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CHINA’S ANTISHIP BALLISTIC MISSILE Developments and Missing Links Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin C hina’s pursuit of an antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) has been called a po- tential “game changer,” a weapon that could single-handedly shift the stra- tegic balance with the United States. A retired U.S. Navy rear admiral asserted as early as 2005 that an ASBM capability could represent “the strategic equivalent of China’s acquiring nuclear weapons in 1964.”1 Whether or not this is accurate, an effective ASBM capability would undoubtedly constitute a formidable anti- access weapon against the U.S. Navy in the western Paciﬁc, particularly during a conﬂict over Taiwan.2 However, as the Chinese literature demonstrates, it would mean more than that. Fully operational ASBM capability along with essential C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveil- lance, and reconnaissance) support would be a barometer of China’s greater military modernization effort, a potential instrument for regional strategic am- bitions, and perhaps an important element in tipping the long-term maritime strategic balance with respect to the United States. Eric Hagt is the director of the China Program at the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C., and Given China’s overall inferiority in long-range air chief editor of China Security. His research includes and naval power, an ASBM would afford a power- traditional and nontraditional security issues in China with an emphasis on space, the defense in- ful asymmetric means that could help deter the U.S. dustry, energy security, and crisis management. forces on their way to a zone of conﬂict near China’s Matthew Durnin is a visiting researcher at the littoral borders. However, the ASBM represents more World Security Institute’s China Program and asso- than just a single weapon platform. Rather, it is seen ciate editor of China Security. His research interests include security policy and applications of defense as “a system of systems” and a key step in achieving technologies. high-tech and information war capabilities.3 This is because the ability to launch a land-based ballistic © 2009 by Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin Naval War College Review, Autumn 2009, Vol. 62, No. 4 missile at a moving target thousands of kilometers 88 NAVA L WA R C O L L E G E R EV I EW away requires a wide range of support and information technologies far beyond just the missile itself. Certainly, the medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) is the core component of this system, and the technological demands in maneu- vering, guidance, and homing to defeat defenses and ﬁnd its moving target at sea are formidable. However, an effective ASBM would also require the ability to de- tect, identify, and track the target using some combination of land, sea, air, and space-based surveillance assets. Aside from the immediate software and hard- ware, all of these functions would have to be highly integrated, fast reacting, and sufﬁciently ﬂexible
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