, he noted.