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BMD Focus: China Relies On Missiles

The excellence and reliability of the Long March booster that carried taikonauts Fen Jinlong and Nie Haisheng safely into orbit on Oct. 12 bore testimony to the engineering skills and high level of quality control that now goes into China's expanding missile arsenal.

Washington (UPI) Oct 20, 2005
China's highly successful two-man space mission that ended this week will not boost the nation's military power and strategic missile program: It doesn't have to.

On the contrary, China's civilian space program that may well outstrip those of both Russia and the United States over the next decade stands on the broad and secure engineering infrastructure basis of the nation's already large and rapidly expanding military missile program.

China is now looking to missiles big and small to achieve both its long-term strategic goals on the world stage and to take care of more immediate tactical problems like how to deny the U.S. Navy sea and air superiority in the event of any localized conventional conflict with China over Taiwan.

The excellence and reliability of the Long March booster that carried taikonauts Fen Jinlong and Nie Haisheng safely into orbit on Oct. 12 bore testimony to the engineering skills and high level of quality control that now goes into China's expanding missile arsenal.

And the confidence with which China's space program directors allowed the their first ever two man space launch, and only the second manned space launch in Chinese history, to be broadcast live on state television, carried a very important lesson for military analysts around the world -- especially in the United States -- about China's missiles: They work.

That is no small point: After all two of the last three tests of the Bush administration's high-tech, ambitious anti-ballistic missile interceptors failed because the rockets would not even ignite in the first place.

China is still decades behind the United States and Russia in the number of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and in its lack of a Multi-independently-targeted Vehicle (MIRV) technology to put several thermonuclear warheads on top of each of them. But it is catching up fast.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed his concerns about these developments Wednesday in a strikingly frank speech delivered to the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences in Beijing.

The expanding reach of China's nuclear missiles was worrisome to the United States, and Washington would like China to show more transparency about it, Rumsfeld said.

"China ... is expanding its missile forces and enabling those forces to reach many areas of the world well beyond the Pacific region," Rumsfeld said. "Those advances in China's strategic strike capacity raise questions, particularly when there's an imperfect understanding of such developments on the part of others."

Only the day before Rumsfeld's speech, reports Tuesday said China had stepped up drills and tests of ballistic missiles with a range of up to 360 miles, test-launching them at a rate of more than 100 missiles a year at its inland bases.

The move reflects the importance that the People's Liberation Army gives to even tactical short-range ballistic missiles. A decade ago, the PLA only test-fired a handful of such weapons every year, but by 2003, they were testing 100 a year.

China has also accelerated its deployment of missiles against not only Taiwan but also Japan, with whom relations have sharply deteriorated in recent years. China has already deployed hundreds of missiles along its coasts against both nations. These include the new intermediate-range Dong Hai-10 that has a range of 900 miles and the shorter-range Ying Ji-63 with a 300-mile range.

Currently, U.S. military analysts estimate that the PLA has already deployed 730 surface-to-surface, surface-to-air and maritime, anti-ship missiles facing the Taiwan Strait to deter U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups from operating there to protect Taiwan, or to have the capability of destroying the gigantic, 80,000-ton nuclear-powered behemoths if they dare to try.

China is also relying increasingly on submarine-deployed ballistic missiles to boost its nuclear deterrent against the United States and other potential adversaries. It appears close to deploying its newest SSBN, or nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Type-094 class, which is being developed as a seagoing extension of Chinese nuclear weapons power projection.

World Net Daily reported last week that the Type-094 is a follow-on to earlier SSBNs produced by China, most recently the Type-093, a nuclear-powered attack vessel "similar to Russian second-generation designs such as the Victor III," according to an analysis from the American Federation of Scientists, or FAS.

The 093 carries the JL-1, a two-stage, solid-propellant weapon with a single nuclear-capable warhead with a yield between 200 and 300 kilotons and a range of 1,056 miles. A sea-launched version of China's land-based DF-21 missile, the JL-1, was initially developed for the Type-092, Xia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile boat, which became operational in 1983, according to FAS.

China has also developed the JL-2, a three-stage, solid-fuel sea variant of China's DF-31 ballistic missile. It is capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads -- as many as four, FAS says -- and has a range of 4,900 miles.

In its annual report on Chinese military power issued in July, the U.S. Department of Defense noted that China was "in the midst of a ballistic missile modernization program that is improving its force, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in all classes of missiles."

"This modernization program is intended to improve both China's nuclear deterrence by increasing the number of warheads that can target the United States as well as operational capabilities for contingencies in East Asia," the report said. China was already replacing its 20 CSS-4 Mod-1 ICBMs with longer-range CSS-4 Mod-2s, the report said.

More ambitiously, China is also developing two new versions of its solid-propellant DF-31, one of them to be launched from submarines as an SLBM and the other, a road-mobile ICBM, the Pentagon report said. "Deployment of these two missiles should begin by mid- to late-decade," it said.

The Chinese manned space program currently does not directly boost these plans or capabilities but nor does it distract from them. The industrial and engineering infrastructure being built for strategic missile program is so huge that the number of manned and civilian space launches so far is miniscule by comparison.

But that is not to say that the space program will only deliver prestige or an indirect boost for China's advanced technology. A permanently manned space station, while vulnerable to ground-based attack in time of war, provides a highly flexible capability for all kinds of ground surveillance in times of peace. And the Chinese look on schedule to produce one within the next decade, or possibly even less.

Fundamentally, however, Beijing's solid, consistent commitment to its strategic missile program looks likely to make the civilian space program a lot easier and more cost effective over the coming years. Look for a lot more taikonauts to follow Cols. Fen and Nie into the heavens.

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