Chinese ICBM Will Threaten U.S., Pacific by 2000: Air Force: New Design Hard to Counter

Article excerpt

China will soon deploy a new mobile strategic missile, with multiple warheads, that poses a significant threat to U.S. forces in the Pacific and parts of the continental United States, The Washington Times has learned.

According to a classified Air Force report, the newest generation of Chinese strategic missile, known as the Dong Feng-31, "will narrow the gap between current Chinese, U.S. and Russian ballistic missile designs."

"The DF-31 ICBM will give China a major strike capability that will be difficult to counterattack at any stage of its operation, from pre-flight mobile operations through terminal flight phases," the report says. The report, produced last fall by the National Air Intelligence Agency, is labeled "secret." A copy was made available to The Times.

The report concludes that China's effort to build an advanced ICBM capability is "steadily increasing."

"It will be a significant threat not only to U.S. forces deployed in the Pacific theater, but to portions of the continental United States and to many of our allies," it says.

William Triplett, former Republican counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a China specialist, said Beijing's new missile poses direct and indirect threats to U.S. interests.

"I'm concerned that this advanced missile technology will reach the hands of terrorist nations, including Iran, at some point down the road," Mr. Triplett said. He noted that Beijing is notorious for exporting its weapons and military technology to several rogue states.

According to the Air Force report, the DF-31 missile program is in the "late stage" of development, after delays. The new missile is expected to be deployed "about the turn of the century," it says.

The missile was observed on a launch pad at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Center in mid-October, and a flight test is expected soon, based on the recent completion of silo construction at Wuzhai, the report says.

The missile will have a range of about 4,960 miles, sufficient to hit targets along the entire West Coast of the United States and in several northern Rocky Mountain states.

The missile is believed to incorporate "design aspects similar to those of current generation Russian missiles," the report says.

"These could include upgraded mobility for the transporter-erector launcher [TEL]; advanced materials for the booster and payload, use of penetration aids such as decoys or chaff, and an improved solid propellant," the report notes.

Decoys and chaff are used in long-range missile warhead configurations to defeat missile defenses, a sign the Chinese are seeking the capability to defeat a limited U.S. national missile-defense system, should one be deployed, experts say.

Since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the Chinese have made accuracy and defense penetration primary goals of their new missiles, the report says. …