Strategic Weapons: A Little Instead of Enough

Archives

June 26, 2007: In the latest ballistic-missile defense test, the American destroyer, the USS Decatur, successfully shot down an incoming ballistic missile with an SM-3 missile - the ninth hit-to-kill intercept. This is just the latest success in a number of tests that will enable the United States to blunt almost any nuclear power's arsenal of ICBMs and SLBMs. But can this American ballistic missile defense system do this when there are so few interceptors? The Chinese ICBM and SLBM forces are both very small (24 DF-5 ICBMs and 24 JL-1 SLBMs total), but there are more of them than there are interceptors deployed. China's future plans for their SLBM force will center around two Jin-class SSBNs (the Type 094), each with 16 JL-2 SLBMs. China hopes to get as many as 60 ICBMs by 2010, possibly increasing the disparity, especially if Congress cuts the National Missile Defense system.

The answer is because even an incomplete system will add uncertainty to the results of any attack. Particularly with regards to the ICBMs, perhaps the most secure portion of China's arsenal. The SLBMs are carried on submarines - which might not be as secure as it sounds. The United States Navy spent four-plus decades learning how to track SSBNs. That experience will come into play in any conflict with China. Chinese SSBNs will, in all probability, have an exciting and very short wartime career.

But 60 ICBMs is a lot. By firing them all off, China could theoretically overwhelm the present missile defense systems and some would get through. America would be hurt by whatever missiles reach their targets. But which missiles would do that? That is the question nobody could answer unless the missiles try to break through the NMD system for real.

That uncertainty alone can deter an attack. The Chinese would have no idea whether the missiles that got through would hit the most important targets (like American naval bases in San Diego and Pearl Harbor, or Andersen Air Force Base in Guam). At least 55 SM-3s are planned for deployment by the end of 2009. American allies like Australia and Japan are also going to field this missile. In essence, the ballistic missiles of China and North Korea are more impotent than they would like them to be.

That said, the missile defense system does not have smooth sailing. Its biggest threat may not be Russian efforts to counter it, but Congress, which is run by Democrats who have long opposed a national missile defense system. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


Article Archive

Strategic Weapons: Current 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 


X

ad
0
20

Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close