Monday, April 26, 2010

Chinese Spy Radio?

Defense News
Chinese Spy Radio?
‘Thank You for Listening’ Says Mysterious ‘Numbers Station’

TAIPEI — Debate over the origin of a shortwave radio broadcast in Chinese reciting numbers remains unresolved as Taiwan military and intelligence officials deny responsibility, while others suggest China is behind a “numbers station.” Described as one-way voice links, “numbers stations” have been used since World War I to send encrypted messages to spies.

On Feb. 1 at 11.430 MHz, a broad­cast of a female voice recited 20 sets of four numbers in Chinese: “Now we’re ready to broadcast the first 55­word telegram of February. Unit 2236 please write down and receive. 2744, 3449, 1269, 2291, 1773, 7330, 9816, 8023, 1872, 7381, 9726, 5171, 2227, 5393, 6736, 3842, 7994, 7732, 3102, 4911. This is the 20th set telegram that was just broadcast.”
During a broadcast April 20 at 10.520 MHz, with what some called a Taiwanese accent, a female voice signed off in Chinese with: “Thank you for listening. Wishing you good health and a happy goodbye.”
The broadcasts do not use any standard broadcasting protocol, such as identifying the station or origin.

A Taiwan government communications official said the broadcasts are a “topic not open to discussion or inquiry.”
Officially, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), upon listening to the messages, said, “no comment.” However, an MND official said the broadcasts were coming out of China, not Taiwan, and the military was aware of them.

Though the method appears antiquated, there is a beauty to using the system.

“There’s no link to the recipient. With e-mail and other methods, there’s always the chance of identifying the recipient. Also, all that is required is a common portable shortwave radio,” said Chris Smolinski, who moderates the Spooks Digest Listserv via the Black Cat Systems Web site. Spooks Digest routinely identifies numbers stations around the world.

Numbers stations reached their peak during the Cold War, only to decline significantly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, though China, Cuba, Israel and North Korea have been accused of continuing to use the method.

Some sources have suggested the broadcasts are a “false flag” operation to confuse the enemy.

“Some percentage of the transmissions from such stations are very likely to be dummy traffic to make it harder for counterespionage outfits to draw conclusions about the number of spies working against them and their level of activity,” said a U.S. defense analyst, adding that such agencies would quickly figure it out if it were all dummy traffic.

“It only makes sense to operate such a station if you are communicating with real spies.” However, not everyone agrees the broadcasts are intelligence-related.

“It is easy to be conspiratorial about numbers stations, and there is no doubt that they have been, and still are, used in intelligence and military operations,” said Gary Rawnsley, professor of Asian international communications at the University of Leeds.
“However, they are also used for technical reasons to check the clarity of signals, etc., on specified frequencies. Sounds boring, but there we go.”
Other sources said the broadcasts could be connected to the Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC) to communicate with fishing vessels, said Scott Henderson, author of the book “The Dark Visitor: Inside the World of the Chinese Hacker.”
“The CTC runs from 0000-9999 with the character for each block identified by an individual number,” he said. “If the operator passes the string 1034, 6878, 9801 ... etc, just write out the characters and see if they form a sentence. If they don’t, it’s coded.”
However, the numbers do not match the CTC.

“I can guarantee this is not for fishing boats or any other commercial radio communication,” said a Taiwan defense analyst.

Erik Baark, author of “Lightening Wires,” a history book on the CTC, said the broadcasts sound like someone using the CTC, but “to my knowledge, one would not use this method in communication with commercial fishing. … Either one would use Morse code, easier to distinguish on shortwave, or one could simply read the text.”
Smolinski said the signal strengths of the Chinese broadcasts “are a bit too high for it to be someone using a ham transmitter,” or amateur radio. There are also too many transmissions.

“The hoaxes in the past have generally been one-time affairs, and obvious pranks, done for entertainment, with no attempt to pass them off as ‘real’ numbers transmissions,” he said.

Members of the local Chinese Taipei Amateur Radio League dismissed suggestions the broadcasts are fake. “We don’t know who is broadcasting the numbers,” said one member. “It could be China or Taiwan.”
Those who doubt countries continue to use the method need only look at Cuba. In 1998, the U.S. government arrested a group of Cuban intelligence agents, known as the Wasp Network, receiving instructions from a Cuban numbers station being operated as AtenciĆ³n.
In 2001, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Ana Belen Montes, was arrested for spying for Cuba. Investigators discovered she also received instructions from Atencion.

