China is developing a military “architecture” that could undermine US ability to intervene in an attack on Taiwan or Japan, according to a new study.
Published this week by the Washington-based Project 2049 Institute, China’s Evolving Reconnaissance-Strike Capabilities says that Beijing is perfecting sensors for monitoring a “vast” maritime domain.
“China’s expanding reconnaissance infrastructure is designed to support an array of precision strike capabilities for targeting ships at sea, command and control nodes, air bases, ports and other critical facilities,” the study says.
Written by research fellow Ian Easton, the study says the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be exploiting security issues in the East China Sea as part of its Taiwan policy.
“The CCP’s approach has been centered on fostering a sense of shared external threat with the Republic of China (ROC) by conflating their respective territorial sovereignty claims,” the study says.
“This strategy appears to have been a key driver of China’s gambit in the East China Sea,” it says.
The study says the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has an advantage that the US military and Japan’s Self Defense Forces cannot match: theater missiles.
“Recognizing the geographic advantage it would have over the US in any conflict with Japan or Taiwan, the PLA has prioritized the development of long-range missiles in order to be able to strike American ships and air bases before they would be able to project power into the region,” the study says.
It says that the PLA’s Second Artillery Force fields the world’s largest and most capable inventory of theater ballistic missiles for delivering nuclear and conventional strikes.
Initially, the only theater ballistic missile in the PLA arsenal that could reach Japan was the medium-range Dongfeng-21C (DF-21C), it says.
“However, according to Taiwanese intelligence officials, the Second Artillery Force has also begun deploying a new medium-range ballistic missile the DF-16, which is reportedly armed at counter-intervention missions,” the study says.
“The DF-16 would be primarily intended for targeting US air and naval bases in Japan during a confrontation over Taiwan,” it says.
The study says that the PLA is also extending the range of its DF-11 and DF-15 short-range ballistic missiles across from Taiwan, giving them “notional coverage” of increasingly large sections of the East China Sea.
In addition, China’s navy has a potentially powerful underwater reconnaissance capability.
“With some 40 modern attack submarines currently fielded and up to 70 expected to be in service by the end of the decade, the submarine force is designed to assist in efforts to achieve sea control around the first island chain, to include countering US and Japanese intervention in a Taiwan conflict,” it says.
Washington and Tokyo must show that they can threaten the PLA’s command posts and missile launch units.
“Japan should be encouraged to do more to contribute to the conventional counterstrike mission,” it says.
“With the F-35 program now many years behind schedule, it makes sense for Tokyo to study options for deploying conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missiles,” it adds.
The study points out that Japan’s civilian space program has recently developed one of the world’s most advanced solid-fueled space launch vehicles.
“If required, these rockets could be converted into ballistic missiles for the deterrent mission with relatively little modification,” the study says.
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