IDEX 2007 Showcases China’s Productive Weapons Sector
Abu Dhabi’s 2007 International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) arms show from February 18 to 22 demonstrated China’s increasing capacity to offer new world-class weapons and in an increasing variety. While IDEX also saw continued evidence of China’s outreach for foreign weapons technology, the growing trend is for China to now offer multiple choices of near world class weapon systems—which presumably can be obtained for far less than comparable Western or even Russian systems. This trend is an outgrowth of Mao-era doctrines of "People’s War" which sought to create multiple redundant factories to ensure weapons production even after the capture of Chinese territory. But instead of rationalizing its defense sector, since the PLA reforms of 1998, China has promoted and subsidized increasing competition among its weapons design and manufacturing concerns, with a resulting surplus of systems.
One implication of this trend is to give lie to the oft-heard Chinese justification for their annual double-digit military spending increases as meant primarily to increase troop pay and benefits. While this is undoubtedly a partial truth, the now regular American public requests for greater Chinese military transparency that are also regularly dismissed by Chinese officials, are doubly justified given the increasingly creative output of China’s military-industrial complex. China’s March 4 announcement that its 2007 military spending will increase by 17.8 percent translates into an "official" Chinese defense budget of $44.9 billion, or by extrapolating from the "high" Pentagon estimate of $105 billion for 2006, could mean a rise to $123.69 billion for 2007. IDEX showed that in the absence of domestic or foreign sales, China’s defense spending growth also is meant to support a large, redundant though increasingly dynamic weapons development sector.
This leads to another important implication: Beijing will have an increasingly richer set of options with which to add "hard" elements to an increasingly active global pursuit of interests, today viewed by many as characterized by an exercise of "soft power." For example, Nepal’s army uses first generation Chinese WZ-551 wheeled armored personnel carriers armed with machine guns to confront radical Maoist anti-government rebels. In the near future, if it saw the need, Nepal could import a family of Chinese second generation wheeled armored vehicles outfitted to perform the missions of tanks, artillery, air defense, command/control, as well as troop transport. While IDEX 2007 provided a focus on China’s ability to offer new army systems, China increasingly can also offer multiple choices in terms of sea, air, missile and space based weapon systems. Having long been viewed as a low-end competitor in world arms markets, China is quickly changing this image by its increasing ability to supply competitive hi-tech weapon systems.
New Family of Eight-Wheeled Combat Vehicles
Chinese sources confirmed that Chinese Internet images from late 2006 of a new "second generation" family of amphibious eight-wheeled combat vehicles were a product of the Norinco Corporation. Jane’s has reported that one designation for these vehicles may be "PF 2006." Though unconfirmed at IDEX, it is also possible that this new 8-wheeled vehicle is part of an entire line of related 6-wheel and 4-wheel combat vehicles. At the end of the 1990s and early in this decade the PLA sponsored a competition between two 8-wheel designs from competing factories. One factory used rear-mounted engines in order to convey tank-like stability and balance when armed with large tank gun or artillery turrets. However, this design apparently was not selected. Instead the PLA appears to have favored the "traditional" mid-forward engine mounting so as to retain a rear-access hatch, and a hull that can be used for a wider array of missions.
With this family of 8-wheeled vehicles China has produced its entrant into this increasingly popular class of combat vehicles, which though lighter than tracked tanks, have the advantages of being more flexible for air/amphibious transport, can travel faster and further than tracked counterparts and have lower life cycle costs. Wheeled armored vehicles are naturally able to take advantage of well developed road networks, such as now exist on Taiwan, to achieve rapid advances, or they can be deployed more rapidly by the PLA to help suppress internal dissent. While the PLA has since 2004 equipped some units of new Light Mechanized Divisions with the 105mm gun armed version of the WZ-551 6-wheeled vehicle, the advent of this 8-wheeled vehicle family portends the development of "heavier" Light Mechanized Divisions and Brigades.
Images of the new 8-wheeled vehicle indicate that it has so far been developed into versions armed with a 105mm tank gun, a 122mm howitzer, plus a machinegun armed version for troop transport. Images and other reporting indicate it may also be developed in ambulance and armored engineering versions, and in a version carry a twin-120mm mortar similar to the Patria-Hagglunds Advanced Mortar System (AMOS). Perhaps the world’s most advanced automatic 120mm mortar system, AMOS can fire 23 rounds per minute. The 105mm gun armed version looks similar to the French VEXTRA, Italian Centauro and South African Rooikat, all 8-wheeled tanks.