However, some sources are still debating why China or Taiwan would continue using a system that seems antiquated in comparison to the Internet and cell phones.

“It seems like an arcane practice, but espionage tradecraft also loves the tried and true,” said Richard Bitzinger, a former U.S. intelligence analyst. “Agents still use dead drops, microdots, etc. Shortwave radios are easy to come by and operate, and when all the really sophisticated means of communication fail, this is probably a good fallback.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

China Prepares for CIDEX 2010

Defense News


China Prepares for CIDEX 2010


The China International Defence Electronics Exhibition (CIDEX 2010) is set for May 12-14 at the Beijing Exhibition Center.

Organized by the China National Electronics Import and Export Corp. (CEIEC), CETC International Co., and Beijing Xinlong Electronics Technology Co., CIDEX is the "most professional and authoritative defense electronics exhibition in China, covering both military and civilian applications," show organizers said.

Sponsored by the General Equipment Headquarters of the People's Liberation Army, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and China Electronics Corp., CIDEX 2010 is expected to break previous records in attendance with more than 300 exhibitors from 13 countries and 20,000 visitors expected this year.

"Promoting informationization of China's army will be the core task of the construction of Chinese army in the next five years," show officials said. Therefore investments in equipment for China's military have been rising steadily each year.

"In this context, foreign manufactures and companies specialized in defense electronics are planning to enter the Chinese market and enhance … influence in China through certain channels."

The 3rd International Forum on Applications of Testing and Instruments will also be held during the exhibition, with several sessions touching on the latest advancements in equipment and systems. The forum will be held at the Beijing Hotel, and is organized and sponsored by CEIEC and Electronics World magazine.

Speakers will include Lin Jinghan, product manager, Measurement and Automation Business Unit, Taiwan-based ADLINK Technology; Wei Dong, product engineer German-based Rohde and Schwarz China; Ji Weidong, global marketing director, Beijing Rigol Electronic Technology Co.; Li Hailong, New York-based LeCroy Corp.; Su Jin, senior customer support manager, U.S.-based Tektronix Technology (China) Co.; Xu Yun, technical marketing engineer, Texas-based National Instruments; and Gao Ning, director, Information Products Division, Beijing Aerospace Control Technology Development Co.

Wei will talk about microwave signal analysis and measurement technology, Lin will give a paper on ADLINK's high performance PXI platform for military testing, and Li will discuss high-speed signal receiver jitter tolerance test solutions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

China Maritime Security Conference Set to Begin

Defense News


China Maritime Security Conference Set to Begin


TAIPEI - The U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, R.I., will host a conference from May 4-5 entitled "Chinese and American Approaches to Non-Traditional Security Challenges: Implications for the Maritime Domain."

Sponsored by the NWC's China Maritime Studies Institute, the objective of the conference is derived from the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower goal to "foster and sustain cooperative relationships with more international partners," conference organizers said

The conference will serve to continue a dialogue among Chinese and American specialists regarding the development of cooperation in the maritime domain. "In doing so, it draws heavily on the experience of the third annual conference in 2007, which framed the issues under the theme 'Defining a Maritime Partnership in China.' " This conference hopes to "create the intellectual framework for further enhanced U.S.-China maritime cooperation."

Key U.S. moderators and speakers for the conference will include Dennis Blasko, CNA; Andrew Erickson, NWC; David Finkelstein, CNA; Bonnie Glaser, CSIS; Lyle Goldstein, NWC; retired Rear Adm. Eric McVadon; George Oliver, NWC; Jonathan Pollack, NWC; Andrew Scobell, Texas A&M; Adm. Patrick Walsh, U.S. Navy, Pacific Fleet Commander; and Rear Adm. James Wisecup, president, NWC.

Chinese speakers attending this year include Shi Yinhong, Renmin University; Yu Wanli, Peking University; Pang Zhongying, Renmin University; Wang Dehua, Jiaotong University; Sun Kai, China Ocean University; Zhang Jian, Pudong University; Xia Liping, Tongji University; and retired PLA Gen. Pan Zhanqiang, China Reform Forum.

