|Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns
Publication: China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 13June 24, 2009 04:44 PM Age: 2 daysCategory: China Brief, Military/Security, China and the Asia-Pacific By: Andrew S. Erickson
Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009, Annual Report to Congress, p. 21.
China wants to achieve the ability, or at minimum the appearance of the ability, to prevent a U.S. carrier strike group (CSG) from intervening in the event of a future Taiwan Strait crisis. China may be closer than ever to achieving this capability with land-based anti-ship homing ballistic missiles. There have been many Western reports that China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). Increasingly, technical and operationally-focused discussions are found in a widening array of Chinese sources, some authoritative. These factors suggest that China may be close to fielding, testing, or employing an ASBM—a weapon that no other country possesses. According to U.S. Government sources, Beijing is pursuing an ASBM based on its CSS-5/DF-21D solid propellant medium-range ballistic missile. The CSS-5’s 1,500 km+ range could hold ships at risk in a large maritime area—far beyond the Taiwan theatre into the Western Pacific . Yet there remain considerable unknowns about China's ASBM capability, which could profoundly affect U.S. deterrence, military operations and the balance of power in the Western Pacific.
Taiwan as the Catalyst
For the past several decades, the U.S. Navy has used aircraft carriers to project power around the world, including in and around the Taiwan Strait. The deployment of the USS Nimitz and Independence carrier battle groups in response to China’s 1995-1996 missile tests and military exercises in the Taiwan Strait was a move that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) could not counter. The impetus behind Chinese efforts to develop ASBMs may be to prevent similar U.S. carrier operations in the future.
Keystone of ‘Anti-Access’ Strategy?
If fielded, the ASBM would be just one of the many new platforms and weapons systems that China has been buying and building since the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis. These systems, collectively, will allow China to assert unprecedented control over its contested maritime periphery, in part by attempting to deny U.S. forces ‘access’ to critical areas in times of crisis or conflict. They do so by matching Chinese strengths with U.S. weaknesses, thereby placing U.S. platforms on the ‘wrong end of physics.’ An ASBM, however, stands above the quiet submarines, lethal anti-ship cruise missiles, and copious sea mines that China has been adding to its arsenal in its potential strategic impact on regional allies of the United States and U.S. interests in maintaining regional peace and security.
Firstly, the development of an ASBM would draw on over half a century of Chinese experience with ballistic missiles. Secondly, it would be fired from mobile, highly concealable land-based platforms. Thirdly, it would have the range to strike targets hundreds of kilometers from China’s shores. These factors suggest that China is likely to succeed in achieving a capability that is extremely difficult to counter and could impose ‘access denial’ in strategically vital sea areas well beyond its 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
U.S. Technological Influence?
The United States does not have an ASBM. It did have a distantly related capability, in the form of the Pershing II ground-to-ground theater-ballistic missile, but Washington relinquished this capability when it ratified the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Moscow in 1988. Interestingly, some Chinese sources state that previous advances in the now-abandoned Pershing II program inspired Chinese research and development relevant to an ASBM . The Pershing II has adjustable second stage control fins for terminal maneuver. U.S. Government sources, and many Chinese sources, state that a Chinese ASBM would be based on the CSS-5. While positively identified photos of a CSS-5 outside its launch canister are not known to exist, at least one version of China’s related CSS-6/DF-15 missile has a reentry vehicle virtually identical in appearance to the Pershing II’s . Based on this strong visual resemblance, it is possible that the CSS-6 employs terminal maneuvering technology similar to that of the Pershing II, and it is reasonable to assume that the CSS-5 does too. This is because the reentry vehicle that China obviously has could easily be mated with the CSS-5 booster, which might then produce an effective ASBM, assuming that its radar has the ability to track moving targets at sea.
Making an ASBM Work
Chinese schematic diagrams show an ASBM flight trajectory with mid-course and terminal guidance . Second stage