Chinese officials would "neither confirm nor deny" specifications for this APC published in the January 2007 issue of the Malaysian magazine Tempur:
Weight: 18 tons
Engine: 300kw diesel
Max Speed: 100kmh
Water Speed: 6kmh
Tempur further reported that this new vehicle can be fitted with appliqué armor to increase protection up to 155mm artillery shrapnel, and that the underside has been strengthened to protect against mines.
Norinco already offers a family of combat vehicles based on its WZ-551 six-wheeled armored vehicle, to include the 100mm and 105mm tank gun armed "Assaulter," plus additional versions armed 120mm mortar, a 23mm automatic cannon, in addition to command-control, radar carrying, electronic warfare and troop transport variants. Should Norinco’s new 8-wheeler become adopted to succeed the WZ-551 family it can be expected to be developed to a similar extent.
New 4-Wheel Armored Vehicles
China is also developing a family of new 4-wheel combat vehicles. At IDEX 2007 Norinco released data about its VN3, a 5.3 ton vehicle with a top speed of 110km/h, a range of 600km and that can be armed with a single man turret with either a 12.7mm (50cal) or 14.7mm machine gun. Its welded steel V-shaped body is designed to provide additional protection from mine explosions and small arms fire. It also appears that Norinco has developed a slightly larger, amphibious version of the VN-3 which can carry the HJ-8 anti-tank missile.
The VN3 "family" may also include a slightly larger 6-7 ton unidentified 4-wheeler armed with a 30mm cannon turret, the 7-ton 4-wheel QL550, and possibly an even larger 6-wheel APC. All vehicles appear to have front-mounted engines and use an angled hull configuration shared through the 8-wheel vehicle line. The 30mm turret used by one of these 4-wheel vehicles is that same as that featured by the ZLC-2000 airborne infantry fighting vehicle, indicating that this 4-wheel vehicle may be intended for Airborne units as well.
Two New Truck Mounted Artillery Systems
Continuing its trend of wheel-based mechanization, Norinco chose IDEX 2007 to reveal its two new truck chassis-mounted SH-1 155mm and SH-2 122mm artillery cannon. Reportedly in development since 2002, internet images of alleged Chinese truck-based 155mm guns began to emerge in 2004. The SH-1 revealed at IDEX, however, does not bear a resemblance to previously seen examples, in that it uses a forward-engine and armored truck cab style. Reportedly weighing 22 tons, the SH-1 can fire new rocket-assisted shells out to 50km or can fire a laser guided 155mm shell which is derived from the Russian Instrument Design Bureau (KBP) Krasnopol laser-guided shell. The SH-1 is marketed as part of a notional 24-unit battalion, and employs scout vehicles to relay target information to automatic targeting systems on the artillery truck, to enable rapid "shoot and scoot" operations. Capable of a road speed of 90km/h, the SH-1 does not appear to be able to fit into large PLA aircraft like the Il-76, unless its barrel can be dismantled, but it can be transported by "open deck" small LCU ships like the new "Yubei" LCU.
The SH-2 122mm truck artillery cannon, however, is small enough to fit three into an Il-76 if the rear stabilizing spade were removed, but it is likely that two plus ammunition may be a normal load. If the artillery radar housing atop the artillery tube recoil system is removed, then the SH-2 may be able to fit into the smaller Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft. The SH-2 uses a D-30 122mm cannon which can fire rocket-assisted shells out to 27km. While Norinco does not market a 122mm laser guided shell, it is likely that it does make a copy of the KBP 122mm Kitolov laser guided shell. With laser guided projectiles and small UAV surveillance aircraft, SH-2s carried by Il-76 aircraft could be used to rapidly create a large defensive barrier around a captured airfield.
Scant Details on China’s "AAAV"
Since the fall of 2005 there have been a series of Chinese Internet source images of a new armored amphibious assault vehicle designed for high speed water transit using water jets and planning surfaces, very similar to the troubled 30mm gun armed U.S. Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV). It is also reported by Tempur that China’s "AAAV"--its PLA designator has not yet been revealed--is intended for use from the new Type 071 LPD amphibious assault ship. Tempur also reports that China may now build up to six 800-troop carrying Type 071 LPDs. It has recently emerged that China’s "AAAV" will be produced in at least three versions: 100mm tank gun armed amphibious infantry fighting vehicle, 30mm cannon armed troop carrier and a lightly armed logistics support vehicle. At IDEX Chinese officials would only confirm the existence of this vehicle while only stating that is capable of "at least" 25 knots water speed. China did offer a glimpse of a new 23mm cannon that is featured on the troop carrying version of the "AAAV." The cannon features external support braces similar to automatic cannon offered by the Ukraine. Ukrainian officials explained that this brace system increased cannon accuracy by 100 percent compared to non-braced cannon.