A contingent of Chinese military officials declined at the last minute to attend the conference. Disappointed, Goldstein said it was regrettable that military-to-military relationships have "not evolved to the point to enable this important dialogue between the navies."

Goldstein said NWC was still pleased to welcome a large and capable team of scholars from China to discuss important questions related to non-traditional security.

"When direct dialogue is difficult, academic or so called 'track two' discussions assume new importance," he said. "We will continue to try to engage and build a stronger U.S.-China partnership to support maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Taiwan Plans Stealthy 900-Ton Warships

Defense News


Taiwan Plans Stealthy 900-Ton Warships


TAIPEI — Taiwan’s recently announced plans to build a new 900­ton warship is just the vanguard of a projected new generation of low­observable surface combatant vessels tailored to battle in the Taiwan Strait, analysts said.

On April 12, officials with the Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed the existence of a program to develop a stealthy catamaran vessel called the Taiwan Coastal Patrol Vessel.

Navy officials want a basic design that could be scaled up, “possibly to create a family of twin-hulled or even tri-hulled multipurpose surface combatant applications of various displacement sizes,” said Fu S. Mei, director of the Taiwan Security Analysis Center.

“The Navy has a requirement for a 900-ton corvette” to replace aging fast-attack missile boats and the eight Knox-class frigates nearing retirement, one MND source said.

The ship will be developed by the Naval Shipbuilding Center in Kaohsiung under the Hsunhai (Swift Sea) program.

The program is still in the research and design stage and no funding for a prototype has been allocated.

The MND source noted that the Hsunhai program had been “killed and resurrected on numerous occasions in the past,” and recent reports are an attempt by the Navy to “float a balloon” to generate more interest and support for the program.

There is also concern over the catamaran hull design.

“We don’t have any experience building this type of hull. It will be a technical challenge,” the source said.

Local media have dubbed the vessel the “carrier killer,” a reference to China’s aircraft carrier plans and the plans by Taiwan to arm the corvette with its latest anti-ship missile, the Hsiung Feng III (Brave Wind).

But Fu dismissed that label and said the new vessels will be built to handle multiple missions.

An MND artist’s conception shows a ship armed with what appear to be eight surface­to-surface Hsiung Feng III missiles, a Phalanx Close-In Weapons System for air defense and a 76mm bow gun. Sources indicate the vessel is 130 feet long, will have a crew of 45 and attain 30 knots.

An aft helicopter deck in the drawing suggests the vessel might participate in anti-submarine warfare, even hosting S-70C or 500MD helicopters from the Navy’s three ASW squadrons.

All in all, the ship “shapes up as more multimission platform than ‘fire and die’ missile shooter,” said Bob Nugent, vice president of advisory services at AMI International. “The craft in the photo looks more like a small corvette vice a pure missile boat.” Nugent compared it to the Swedish Visby, another stealth multimission corvette that displaces less than 1,000 tons.

Taiwanese analysts compared the ship’s stealth features and catamaran design to the Chinese 220-ton Houbei-class (Type 022) fast attack missile boat.

U.S. companies have already expressed interest in supplying the combat systems, radars and other equipment, but it appears the military plans to rely on indigenous systems. The combat system will include a distributed-architecture combat direction system developed by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology, “together with an indigenous search/track and fire-control radar and electro-optical director,” Fu said.

The Navy might simply transfer some of the systems from its eight Knox-class frigates and 12 Jin Chiang-class missile patrol boats to save money, the MND source said.

The Navy also has equipment in storage from the seven decommissioned Gearing­class destroyers recently sunk to make artificial reefs.

Taiwan has been making progress in stealth designs for ships. It is currently constructing the first Kwang Hua 6 (KH-6), a stealthy 180­ton fast-attack patrol boat armed with four Hsiung Feng IIs. A planned 29 KH-6s will replace 40 47-ton Hai Oui (Sea Gull) fast-attack missile patrol boats, each of which carries a pair of Hsiung Feng Is.

Heavy Armor Still Has Role in China

Defense News


Heavy Armor Still Has Role in China


TAIPEI — While China continues to improve the firepower and mobility of its lighter armored vehicles, heavy armor maintains a major role in military doctrine.

