Beijing has announced it has deployed intermediate ballistic missiles to the country’s north-west region, saying the weapons have the capacity to destroy US ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The DF-26 missiles — which have been previously dubbed the ‘Guam Killer’ or ‘Guam Express’ by Chinese media and defence experts — are capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.
They have a range of 4,500 kilometres, making them capable of reaching as far as Guam in the east and Indonesia in the south, providing Beijing with a powerful weapon as tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea.
According to Chinese state media publication The Global Times, the DF-26 missiles are now stationed in north-west China’s sparse plateau and desert areas, carried on the backs of trucks able to traverse the harsh terrain.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Beijing-based military expert told the Times that positioning the missiles deep in China’s mainland made them more difficult to intercept as it allowed the missile to enter its final stages at a high speed.
Footage on CCTV showed trucks carrying the missiles driving through rough terrain and sand dunes.
The missiles were first paraded in 2015 and China confirmed they were now operational in April last year, but this is the first footage of the missiles outside of a parade.
It is unclear when the missiles were moved to the northwest region, the Times reported.
‘They feel their time has come’
A day before the announcement, a US guided missile destroyer, the USS McCambell, passed through waters off the Xisha Islands — an area Beijing considers part of its territory — without permission.
The US called it a “freedom of navigation” operation, while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang urged the US to “immediately cease this kind of provocation”.
Late last year, Chinese Navy Rear Admiral Luo Yuan suggested Beijing could sink two US carriers in a bid to deter the US from entering the South China Sea.
Admiral Lou was quoted in Taiwanese media as stating that destroying two carrier would kill around 10,000 US personnel, claiming that this would be the best way to hurt the US as “America is most afraid of the death of its people.”
Malcom Davis, senior analyst in defence strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the ABC the missile deployment was significant, particularly on the back of the recent threats from China.
He said that up until now China only had the shorter range DF-21D in operation.
“They’re putting real capabilities in play to back up their threats,” Dr Davis said.
“Politically and strategically there is a growing risk of a conflict between China and Taiwan that could ultimately see China trying to sink US naval vessels, including aircraft carriers.”
He said the move further demonstrated President Xi Jinping’s determination to make China ready for war with the United States, either over Taiwan or the South China Sea.
“I worry that the Chinese are building up towards something in the next couple of years,” Dr Davis said, adding that Mr Xi could look to make a strong statement on Taiwan as the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party approaches in 2021.
“The Chinese, in terms of the way they think, the way they see themselves in the world and the way they see the US, they feel that their time has come.”
Last week Mr Xi told a meeting of top officials that China’s armed forces must strengthen their sense of urgency and do everything they can to prepare for battle.
‘Americans don’t get scared off’
The mobilisation is the latest in a string of moves from China’s defence forces.
Last week, a Chinese warship was pictured out at sea carrying what appeared to be an electromagnetic railgun, a weapon capable of firing hypersonic projectiles to hit targets hundreds of kilometres away in a matter of seconds.
But despite their recent moves giving them the capability to back up their threats, Dr Davis said it was highly unlikely that the Chinese were about to launch an attack, and it was unlikely that the move would deter the US presence in the region.
“The Americans don’t get scared off,” Dr Davis said.
“Every carrier is supported by a naval taskforce of cruisers and destroyers which have sophisticated sea-based air defence systems on board that could potentially shoot down the incoming missiles.
“But it’s a difficult thing to do.”
Dr Davis said Chinese doctrine was to use a ‘multi-domain attack’ approach — firing a diverse barrage of missiles to create a complex problem for the Americans that would likely result in a loss of ships.
“When we talk about between the US and China, forget past conflicts where the Americans have had overwhelming technological advantage,” Dr Davis said.
“Both sides are going to take heavy losses in that conflict.”
By: Jack Kilbride