China’s missile plans may be far more ambitious than many people realize. Last month, China paraded new long-range missiles through Beijing during its Victory Day celebration, drawing attention to its ballistic capabilities. That’s just the beginning, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which says China is planning a major ballistic shield project to frustrate the United States’ present deterrent power:
Ever since the end of the Cold War, U.S. security policy has largely assumed that only the United States would possess credible strategic ballistic missile defense capabilities with non-nuclear interceptors. This tacit assumption has been valid for the last quarter century but may not remain valid for long. Since 2010, China has been openly testing missile interceptors purportedly for BMD purposes, but also useful for anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.
Meanwhile, the Jamestown Foundation notes that China has successfully launched several satellites in recent weeks:
While much of the media attention in September focused on the intercontinental and intermediate range missiles on display during the September 9 parade, the almost mundane regularity of space launches from Chinese satellite launch centers such as Taiyuan, Jiuquan and Xichang, herald China’s rapid expansion as a space power. The ability to launch a wide variety of satellites and spacecraft is important to China’s continued economic growth and national defense.
We’re generally skeptical of anti-missile efforts. The best example of a successful missile defense system is Israel’s Iron Dome, and it hasn’t had to contend with any particularly sophisticated projectiles. There’s a long history of promises about BMD systems such as Reagan’s infamous Star Wars, but the interception technology is difficult to develop, and often lags that of missiles themselves. Still, if FAS is saying we should take this seriously, that’s notable. And the bottom line is that China’s military is focused on technological catch-up and military expansion even while ours busies itself with polishing the Pentagon doorknobs.