29 May 2009

Facing a New Missile Threat from China (Op-Ed)

Andrew S. Erickson, “Facing a New Missile Threat from China (Op-Ed): How the U.S. Should Respond to China’s Development of Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Systems,” CBS News, 28 May 2009.

Authoritative Chinese military documents suggest that Beijing has taken a serious interest in anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs). U.S. government sources state consistently that Beijing is pursuing an ASBM based on a variant of the DF-21/CSS-5 medium-range solid propellant ballistic missile (MRBM). The DF-21’s 1,500 km+ range could hold ships at risk in a large maritime area, far beyond Taiwan into the Western Pacific.

If fielded, the ASBM would be just one of a dizzying array of new platforms and weapons systems China has been buying and building since the late 1990s-systems which, taken as a whole, will allow China to assert unprecedented control of its contested maritime periphery. The ASBM, however, differs markedly from the quiet submarines, lethal anti-ship cruise missiles, and copious sea mines which China has been adding to its inventory. It would draw on over half a century of Chinese experience with ballistic missiles, would be fired from mobile, highly concealable platforms, and would have the range to strike targets hundreds of miles from China’s shores.

While probably intended with U.S. carrier strike groups (CSGs) specifically in mind, Chinese ASBM development could have deeply destabilizing consequences that would reverberate far beyond U.S.-China strategic relations.