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China’s anti-ship ballistic missile operational

Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of the US Pacific Command, says China’s first-of-a-kind DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) now has a limited operational capability and will soon be fully operational, which he avers is a grave cause for concern to China’s neighbours and the United States.
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In late December, Willard told a Japanese newspaper that, “the anti-ship ballistic missile system in China has undergone extensive testing…it has an operational capability now”. In the interview he added that the Chinese are continuing to test and develop the missile and would probably do so for several more years until it becomes fully operational.

The ASBM is based on the D-variant of the Dong Feng-21 medium range ballistic missile, which is known in the West as the CSS-5 Mod 5, according to the US Department of Defence’s 2010 report on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). “The missile has a range of in excess of 1500 km, is armed with a manoeuvrable warhead, and when integrated with appropriate command and control systems, is intended to provide the PLA the capability to attacks ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean”, the report said. Supporting the missile is a network of satellites, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles that can locate ships and guide the weapon, allowing it to hit moving targets, a US Naval Institute report in March 2009 stated.

Travelling at roughly ten times the speed of sound, the missile would reach its target in under ten minutes. Combined with kinetic energy, the DF-21D has a big enough warhead to disable or completely destroy a supercarrier, the Department of Defence reported. According to the US Naval Institute, ships currently have no means of defending themselves against a ballistic missile attack. However, the US Navy currently has 21 ships fitted with Aegis missiles capable of intercepting short-range ballistic missiles, according to the US Missile Defence Agency.

Development of the ASBM seems to have begun after the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Crisis when China fired missiles around Taiwan, prompting the United States to send aircraft carriers to the region, according to China Signpost. Now China has a way of deterring such carrier groups from entering the Strait.

In August 2009 a DF-21D rocket motor factory was completed and in November 2009 a programme on the ASBM was shown on Chinese television, China Signpost noted. Rather than a total blackout of information, a lot of data on ASBMs has been published over the last five years, according to China Signpost. However, no official comment from China has been forthcoming.

Last week Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence in Beijing, said that China’s military buildup was not a threat to any country and was important in maintaining world peace, Bloomberg reported. China has many reasons to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile, which is a powerful deterrent that could alter the balance of power in a potential conflict. Its greatest use will be in subduing Taiwan and preventing the United States from intervening in case of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, according to China Signpost.

The ASBM, together with China’s other military developments, threaten more than a dozen countries surrounding China, from Afghanistan to the Philippines, the US Department of Defence says. In September 2010 US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech that China’s “investments in anti-ship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten America’s primary way to project power and help allies in the Pacific -- particularly our forward bases and carrier strike groups.” He reiterated these statements before a visit to China this week, saying he was “concerned about the development of the anti-ship ballistic missile ever since I took this job”, reports the Washington Post.

China’s ASBM is just one more weapon in the country’s burgeoning arsenal. A decade-long surge in defence spending is yield a rash of new missiles, submarines, aircraft and soon an aircraft carrier, said professor Huang Jing Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Diplomacy.

Last week Vice Admiral Jack Dorsett, head of US Navy intelligence, said the Pentagon had underestimated the speed at which China was developing and fielding anti-ship ballistic missiles, reports Bloomberg. Dorsett confirmed that the DF-21D had reached initial combat capability and confirmed it has been tested over land, but that the US had not observed an over-water test. He called the missile ‘competent’ and ‘capable’.

Also of concern to the United States was China’s recently revealed J-20 stealth fighter. “We knew they were working on the stealth aircraft. What we’ve seen is that they maybe are somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted,” he told the Washington Post this week. Regarding Chinese weapons developments, Gates said, “it clearly has the potential to put our capabilities at risk. We have to pay attention to them. We have to respond appropriately in our programs.” As a result, the Pentagon is investing further in weapons technology to counter the Chinese military build-up.

China’s recent armaments developments are also a cause for concern to Africa as China continues to invest in the continent, and the US worries that economic aid will soon lead to military involvement, according to leaked cables released by Wikileaks in November 2010. According to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China maintains that its trade is responsible for 20% of Africa’s economic growth. The Asian nation has invested heavily in oil and minerals in countries like Sudan, Congo and Angola - roughly a fifth of China’s oil comes from Africa, the Forum reports. In 2009 alone, Chinese companies invested roughly $56.5 billion in Africa, according to Der Spiegel. China has also extended loans worth hundreds of billions and sent thousands of workers to the continent, which is now home to almost a million Chinese. Massive infrastructure development programmes have seen roads, hospitals, ports, airports, railways and stadiums shoot up all over Africa, Der Spiegel says.

Regarding the Chinese military presence in Africa, China ranked third in weapons sales to the African continent between 2003 and 2006 and continues to supply African countries (notably Namibia, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt and the Congo) with weapons, according to the Centre for Strategic Leadership (CSL), at the US Army War College. China has supplied Sudan with military equipment in return for oil. It has delivered armoured vehicles (Type 59 and 69 tanks and Type 63 armoured transport vehicles), jet aircraft (FC-1 and J-7 fighters and K-8 trainers) to Zimbabwe in addition to riot control equipment and radio jamming equipment to control the political opposition, the CSL says.

Although China does not have a military presence in Africa, it provides military assistance, training and technical advisers to African clients and its navy occasionally calls at African ports. However, Chinese military influence is expanding with the growing number of Chinese defence attaché officers and dramatically increased participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa. China maintains attaché offices in Algeria, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the CSL concludes.
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