Ballistic Missiles: Not Just For Norks


While the world is focused on North Korea and its Taepodongs, the Chinese military has reportedly been refining its own ballistic missiles. But whereas the Nork missiles were really only intended as diplomatic leverage rather than for actual military operations, the Chinese missiles are designed to actually work against a specific set of military targets: U.S. ships, especially aircraft carriers.df-21.jpg"Since the mid-1990s, reports have indicated Chinese interest in modifying DF-15 tactical (600 kilometer) and DF-21 (2,500 kilometer) intermediate-range ballistic missiles as antiship weapons, using radar or infrared guidance," naval expert Norman Friedman writes in this month's Proceedings. (Not yet online.)Friedman says that ballistic missiles are effective anti-ship weapons because they exploit a gap in the anti-air coverage of U.S. warships, which are optimized to defend against low-flying cruise missiles."The main effect of a tactical ballistic-missile threat would be to make anti-ballistic weapons such as the [Raytheon] SM-3 much more important for Fleet air defense."In other words, those interceptors the Navy was planning to use to shoot down Nork terror weapons might be handier as a routine defense against Chinese anti-ship missiles.But don't go investing in Raytheon stocks quite yet. The Chinese missiles rely on a sophisticated satellite targeting system that probably isn't in place ... and might never be.

This [missile] program, if indeed it exists, may be connected to an ongoing Chinese satellite surveillance program, which reportedly will consist of four radar and four electro-optical satellites.[But] it is not ... clear whether the [potential] Chinese satellite system is intended primarily for ocean surveillance.Remember that the Chinese military procurement system was initially modeled on that of the Soviet Union, and that probably it has changed a lot less than the rest of Chinese society. To what extent would the Chinese field an antiship ballistic missile even though the associated targeting system(s) were either not ready or would never enter service?
Moreover, Friedman adds, even if the satellites are pointed at the ocean, telling an aircraft carrier from a civilian tanker ship is difficult for all but the most sophisticated sensors. In the end, Friedman is skeptical that the Chinese can effectively target whatever ballistic anti-ship missiles they possess.-- David Axe
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