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Existing Chinese Missiles Can Strike United States; Emerging Missiles Can Hit Even More U.S. Cities

By | January 14, 2008

      U.S. Navy Fails To Seek Funding For Platforms; Limited Current Chinese Missile Range No Comfort

      Even After U.S. Retaliatory Strike, China Would Retain Capability To Launch Second Nuclear Attack On U.S. Targets

      Perhaps the most daunting obstacle to the Navy getting the funds it needs is … the Navy.

      That is the view of Ronald O’Rourke, a preeminent defense analyst with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS).

      The Navy in recent years has failed to seek sufficient funds in its annual budget requests, O’Rourke said. He was expressing his own views and not those of CRS or Congress, when he spoke as an attendee at a forum of the New America Foundation (NAF) on the new Chinese nuclear capabilities.

      His comments came as President Bush prepares to send his federal government budget proposal for fiscal 2009 to Congress on Feb. 4, including funding requests for naval shipbuilding programs. (To view the budget plan in entirety on Feb. 4, go to on the Web.)

      Presentations by a panel of experts included a focus on China procuring nuclear powered submarines capable of firing nuclear-tipped missiles at targets in the United States, part of a vast, multifaceted Sino military buildup.

      Questions have arisen in Congress, in the Navy and among analysts as to what sort of response the United States should be making to counter Chinese moves.

      But not much will happen, on the U.S. side, if the Navy doesn’t request needed funds.

      "I think it would help the Navy if they actually asked for more money, which the Navy has spent most of the last seven or eight years studiously not doing," O’Rourke said. "So if you’re not actually asking for more money, it really doesn’t matter what to publish or not publish in terms of your strategy."

      While the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy is acquiring three submarines of various types annually, for example, the United States is buying just one Virginia Class attack sub a year, with work parceled among two firms, General Dynamics [GD] unit Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman [GD] unit Newport News shipbuilding. The Navy shipbuilding plan (it would increase the number of ships and submarines in the fleet to an eventual 313 from the current 280) would in future years move that to two boats a year, still slower than the Chinese pace.

      Also, the Navy, which at one time envisioned buying 24 to 30 next-generation, radar-evading DDG 1000 destroyers, now will buy no more than seven, likely kicking off the program with General Dynamics unit Bath Iron Works and Northrop unit Ship Systems each building one ship.

      And a move to buy 55 affordable radar-evading Littoral Combat Ships for near-land operations has stalled with just two of them built, one by General Dynamics working with Austal USA, and the other by Lockheed Martin [LMT] working with Marinette Marine and Bollinger Shipyards. Radar-evading ships would be a major plus in attempting to block China from invading Taiwan, as it has threatened to do, because China has more than 1,300 missiles aimed at the Taiwan Strait waters.

      Some analysts on the NAF panel said that one shouldn’t assume China suddenly has become the equal of the U.S. Navy, even though China is acquiring "boomers," nuclear-powered submarines capable of firing nuclear-tipped missiles thousands of miles, and on land, some road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

      While some panel members noted that the current missiles could reach only part of the United States unless, for example, a Chinese submarine ventured well out into the Pacific Ocean, O’Rourke said on a practical basis, that is small comfort.

      "First … get back to the issue of just exactly how far these missiles can fly or what targets they might reach," he said.

      "I agree that there has been confusion on the issue, and DOD has not helped that by publishing in its annual China Military Report a map which effectively suggests that these [Chinese] JL-2 missiles are being launched from a point that is about 700 miles inland in Northern Manchuria," O’Rourke said.

      "I think they did that just to simplify the graphic presentation of that map, but its obviously an artificial launching point."

      In fact, China could launch missiles from points far closer to U.S. territory, O’Rourke noted.

      "If you actually take the 8,000-kilometer range [of the missiles] and go to a globe and take [an accurate] range gauge and put it against that globe, you will find that if you put the starting point of that missile at or very close to the coast of China, it will be sufficient to reach Hawaii and at least some portions of Alaska," he said.

      That being established, O’Rourke’s point is this: how much comfort can the United States take from a Chinese nuclear-tipped missile coming down on Alaska or Hawaii, instead of on New York City or Washington, D.C.?

      "I think [Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)] would argue, as would the people who elected them to office, that you do not need to stretch the definition of ‘portions of the United States’ to include those two states within that definition," O’Rourke said.

      Therefore, it is clear that China, in possessing missiles with an 8,000-mile range, also possesses the ability to launch a nuclear strike on the United States, O’Rourke said.

      Points the panel members made included these observations about Chinese land- and sea-based nuclear strike forces:


      • The existing DF-31 ICBM is the one China could use to strike only parts of the United States, while the emergent DF-31A would be able to strike any U.S. target.



      • China is gaining the capacity, in a nuclear war, to be struck by a U.S. nuclear retaliation and still retain the capability to launch a second nuclear strike on the United States.



      • In moving to acquire a fleet of stealthy nuclear-powered, nuclear missile submarines, China may wish to increase its second-strike capability beyond that already provided by deploying road-mobile ICBMs. But the new submarines may not add much to the already-existing second strike capability.



      • Within five to 10 years, China will have a fleet of many "boomers," replete with missiles to deploy in the subs and a command-and-control infrastructure over them.



      • China also will develop steadily improved technology to make its submarines quieter, and thus more difficult for the United States to detect at sea.



      • As China moves to acquire its nuclear ballistic missile submarines, it also will need to procure more attack submarines.



      • The United States must take care to ensure that its deployment of anti-submarine warfare capabilities doesn’t cause Chinese leaders and military brass to become desperate and, in a crisis, think they must launch a nuclear strike because U.S. forces may be about to annihilate Chinese submarines.



      • However, U.S. abilities to track Chinese subs and employ anti-submarine warfare capabilities to destroy them may make China less certain that it possesses second- strike capacities, and therefore might make China less aggressive in dealings with the United States.



      • One question is whether the rising Chinese nuclear-strike missile capabilities are a response to the United States moving to develop an anti-missile shield. One panelist said the Chinese buildup is not a response to the U.S. construction of a ballistic missile shield.


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