Four Mobile Air Defense Systems, Plus Two
In 1985 the U.S. cancelled the $4.2 billion twin 40mm gun M247 Sergeant York division air defense (DIVAD) program because its F-16 derived APG-66 radar could not tell the difference between helicopters and trees, and its M-60 tank chassis was too slow. While low-level aircraft, helicopter and cruise missile threats have grown, the U.S. Army still lacks a modern air defense gun. However, having taken this requirement seriously, Russia and China have developed many self propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) and gun-missile (SPAAG-M) systems. The PLA has especially been motivated by the requirement to defeat cruise missiles and other precision guided munitions which are a U.S. strength, and thus pose a particular threat to its army forces. In its 1999 October 1 military parade the PLA revealed its Type-95 SPAAG-M, which combined four 25mm cannon with small shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), with guidance provided by combination of optical and radar systems, all on a tracked chassis.
At the 2007 IDEX show Chinese sources were willing to offer some comments on a successor tracked SPAAG-M that had been partially revealed by late 2006 Internet images. They confirmed that it would be armed by a twin 35mm cannon and new SAMs they would not identify. Following the pattern of the Type-95, and the Russian ZSU-23 or the German Gepard, targeting would be provided by a combination of tracking and search radar, plus optical systems. Chinese sources also said the 35mm gun would utilize AHEAD (Advanced Hit Efficiency and Destruction) type technology. Originally developed by the Swiss firm Oerlikon Contraves AG (now part of Germany’s Rhinemetall Defense), this unique system uses electromagnetic inductors at the end of the gun barrel to measure the speed of the shell, and then to convey a signal to the shell’s fuse to produce a precisely timed explosion, to allow the disbursal of 152 tungsten subprojectiles in the path of the incoming missile or aircraft. The Oerlikon gun fires at 1,000 rounds per minute (RPM), and typical 25-round burst is used to create a "cloud" of 3,800 tungsten projectiles which shreds incoming missiles or precision-guided munitions (PGMs).
In the late 1980s China purchased a license to co-produce some quantity of an earlier version of the Oerlikon 35mm gun but did not acquire the license to co-produce the unique AHEAD ammunition. However, the source for China’s claim to have AHEAD capability in its new tracked SPAAG was revealed at IDEX: after a European source had identified the 35mm gun on the new SPAAG as South African in origin, South African sources then confirmed that China had purchased the DENEL 35mm Dual Purpose Gun "several years ago." DENEL literature describes this gun, originally designed for naval use, as being upgradeable with AHEAD "In collaboration with Oerlikon Contraves AG…" It cannot be confirmed whether China also obtained the capability to manufacture the AHEAD ammunition from South Africa. However, this is a possibility given the Chinese claim to have AHEAD for this new 35mm tracked SPAAG. It is also possible that South Africa provided additional "consulting" for this SPAAG, perhaps based on its defunct twin-35mm cannon ZA-35 project of the 1980s, which reportedly also formed the basis for Poland’s PZA Loara twin-35mm tracked SPAAG.
In addition to these two tracked SPAAGs, China is apparently able to produce one wheeled SPAAG, one APC-based SAM, and another SPAAG in concept form. A brochure from the China Xinshidai Company advertises a new twin 30mm gun based SPAAG on an 8-wheel APC that is apparently an earlier version of the mid-forward engine that led to the new 8-wheeled APC family described above. It cannot be determined whether the gun module is derived from the new tracked SPAAG, but like the Type-95, it uses a combination track/search radar optical targeting system. However, box-like gun mounting shows the influence of earlier South African ZA-35, indicating a potential relationship to the new tracked SPAAG. It claims a 4km range and a 60 percent target destruction probability. While the brochure provides a photo of what may be a prototype, it cannot be determined whether this system will be purchased by the PLA, or is a system being offered for export.
