China primes upgraded surface-to-air missile system as PLA Air Force shifts sights to new targets
Announcement of combat readiness comes amid row over South Korea’s decision to deploy missile defence shield
The air force’s overhauled surface-to-air missile system is combat ready and primed to take greater aim at other missiles.
The air force’s announcement on the defence ministry’s website on Monday comes as tensions with the United States rise over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has also protested against South Korea’s plans to deploy a US missile shield on the Korean peninsula.
In a statement, air force spokesman Shen Jinke said the air force had completed a domestically developed, ground-based air defence and anti-missile system that could strike short-to-long-range and low-to-high-altitude targets. “Air defences and anti-missile systems are critical parts of the air force’s strategic capacity,” Shen said.
He said the air force was “building an integrated space and air defence system”, and changing from a territorial air defence force to one that could both defend and attack.
Beijing-based military expert Song Zhongping said there was also a major shift towards targeting missiles, because future threats from the air were no longer likely to be aircraft. “With a focus on countering missiles, now the Chinese air force has completed a comprehensive system capable of both mid-course and terminal interception,” Song said.
The announcement follows the military’s release of footage in July of a successful test of a mid-course interception.
Shen said that during the overhaul, the air force absorbed foreign technologies and improved Chinese-developed missiles, including the HQ-9, HQ-6 and HQ-12 systems.
Song said China had to improve its own anti-missile air defence network as a countermeasure to the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system. “[And] by being more transparent in terms of weapons development the People’s Liberation Army has also shown its confidence in its combat capability,” Song said.