Thu, Feb 13, 2003 - Page 3 News List

New missiles threaten Taiwan

SECURITY China is developing mid-range missiles, deployed inland, that could be used to threaten Taiwan as a substitute for the short-range missiles across the Strait


As the government calls on China to withdraw short-range ballistic missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait, China is quietly upgrading longer-range missiles such as the Dong Feng-21 to give it more options in intimidating Taiwan, defense sources said.

The Dong Feng-21, a medium-range ballistic missile with a maximum range of 2,000km, is now considered one of the options that China could consider using against Taiwan in addition to short-range missiles such as Dong Feng-11 and Dong Feng-15.

It is deployed in inland China, mainly Jiangxi Province. Jiangxi is next to Fujian Province, where hundreds of Dong Feng-11 and Dong Feng-15 missiles are deployed at fixed or mobile bases.

It is based on a submarine-launched ballistic missile and became operational in 1985.

In recent years, China has been developing new variants of the missile to make it more accurate and lethal.

It has conducted a series of tests on the new variants, but little is known about them.

In early July last year, China tested the Dong Feng-21A, one of new variants of the Dong Feng-21 missile family.

Two Dong Feng-21As were fired from mobile platforms in Jiangxi toward target sites in Gangsu Province.

The results of the tests were not known, but it was believed that certain new capabilities of the Dong Feng-21A were proven in the tests.

A recent report by a Japanese newspaper said China tested the Dong Feng-21 in December, in which the missile carried multiple warheads. China denied conducting the test.

A Taiwanese army general, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he does not think China will use the Dong Feng-21 against Taiwan.

"It would be a waste of money for China. They develop longer-range missiles like the Dong Feng-21 surely for bigger and farther targets than Taiwan," the general said.

"But if China does withdraw, as urged by our government leaders, the short-range missiles deployed across the Taiwan Strait, it will have to choose the Dong Feng-21 as the new weapon to intimidate us," he said.

"If that is the case, we will have to think about the possible consequences. The Dong Feng-21 will be much more difficult to intercept than the short-range ones. Its payload is also much bigger."

The military has only limited capabilities against short-range ballistic missiles. Such capabilities are based on the Patriot PAC-II Plus missile bought from the US.

The Patriot PAC-III, which is still being tested, is thought to be able to counter the Dong Feng-21.

Retired US navy rear admiral Eric McVadon said at an international conference on Taiwan security in Taipei last month that the Patriot PAC-III is expected to be lethal against the Dong Feng-21.

However good the PAC-III is claimed to be, the military has yet to decide whether to buy a weapons system still under development.

A defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the shrinking defense budget was forcing the military to consider more carefully whether it was worthwhile deploying a comprehensive missile defense system.

"There will never be a perfect missile defense system. It needs to be upgraded all the time depending on what kinds of missiles China has in its inventory," the official said.

"We used to focus on threats from short-range missiles. We spent a lot of money building a shield against these missiles. Now we have new threats from the Dong Feng-21. We do not know what will come next. Where will our spending stop in the building of defenses against ballistic missiles?"

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