The 2007 IDEX show saw the revelation of two more SPAAG concepts from the Zhengzhou Electromechanical Engineering Research Institute (ZEERI). Both concepts use a 30mm gattling gun based on the design the Russian Instrument Design Bureau. The ZEERI Hailstorm-A2 concept places the gattling gun in a turret, with a radar/optical targeting system, atop a WZ-551 APC. The Hailstorm-A1 concept places the turret/targeting system on a truck that must remain stationary to fire, in a manner the same as Norinco’s LD-2000. Zhengzhou claims a 4,000 rpm rate of fire, plus a 4km engagement range for aircraft and 1.7km for cruise missiles. In addition, at the 2005 IDEX show China revealed its Yitian, a WZ-551 APC armed with four 6km range TY-90 SAMs, with a radar/optical targeting system.
Copying Russia’s Naval Artillery
One of the surprises at IDEX 2007 was the China Xinshidai’s marketing of a range of naval ship defense systems manufactured by the Zhengzhou Electromechanical Engineering Research Institute (ZEERI). Apparently ZEERI has entered into a broad cooperative agreement to co-produce several naval defense systems designed by Russia’s Instrument Design Bureau (KBP), the goal of which is to provide overlapping ship defense against anti-ship missiles. The outer range of this defense is provided by copy of the KBP AK-176, a 76mm gun with a 131 rpm that can fire proximity fused pre-fragmented round to create a cloud of fragments out to 15km. This gun is now being outfitted to the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s new Type-054A frigates and the new Type-071 LPD. Inner defense is handled by a copy of the KBP AO-18 6-barrel 30mm gattling gun, which can fire 4,000 rpm for an engagement range of 4km for aircraft and 1.7km for anti-ship missiles. This gun now outfits the PLAN’s new Type-022 "Houbei" stealthy fast attack craft and the Type-071 LPD.
In addition, ZEERI is marketing what Chinese officials call a "concept," identified as the Hailstorm-1 close-in weapon system (CIWS), but which in effect is a copy of the unique KBP Kortik/Kashtan combined gun/missile ship defense system. KBP has succeeded in combining its 30mm gattling gun and a very fast 900m/s 10km range 3M87 (9M311/SA-N-11) laser-guided SAM, whereas European and U.S. ship defenses either use guns or missiles, but not in combination. Like Kortik/Kashtan the Hailstorm-1 uses a combined radar/optical targeting system and twin gun-missile fixtures. Hailstorm’s targeting complex looks more like a more efficient design, but apparently uses the same elements as the Russian system. Its SAM, however, is not identified, but its range is mentioned at being 8km, which does match that of the two-stage QW-3, a 750 m/s speed missile revealed in 2002. Chinese officials would not comment when Hailstorm-1 would be ready for sale, but the fact that its brochure was issued indicates some degree of confidence Hailstorm-1 will come to market.
ZEERI is now in competition with a line of naval artillery systems marketed by Norinco. Norinco’s main naval defense gun is the Type-730, a 30mm gattling gun with a combined radar/optical targeting system, that is believed to have been influenced by the defunct French SEAMOS CIWS. The Type-730 also forms the basis of Norinco’s LD-2000 truck-based land air defense system.
Plethora of SRBMs
IDEX 2007 also saw Chinese companies release new data on an increasing range of SRBMs that apparently will be purchased by the PLA and can be used to target Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense, as of January 2007 the PLA targeted Taiwan with 980 ballistic missiles, of which about 100 are new land attack cruise missiles. While about 780+ of these are likely DF-15 and DF-11 Mod 1 designs in brigades controlled by the Second Artillery and the PLA Army, the PLA could in the near future rapidly ramp up these numbers by producing cheaper cruise missiles, plus a new class of shorter-range SRBMs, some of which are upgraded versions of less expensive artillery rockets. When considering data gathered at IDEX and from other Chinese sources, the PLA has the potential to be able to target Taiwan with up to 13 types of SRBMs. While it is not clear whether all will be purchased by the PLA, there is now the potential for the PLA to double or even quadruple its current number of land-based missile targeting Taiwan over the next decade.
At the 2006 Zhuhai show China revealed a full scale representation of its new P-12 short range ballistic missile (SRBM) system, and a small model of the B-611M, but no real data on either. At IDEX 2007 the China National Precision Machinery Corporation (CPMIEC) released brochures for both the P-12 and the B-611M and Chinese officials indicated that the PLA would purchase both systems. The B-611 was revealed at the 2004 Zhuhai show as a new 150km range SRBM that was stealthy, maneuverable so as to defeat missile defenses, and very accurate due to satellite navigation guidance. In contrast to the DF-15/11, two missiles were carried per truck-based transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The B-611 was also revealed by Asian sources, and confirmed by Turkish sources in early 2005, as the product of a China-Turkey co-development program. A 2004 warning by Asian source that a longer range version of the B-611 was in development was proven by the revelation of the B-611M, which its CPMIEC brochure says has a range of 260km. With an accuracy measured in less than 50m circular error probability (CEP), it can loft a 480kg warhead comprised of high explosives, cluster munitions or fuel-air explosives.
