The Obama administration's regional missile-defense strategy is designed to counter emerging threats like China's new anti-ship ballistic missile and other so-called anti-access weapons, a senior defense official said Monday.
Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said during a speech outlining the administration's missile-defense priorities that "potential adversaries are planning to employ ballistic missiles in anti-access tactics."
Mr. Lynn did not name China, but the Pentagon has said Beijing's military is building a new 930-mile-range ballistic missile with a precision-guided, maneuvering warhead that will be accurate enough to hit aircraft carriers and other ships at sea.
The Pentagon has used the term anti-access weapons for missiles and other weapons that can keep U.S. forces away from China's coasts, and in particular to prevent the rapid deployment of U.S. naval forces in the Western Pacific to aid Taiwan in any future conflict with China.
The Pentagon's recent four-year strategy review said one of the main priorities for U.S. military forces in the coming years will be to prepare to fight in "anti-access environments" that defense officials have said is mainly directed at dealing with China's growing military power.
The Pentagon's 2009 report on China's military said that since 2000 Beijing has been building anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of "increasingly credible, layered offensive combat power across its borders and into the Western Pacific."
"Like asymmetric threats, anti-access tactics are designed to offset our conventional dominance," Mr. Lynn said. "The proliferation of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles will put U.S. forces on land and at sea at increasing risk of ballistic missile attack. This risk could push our forces further from the battlespace, compromising our ability to bring our conventional superiority to bear."
It was the first time the Pentagon has mentioned using sea-based and land-based mobile defenses against anti-access missile threats.
The deputy secretary stated that U.S. security guarantees to nations in East Asia and other states in the Middle East "depends on our ability to project power despite these threats."
"The reality is that we have entered a new and more complex era of hybrid threats, in which high-tech and low-tech weapons are being wielded by state and non-state actors alike," Mr. Lynn said.
He said the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has "a limited short-range ballistic missile capability — a capability that was once the province of sovereign states alone."
Mr. Lynn also said Germany during World War II was close to fielding a system of submarine-towed V-2 rockets that were to be used to attack the United States from coastal waters. The program was halted by Allied forces.
Mr. Lynn also made a reference to the threat of a short- or medium-range missile fired from the deck of a commercial freighter or other ship near the coast. Iran conducted a test of a short-range missile from a freighter several years ago.
The administration's "adaptive" missile defenses are geared toward deploying easily movable ships armed with SM-3 interceptor missiles and high-powered radar, along with ground-based mobile systems like Patriots and Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, he said.
The administration will still maintain the limited ground-based interceptor systems now deployed in Alaska and California for use against long-range North Korean missiles, future Iranian long-range missiles or an accidental launch from Russia or China, Mr. Lynn said.
He said the end of the Cold War broke the policy stalemate over whether strategic missile defenses undermined stability and the policy of mutually assured destruction.
"The daunting prospect of defending against thousands of incoming Soviet nuclear warheads has given way to a smaller challenge: defeating a limited ballistic missile attack by rogue states, or an isolated accidental launch."
Additionally, growing regional missile threats have raised awareness of the danger posed by missile attacks, especially in regional conflicts, he said.
North Korea first tested a long-range missile in 1998 and is continuing to develop missiles that can hit the United States with a nuclear warhead, he said, noting that Iran is also working on a space launcher that could be the basis for a future long-range missile.
"But the most immediate threat is ballistic missiles from regional actors," Mr. Lynn said. "That threat is growing both quantitatively and qualitatively. Systems that could some day be deployed against our forces are becoming more accurate and harder to defeat, while attaining greater ranges."
To counter missile threats, the Pentagon will work against missiles that can hit U.S. territory as well as shorter-range systems capable of striking