Hong Kong: China is moving ahead with the development of a new and more capable generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles, giving it a greater capability to hit targets in the United States and to overwhelm any missile defense systems, US media quoting military analysts reported on Saturday.
China’s steady improvements in its military capabilities have caused concern in Congress and among American allies in East Asia, particularly as the improvements have coincided with a more assertive Chinese position regarding territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
The Global Times, a newspaper directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, reported on Wednesday that China was developing the capability to put multiple warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. But the newspaper disputed a report in Jane’s Defense Weekly that the latest Chinese ICBM, the Dongfeng-41, had already been tested last month.
Larry Wortzel, a former U.S. military intelligence officer and retired Army colonel who is now a commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a panel created by Congress, said that China was developing the capability to put as many as 10 nuclear warheads on an ICBM plus a series of dummy warheads. The dummy warheads would have heat and electromagnetic devices designed to trick missile defense systems into perceiving them as being as threatening as the actual warheads, he said.
“The bigger implication of this is that as they begin to field a force of missiles with multiple warheads, it means everything we assume about the size of their nuclear arsenal becomes wrong," he said.
China has separately tested submarine-launched missiles as well in recent weeks, and could use these to outflank American missile detection systems, Colonel Wortzel said. Most of the radar arrays that the United States has deployed to detect ballistic missiles were built during the cold war to detect attacks over polar routes.
Sun Zhe, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a frequent commentator on U.S.-China relations, said that China was developing its military forces only to respond to continued efforts by other countries, particularly the United States, to continue improving their own forces. “We have again and again said that we will not be the first country to use nuclear force," he said. “We need to be able to defend ourselves, and our main threat, I’m afraid, comes from the United States."
The United States has been mulling where it can best place additional high-tech radar systems designed to track ballistic missiles. American forces currently have one in northern Japan and others that are deployed from time to time at sea. The Wall Street Journal reported this week on discussions of whether to put two more on land, in southern Japan and in Southeast Asia.
American officials have said repeatedly that their main concern is North Korea, which has been testing long-range missiles and developing nuclear weapons. But Chinese officials and experts have been deeply suspicious that American missile defense systems are aimed at their country’s forces as well.
“I have no doubt that the one of the goals of the missile defenses is to contain threats from North Korea, but objectively speaking, a high-tech expansion of U.S. military biceps impacts China, too," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, adding that discussions have taken place in China on whether to develop missile defense systems as well.