Going on Defense

China, U.S. conduct missile defense tests
A missile launcher drives down a street in Beijing, China / AP

A missile launcher drives down a street in Beijing, China / AP


China on Sunday conducted the second test of a new anti-ballistic missile defense interceptor that United States officials say is directly linked to Beijing’s secret anti-satellite weapons program.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Sunday announced it conducted a successful test of a long-range anti-missile interceptor.

China’s Defense Ministry announced the test, according to the official state-run Xinhua news agency, which quoted an official saying “the test has reached the preset goal.”

“The test is defensive in nature and targets no other country,” the official was quoted as saying.

China in the past has opposed U.S. missile defenses, claiming the systems are designed to weaponize space. However, Beijing refused to discuss any details of its secret ASAT program. A 2007 ASAT missile destroyed a Chinese weather satellite, creating a debris field that threatens both manned and unmanned satellites.

It is the second time China announced such a missile test. A similar anti-missile interception test was successfully conducted on Jan. 11, 2010.

The test was not unexpected. U.S. officials said Chinese missile defense testing facilities were under close intelligence surveillance since early January amid signs a missile defense interceptor test was to be carried out.

The Washington Free Beacon reported in September that new intelligence had indicated the Chinese were planning to fire what they called a Dong Ning-2 anti-satellite missile that is part of Beijing’s program to target U.S. military communications, navigation, and targeting satellites in space.

Pentagon officials had no immediate comment on the Chinese test.

Maj. Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, earlier this month declined to comment on Chinese plans for an ASAT test, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters.

“We carefully monitor China’s military developments and urge China to exhibit greater transparency regarding its capabilities and intention,” she said. “Military-to-military dialogues between the United States and China featuring open and substantive discussions between our armed forces will help us improve mutual understanding, build trust, and reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculations.”

A U.S. official said earlier this month there were signs in China that the missile defense test was being readied.

Regarding the 2010 test, a State Department cable, disclosed by Wikileaks, revealed that China had launched an SC-18 missile from the Korla Peninsula and intercepted a near-simultaneous launched CSS-X-11 medium-range target missile from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center.

The cable noted the similarities between the missile defense interceptor and China’s ASAT missile. “An SC-19 was used previously as the payload booster for the Jan. 11, 2007, direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) intercept of the Chinese FY-1C weather satellite,” the cable said. “Previous SC-19 DA-ASAT flight-tests were conducted in 2005 and 2006. This test is assessed to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and ballistic missile defense technologies.”

Richard Fisher, a China military affairs specialist, said the latest test also was carried out over Korla, China’s traditional center for anti-missile research dating to the 1960s.

“So far the missile used for the Jan. 27 test has not been identified,” Fisher, with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said. “It could be a second test of the SC-19 ASAT missile modified for warhead interception for the January 2010 test, or it could be a new missile.”

Fisher said China is known to be developing several anti-missile systems. “One system sometimes referred to as the HQ-26 appears to be intended to have a capability similar to the Raytheon-built SM-3 [interceptor], the main system used by the U.S. Navy for missile defense,” he said.

“China’s new missile is expected to arm a new large PLA Navy combat ship that has not yet been launched and is also expected to have a land-deployed version as well.”

According to reports from China, an engineer from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), the state-run company most likely behind development of a HQ-26-like missile, has received a national prize for the development of a dual-pulse rocket engine, a technology also used on the SM-3, Fisher said.

“China’s development of more capable theater missile defense systems addresses what for China is a practically non-existent threat,” Fisher said. “Other than North Korea and to a slight degree India, no country has the ability to target China with medium or intermediate range missiles.”

Fisher said unlike the Chinese, the United States has retired its subsonic nuclear cruise missiles and has no plans for medium-range ballistic missiles or longer-range non-strategic missiles.

“These Chinese missiles allow the PLA to target Asian-based land and naval aircraft at longer distances,” he said. “In all, it poses another major chop at the U.S. ability to ‘extend’ deterrence to its Asian allies, adds another layer to China’s ‘anti-access’ capabilities.”

The missile test comes as the Pentagon on Sunday announced the successful test of a Ground-Based Interceptor, the new limited anti-missile system currently deployed against North Korean ICBMs.

Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner said in a statement that the GBI test was “successful” after launch on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., one of two western U.S. missile defense bases.

“Data from this flight test will be used to evaluate the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle system performance in a flight environment,” Lehner said. “If a target missile were present, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle would collide directly with the threat warhead to perform a hit-to-kill intercept. Engineering data from this test will be used to improve confidence for future intercept missions.

The test did not plan to use a target missile.

“After performing fly out maneuvers, the three-stage booster deployed the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle to a designated point in space,” Lehner said. “After separating from the booster, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle executed a variety of pre-planned maneuvers to collect performance data in space.”

Preliminary results show all components performed as designed, he said.

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