The P-12 is also a two-missile system, but uses a purpose-designed 6-wheel TEL that appears to be transportable by large aircraft like the Ilyushin Il-76. In this sense the P-12 is apparently designed to compete with Russia’s Iskander SRBM, which is also a two-missile system in an air-transportable TEL. A promotional video shows the P-12 is maneuverable in flight. This plus a stealthy shaped nose section are intended to help the P-12 evade missile defenses. Its guidance system also uses navigation satellite inputs, insuring very high accuracy. Its advertised range is 150km and it can loft a 450kg warhead comprised of high explosives or cluster munitions.
A potentially more troubling development may be the PLA’s investment in longer range multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), or artillery rockets, when upgraded with inexpensive satellite navigation guidance systems, could provide a relatively inexpensive means to far more rapidly build up SRBM numbers in the Taiwan Theater. Since 2004 China has marketed the WS-2 artillery rocket, which is now offered in a version that can loft a 200kg warhead up to 200km. Recent Chinese Internet sources indicate that China is also considering or developing 300km and 400km versions of the WS series. The competing Sichuan Aerospace Industries Corporation is apparently developing the WS-3, which is intended for a 300km to 400km range requirement. The WS-2D, apparently designed for a 400km range requirement, brings artillery rocket performance close to the heavier SRBMs that have so far been favored by the PLA.
Interestingly, the Internet source graphic reproduced below indicates the 200km range WS-2B and the 300km range WS-2C are intended to target "radar," possibly indicating they use a passive anti-radiation homing guidance system. Such a guidance system would enable these missiles to target a range of electronic emitters, like radio, television or satellite communication targets. They may also be used to target ship formations, especially gathering amphibious assault formations that would feature a heavy electronic communications and radar signal environment. This also raises the question of whether China will eventually be able to equip its shorter range B-611M or P-12 SRBMs with anti-ship radar guidance systems now apparently being developed for the larger DF-21 medium range ballistic missile. Initial targeting for such missiles could be accomplished by relatively stealthy and low cost tactical unmanned surveillance aircraft or by China’s new "passive" radar designed to produce target location data based on the correlation of electronic emissions. Such missiles may become very desirable for regimes which may require the ability to attack U.S. naval formations, if only to deter their potential to thwart terrorist or territorial designs.
AVIC-1 Enters "Large Transport" Competition
IDEX offered new information that leading Chinese aviation consortium AVIC-1 has entered the competition to develop China’s new "large transport aircraft" stipulated in the current 11th Five Year Plan (2006-2010). China is to fund the development of new large civil and military transport aircraft. In early 2006 Ukrainian sources had indicated that they were early to offer a candidate to fulfill the military transport requirement by joining with AVIC-2 to propose a larger new turbofan engine powered variant of the Antonov An-70. But in February 2007, these sources now indicate that AVIC-1 will be given the full opportunity to compete, and also confirmed that a Chinese Internet-source image first seen in January 2007 is the AVIC-1 concept for a C-17 size large military transport. A later image of a model of this aircraft has also been revealed, and unconfirmed Chinese reports indicate this AVIC-1 design will have a 60 ton capacity, a .75 mach speed at 8,000 meters, and a 4,000km range. This is about the same capability of the earlier Antonov/AVIC-2 proposal. Ukrainian sources also noted that AVIC-1 is expected to approach Russian firms Ilyushin, Tupolev and Europe’s Airbus to seek technical cooperation opportunities.
At the show European sources noted that Airbus had yet to be approached by China for such cooperation. Nevertheless, Airbus would be well placed to offer technology from its new A400 high technology turboprop powered airlifter. But if the 1989 European Union Arms Embargo remains in effect, Airbus may chose to make a distinction between "military" and "civil" large transport cooperation. This distinction is today made by Eurocopter, which is now developing the EC-175 with China, a state-of-the art 8-ton capacity helicopter which is justified as a "civil" program, even though it is likely to be obtained by the PLA in large numbers.
