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The anti-ballistic missile test was conducted on Sunday night. Photo: CCTV

China says latest anti-ballistic missile test ‘achieved objective’

  • Land-based mid-course interceptor was tested within Chinese borders and not aimed at any country, according to defence ministry
  • It’s the sixth publicly announced test since 2010 and military analysts say it is likely the system has already been deployed

China carried out a successful anti-ballistic missile test on Sunday night, its defence ministry said, a year after the last one.

The land-based mid-course missile was tested within China’s borders and “achieved its objective”, the Ministry of National Defence said in a brief statement. It said the missile test was defensive in nature and not aimed at any country.

It is China’s sixth publicly announced land-based anti-ballistic missile test since 2010. The last such missile interceptor test was in February 2021.

Shao Yongling, a military expert who was previously with the People’s Liberation Army missile force, told state broadcaster CCTV on Monday that the technology was aimed at protecting the country’s nuclear capabilities.

“The development of our nuclear force is very limited,” she said in the report on the latest test. “[That means] we must ensure the survivability of our nuclear force.”

The test was announced as China’s nuclear build-up has been in the spotlight. Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe told a regional security summit earlier this month that the country had made “impressive progress” in developing new nuclear weapons, which he said were useful to prevent a war.
Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that China had made “impressive progress” in developing new nuclear weapons. Photo: Reuters

Sunday night’s test was carried out in the mid-course phase, when the missile travels outside the atmosphere – as was the case in all previous tests except for one in 2014.

The ministry did not give further information, including on the location, type of system being tested or the missile being intercepted.

China became only the second country after the United States to intercept a ballistic missile with a kinetic kill vehicle in the first such test in 2010, according to state media reports.

The US Ground-based Midcourse Defence system was deployed in 2004 and is designed to protect the country from a limited long-range ballistic missile attack.

Once the Chinese technology is fully developed, it could change the balance of nuclear deterrence. The aim is to knock out incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere, reducing collateral damage to ground targets. But they are challenging to intercept during the mid-course stage, when the missile travels well outside the atmosphere at a high velocity, and a high degree of precision is required, according to the CCTV report.

Missiles can also be intercepted during the boost phase, minutes after it is launched, and during the re-entry or terminal phase when it re-enters the atmosphere towards its target.

Chinese military observer Song Zhongping said it was likely the system had been deployed already, and that the latest test was probably to check on upgrades.

“Tests carried out last year and this year were likely to be testing out [precision] after the system was deployed,” he said. “Some technologies will have been adjusted and upgraded, so it’s normal to carry out this sort of exercise afterwards.”

Hong Kong-based military analyst Liang Guoliang also said the PLA would be expected to continue testing to improve its “hit-to-kill” or “kinetic kill” technology, which requires the interceptor to precisely hit and destroy its target at a high velocity.

Liang agreed that the anti-ballistic missile system might have already been deployed, but said the scale was unclear.

He added that although the country had made advances in its land-based mid-course anti-ballistic missile technology, it still lagged behind the US on a sea-based system.

The test came a day after the US announced the successful launch of four unarmed Trident II (D5LE) missiles from an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine off the coast of southern California.

While the Chinese test was not seen as being directly related to that, Liang said it was a message of deterrence for Washington. “China is clearly telling the US that it has the ability – and the US is not 100 per cent sure that it can hit [China],” he said.