08 September 2009

China’s Antiship Ballistic Missile: Developments and Missing Links

Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin, China’s Antiship Ballistic Missile: Developments and Missing Links,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Autumn 2009), pp. 87-115, A1-2.

… China’s interest in ASBM capability seems logical on the basis of its perceptions of its strategic environment and as a natural outgrowth of its robust missile program. Yet at what stage is its development? While Andrew Erickson and David Yang (earlier in this issue) survey the Chinese literature regarding the strategic, policy, and doctrinal dimensions of the ASBM system, this article examines the development of several key components of the system and their operational readiness. It does so on the basis of the literature, supported by qualitative modeling where direct discussions of the system are particularly lacking, such as for space-based targeting. Finally, the article addresses some of the implications for the U.S. Navy and the naval strategic balance between the United States and China.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) rarely discusses openly the development of major new weapon systems, but the ASBM appears to be an exception. In an annual academic conference sponsored by the Second Artillery Engineering College, the proceedings clearly state that “in order to pierce the armor of a carrier . . . China is developing a new boost-glide ballistic missile . . . equipped with terminal guidance systems.” This startlingly direct admission reveals the level of commitment to the program within the military branch primarily developing it. However, the building of such a system should not come as a surprise. As Erickson and Yang make clear, China’s military appears keenly interested in an ASBM capability, for a variety of reasons. Most important, the antiship ballistic missile comports with China’s perception of its security environment and its strategic vulnerabilities vis-à-vis the U.S. military. An ASBM could afford China a formidable asymmetric weapon against the United States in the western Pacific and would be particularly relevant to a conflict over Taiwan. Moreover, an ASBM program is a feasible application for China’s mature and sophisticated ballistic and cruise missile technological developments. …