According to Chinese reports, during his March 4 report to the National People’s Congress, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao affirmed that China would begin manufacturing "jumbo aircraft" during the current 11th Five Year Plan. At about the same time as the military transport image was revealed on the Internet in January, two potential Chinese civil transport concept images emerged, very close in design to the Airbus A-340 four-engine and A-330 twin-engine civil transports. It cannot be confirmed that these too are AVIC-1 concept images, but if they are, they indicate that China has heady ambitions to be able to challenge both Airbus and Boeing for a healthy share of the civil air transport market. Should the civil concepts pictured here prove to be from AVIC-1, then they indicate that AVIC-1 is being heavily influenced by Airbus design concepts. The A-330 has been developed into an aerial refueler/transport model now under consideration for purchase by the U.S. Air Force. Should China succeed in developing similar civil transports it can be expected that China will also develop multiple military variants of these designs.
ROK 5th Generation Aircraft Ambitions
South Korean industry officials at IDEX would not comment on reports that Seoul is developing a new long range land attack cruise missile, reported to be called "Cheon Ryong." However other South Korean officials were willing to comment on the "KFX," or South Korea’s ambition to develop a 4.5 or 5th generation combat fighter. Currently in concept study phase at the ROK Agency for Defense Development, canard, delta and conventional configurations are under consideration. Pictures of a model of the canard configuration were released in late 2006 and show it to be similar in size to the French Rafale. It utilizes some stealth concepts but appears to rely on external weapon carriage. Officials indicated that South Korea would likely purchase engines and radar for this fighter rather than develop their own. While this program may not materialize until the 2020-2025 timeframe, it is possible that may be accelerated by a Japanese decision to purchase U.S. Lockheed Martin F-22 fighters, or to develop an indigenous 5th generation fighter.
IDEX 2007 provided a small glimpse into a Chinese military industrial sector which is rapidly rising to offer not just world class weapon systems, but increasingly, a competing variety of such systems from which to choose. Russia, Europe and the United States have also long sought to foster a competitive military industrial complex to insure continued innovation, but increasingly this is an expensive luxury. China’s competitive military industrial sector is just beginning to benefit from China’s investments in young competent engineers and advanced design technologies. Instead of rationalizing what in the West would be viewed as a bloated redundant military sector, China has chosen to reform it into a center for innovation, and world is beginning to see the results.
Of note, China’s increasing investment in wheeled combat vehicles points toward the potential strengthening of early "Light Mechanized Brigade" concepts, which in the future may use new heavier 8-wheel tank and artillery vehicles, complimented by a full range of wheeled anti-tank, mortar and gun artillery, air defense, electronic warfare, troop transport, command and logistic support vehicles. These vehicles will be able to exploit new modern road systems being built in China, or in potential target states. Such units in the future may become logical candidates for distant power projection missions should China succeed in producing new C-17 class airlifters, now being proposed by AVIC-1 and AVIC-2. These units would also be more easily transported by new Type-071 LPDs or larger successor amphibious assault ships.
Concern about China’s proliferating range of SRBM offerings is justified not only in Taipei but in Washington, which bears a burden for devising countermeasures. Basing future SRBMs on low cost artillery rockets raises the potential for the PLA to target Taiwan with far greater numbers of missiles in the near future, but also with a richer variety. Taipei, which cannot afford to counter these with expensive defensive missiles, is reported to have tested one potential solution on February 2: its new Hsiung Feng-2E land attack cruise missile. Many in Taipei believe they have little choice but to "deter" the PLA by being able to target key military nodes like missile command posts and invasion preparation zones. With rather tortured logic, Washington quietly opposes Taiwan’s move as "destabilizing," but the U.S. would do much better it if had a high technology alternative to offer like a laser or rail-gun based "defensive" systems that could potentially defeat even thousands of PLA missiles.
Moving smartly to field such technologies is also an excellent idea for the United States. The potential for China to field SRBM and MRBM based anti-ship ballistic missiles presents an asymmetric threat that could neutralize a key pillar of American power—the U.S. Navy. Anti-ship MRBMs threaten U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle groups well beyond the strike range of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, likely the dominant U.S. carrier combat aircraft for decades to come. Potential SRBM based anti-ship missiles can strike U.S. amphibious action groups, which have just now started to re-equip with Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and new AAAV assault vehicles, both intended to allow amphibious ships to commence landing operations from just the beyond the horizon, heretofore a zone safe from shore defenses. And how could the U.S. respond if China decided to sell anti-ship ballistic missiles to its friends like Iran, Cuba or Venezuela? For a small fraction of the cost of a U.S. carrier battle group, these countries might potentially gain the means to deter Washington’s conventional military influence over their actions.