Beijing has announced that its so-called carrier killer anti-ship missile has been deployed to the country’s northwest, just a day after the U.S. Navy sailed a warship past disputed islands in the South China Sea.
China’s DF-26 ballistic missile, which reportedly has a range of 3,000-4,000 km, was mobilized to the country’s northwest plateau and desert areas, the state-run Global Times newspaper reported Tuesday, quoting national broadcaster CCTV.
While the actual deployment date was not mentioned, the timing of the reports’ release coincided with a U.S. “freedom of navigation” operation (FONOP) near Chinese-held islands in the South China Sea’s Paracel chain on Monday. In the FONOP, which Washington conducts globally to challenge maritime claims it considers excessive, the U.S. Navy sent the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-based USS McCampbell guided-missile destroyer near the islands — a move China blasted as a “provocation.”
The Global Times report alluded to the U.S. operation, quoting an unidentified expert as noting that the deployment “is a good reminder that China is capable of safeguarding its territory.”
“Even when launched from deeper inland areas of China, the DF-26 has a range far-reaching enough to cover the South China Sea,” the expert added.
Beijing has constructed a series of military outposts throughout the waterway, which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, where the U.S., Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies also operate.
The newspaper called the DF-26 a “new generation of intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of targeting medium and large ships at sea.” According to the Pentagon’s 2018 report on Chinese military power, the road-mobile missile, first fielded in 2016, “is capable of conducting conventional and nuclear precision strikes against ground targets and conventional strikes against naval targets in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans and the South China Sea.”
China’s Defense Ministry announced that the missile had been officially deployed last April, and CCTV said Tuesday that weapons “are now capable of mobile operations across the country.”
Experts say a mobile missile launch from deep inside China’s interior would be more difficult to intercept than a launch from an area closer to the shore. This is because in the initial launch phase, the missile is relatively slow and easy to detect, making it a ripe target for enemy anti-missile strikes. After the launch enters its later stages, the missile’s speed is so fast that the chances of interception dwindle significantly.
This missile’s deployment has also stoked concern in Japan, home to a number of key U.S. military bases.
According to a June 2017 report published by the Center for a New American Security think tank, while the United States’ main focus on the DF-26 has been aircraft carriers, the missile also bolsters China’s ability to target and destroy U.S. bases in the region — a capability experts say remains an underappreciated challenge.
“The greatest military threat to U.S. vital interests in Asia may be one that has received somewhat less attention: the growing capability of China’s missile forces to threaten U.S. bases in the region,” the report said.
In it, the two authors, Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez, simulated a preemptive Chinese attack on U.S. bases in Japan. They found the results would be devastating, including “almost every major fixed headquarters and logistical facility being struck” and “almost every U.S. ship in port in Japan struck pierside by ballistic missiles.” The simulation also found that most of the military runways would be cratered in the attack, effectively clipping the wings of the U.S. Air Force in Japan.