China Building Missile Muscle
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — In a Xiangqi chess game, the most common tactic is to use cannons to control the middle, then push flanking horses and chariots for a checkmate.
China sees Taiwan and the South China Sea in much the same way, adding new ballistic missiles to check its opponent into a position that allows for no maneuverability, no place to run and nowhere to hide.
At least that’s one possible scenario painted in “Expansion of China’s Ballistic Missile Infrastructure Opposite Taiwan,” a new paper written by Mark Stokes, a researcher for the Washingtonbased Project 2049 Institute.
The expansion includes the fielding of its first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the Dong Feng 21D; the development of a new medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-16; and the incorporation of two ballistic missile brigades under the Second Artillery Corps that were previously under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The paper calls China’s deployment of the DF-21D at Qingyuan in Guangdong Province — part of the effort to improve its anti-access and area-denial capabilities — a “game changer” for U.S. forces.
A Taiwan defense official said China has not forgotten the Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis, in which two U.S. aircraft carrier groups were sent to the region in 1996 to monitor Chinese missile tests. The DF-21D is a direct response to the “humiliation” China felt with the intervention of U.S. forces, he said. But one U.S. Naval War College professor says China is pouring too much money into trying to sink aircraft carriers.
“If they were really savvy, in my opinion, they would realize that the Achilles’ heel of U.S. air power in the western Pacific is the vulnerability of land bases needed to support the big wings — tankers, AWACS, etc.,” said Marshall Hoyler.
Instead of developing an ASBM, the Chinese should focus on the technically easier task of destroying fixed airfields at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Hoyler said. China has deployed up to 10 DF-21Ds at Qingyuan.
In a December interview with the Japanese media, Adm. Robert Willard, the U.S. Pacific commander, confirmed that the DF-21D had reached initial operational capability. An unnamed PLA official subsequently told China’s state-controlled English-language Global Times that the DF-21D was “deployed with the Army.” In March, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau director, Tsai Dersheng, told legislators the DF-21D was deployed.
China also is developing a new medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-16, with a range of 1,000 kilometers. Such a missile may approach its target so quickly that even Taiwan’s new Patriot PAC-3 missile defense interceptors may be ineffective, Taiwanese defense sources said.
Stokes said China’s past behavior suggests many of the 1,300 short-range DF-11/15s aimed at Taiwan will ultimately be replaced by higher-speed medium-range missiles.
Another recent development is the Second Artillery’s establishment of a new launch brigade (96166 Unit) in the area of Shaoguan, just north of Qingyuan. While possibly being equipped with a follow-on variant of the DF-11 SRBM, the Shaoguan brigade could also be a candidate for the new DF-16, Stokes said.