TAIPEI - China's new anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) will be deployed at the Second Artillery Corps' new missile base in Guangdong Province in southeastern China, if a new report issued by Washington-based Project 2049 Institute is correct.
On July 28, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported the visit of local government officials to a new missile base in the northern Guangdong municipality of Shaoguan. The media report is the first to acknowledge the existence of the new missile base.
The new 96166 Unit will be outfitted with Dong Feng 21C medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and possibly the DF-21D ASBM, said Mark Stokes and Tiffany Ma in a new report "Second Artillery Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Brigade Facilities Under Construction in Guangdong?" posted on Project 2049's website.
The DF-21C was introduced into active inventory in 2005 and is designed for land targets. Though the DF-21D ASBM is nearing the stage of low rate initial production, expected in 2011 or soon after, it is not likely to be deployed into active service until after lengthy testing of the prototype.
Though the province is already home to a Second Artillery short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) base in Meizhou (96169 Unit), the new base could "have unique capabilities that could complicate the strategic calculus in Asia, and the South China Sea in particular."
The ASBM has been dubbed the aircraft "carrier killer" by observers and is part of China's larger anti-access/area denial strategy designed to discourage the U.S. Navy from coming to the aid of Taiwan during a war. Now it appears China is using the same strategy to deter U.S. and other regional navies from operating in the South China Sea.
Though U.S. aircraft carrier groups have significant air defense capabilities, including SM-3 missiles, the threat ASBMs pose is a new one, said Stokes. No country has yet developed a reliable ASBM system and therefore there is reluctance among some analysts to dismiss the possibility China has developed the capability of locating and destroying a moving target at sea with a ballistic missile.
However, U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Robert Willard told members of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committee in March that China was nearing a test phase for an ASBM.
China has recently announced that the South China Sea is a "core interest" and now state-controlled media outlets are claiming the entire South China Sea as Chinese territory.
"Seems to me they are staying on policy by asserting their ownership of the South 'CHINA' Sea," said a former U.S. intelligence officer now based in Singapore. "They aren't going to deviate from that policy. They've got the patience until they own it."
The deployment of ASBMs near the South China Sea adds a new dimension to the problem regional powers and the U.S. are facing as China begins enforcing maritime claims.
The 1,700 km range DF-21C MRBM can hit most land targets in Vietnam as well as the northern Philippines, including Subic Bay, with little difficulty.
The 1,500-2,000 km range DF-21D ASBM should be able to cover the Spratly Islands at 1,800 km. This would include roughly seventy percent of the South China Sea, if the maximum range of 2,000 km is confirmed.
Additionally, the DF-21C and D will easily handle land targets on Taiwan and naval targets beyond the island with no difficulty. The eastern coast of Taiwan is roughly 800 km from the base. China already has 1,300 DF-11/15 SRBMs aimed at Taiwan and an unknown number of cruise missiles.
During China's 60th anniversary parade in Beijing in October 2009, the military displayed a variety of mobile missile systems, including the DF-11A and DF15B SRBM, DF-21C MRBM and DF31A intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The parade also displayed the DH-10 land-attack cruise missile.
The DF-31A is China's first road mobile ICBM capable of hitting Washington. Before this missile, China relied on aging silo-based DF-5 ICBMs for use as nuclear counterstrikes on the U.S.
As mobile missile systems, they will be difficult to locate and destroy during a war with the U.S. To add more difficulties for the U.S., the Shaoguan area is near tunneling projects through the Nanling Mountains that divide Guangdong and Hunan provinces.
"A Second Artillery engineering unit known to be responsible for tunneling work under the so-called 'Great Wall Project' has been in Shaoguan since as early as 2008," said the Project 2049 report.