Video Above: Can the U.S. Defend Against a Chinese launched Hypersonic Weapon? Roundtable's Rob Nelson and Warrior Maven's Kris Osborn analyze
China’s fast-expanding arsenal of missiles involves a large-scale increase in size as well as mission, scope and functionality, according to a recent DoD report on China.
The concern articulated in the report is by no means restricted to China’s known ballistic missiles but the PLA’s progress with cruise missiles, hypersonic missiles and nuclear-capable weapons as well.
All of these developments are fortified by China’s aggressive missile testing and modernization programs.
“In 2020, the PLARF launched more than 250 ballistic missiles for testing and training. This was more than the rest of the world combined,” DoD’s 2021 Report on Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China, states.
China’s DF-21D, DF-26 and DF-17
The PLARF’s growing inventory of DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles are now capable of “conducting both conventional and nuclear strikes against ground targets as well as conventional strikes against naval targets,” the report states.
This clearly adds new threat dimensions, yet China is also known to be firing off and testing these missiles to adjust them such that they can better track and destroy maneuvering targets at sea. An ability to hit moving targets at sea, such as carriers, has been somewhat of a question mark for Chinese anti-ship missiles, however the technology to perform this is almost certain to be improving quickly.
“In 2020, the PRC fired anti-ship ballistic missiles against a moving target in the South China Sea , but has not acknowledged doing so,” the DoD report states.
China’s companion carrier killer, the DF-21D, is also cited in the report as being a growing risk.
“The DF-21D has a range exceeding 1,500 km, is fitted with a maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV), and is reportedly capable of rapidly reloading in the field,” the report states.
China’s missile modernization efforts do not stop with these weapons but are also immersed in developing newly designed and built “theater range missiles” and exploring new technologies intended to challenge or defeat Ballistic Missile Defenses.
Countering BMD might pertain to the exploration of course-correcting of maneuvering missiles as well as further developing of sea-skimming weapons able to glide beneath the radar field of view.
The size and continued growth of China’s missile arsenal is itself cause for growing concern, yet the technical enhancements and efforts to harness new missile innovations for new programs are of equal if not greater concern. Strategically speaking. China could be in a position to try to overwhelm, jam or disable air defense in Guam, Japan or Taiwan. This could include firing a salvo or large volley of missiles or the use of new targeting guidance, seekers and datalinks intended to adjust missile trajectory as needed.
While all of these evolving developments are almost certain to be of great concern to the Pentagon, their relative danger to the U.S. may collectively be less significant or unexpected than the threat posed by China’s now operational DF-17 hypersonic missile.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.