No evidence was more obvious than the recent 60th anniversary parade in Beijing, when 500 main battle tanks (MBTs) and armored personnel carriers rolled past the Forbidden City on Oct. 1.

Some of the vehicles had never been seen before in public, including the tracked ZBD97 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), 155mm PLZ05 self-propelled artillery system and the Type­99G MBT. Many of the vehicles included a new digital camouflage pattern, such as a new IFV for the Chinese Marines covered with a blue digital camouflage.

China North Industries Group (Norinco) develops and manufacturers most of China’s tanks and other armored vehicles and equipment.

The Norinco ZBD97 IFV is believed to be part of an effort to construct a well-armed IFV comparable to the Russian BMP-3 series, giving airborne units protected firepower and enhanced mobility, said Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“If these forces are dropped deep behind enemy lines, they would be confronting not first­line troops with heavy armor, but rear area logistics troops with a scattering of light anti­tank weapons,” Cheng said. This suggests an interest in deep penetration and a greater emphasis on jointness, he said.

Norinco’s new Type-99G tank, the latest variant of the Type-98/99 series, demonstrates Chinese advancements that include explosive reactive armor, an upgraded turret with detachable and upgradable composite armor, targeting systems and a more powerful engine.

“If you look at their production, they do well at the armor and applique packages, they are fine at communications and fire control [with some help from other countries] and their guns and stabilization aren’t bad,” said Larry Wortzel, vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

“Chinese main battle tanks are clearly no longer obsolescent or obsolete vehicles,” Cheng said.

However, despite the impressive advancements, Norinco continues to have problems developing efficient drive trains, such as engines and automatic transmissions.

“They still have to go to Europe or Russia to get engines and transmissions,” Wortzel said. “Even with all their work on big Volvo buses and large trucks under license, they don’t seem to have mastered that part of it yet.” Norinco is beginning to produce a new 105mm gun-launched missile for use against armored targets, including tanks using reactive armor. According to a Norinco brochure, the missile is guided to the target by a laser.

“The 105mm gun-launched missile can also constitute a part of the T-54/T-55 or Chinese Type 59 and Type 69 MBT update package along with other considerations of upgrading,” the brochure says.

The company also is producing the new MBT-2000 with a 125mm smoothbore tank gun capable of firing three types of ammunition: armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot, high-explosive anti-tank and high-explosive rounds. The MBT-2000 is outfitted with an automatic loader that can fire six to eight rounds per minute.

The auto-loader is further evidence the “Chinese military of today is not that of the past,” Cheng said. “Manpower conservation measures such as autoloaders suggest that there is an effort to economize on people where possible.

“While the U.S. appears to be focusing more on counterinsurgency, the Chinese are, through their actions and acquisitions, making clear that they see the future of warfare as still involving nation-on-nation conflict involving the ‘heavy iron,’” he said.

However, China also is pragmatic. There are serious internal security concerns in the rugged hinterlands of Tibet and Xinjiang that make MBTs impractical against civilian revolts. During crackdowns in Tibet in early 2008, the Chinese military sent Type 90 tracked and ZSL92 armored fighting vehicles into Lhasa to quell violence.

“Heavier vehicles are for real wars,” Cheng said. China’s periphery is not like Europe, “with well-paved super-highways.”

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taiwan Apache Deal Moving Forward

Defense News


Taiwan Apache Deal Moving Forward


TAIPEI — A $2.5 billion purchase of Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters by Taiwan will not be suspended or canceled, say sources in Taiwan and the United States.

Since the October 2008 U.S. congressional notification for the sale of 30 Apache Block III attack helicopters to the Taiwan Army, there has been speculation that Beijing will force Boeing to cancel or delay the sale. The helicopters, powered by T700-GE-701D turbine engines, will be armed with Stinger Block I air-to-air missiles and AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles.

The deal is being handled by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

A U.S. government official confirmed the Apache program was going forward and had no knowledge of threats from Beijing. Boeing, based in Chicago, declined comment on the issue and referred all questions about the Apache deal to the U.S. government.

A letter of offer and acceptance was signed in 2009 between the U.S. and Taiwan governments and a joint U.S. government-Boeing team will be in Taipei in mid-May to finalize the deal, said sources in the Taiwan and U.S. defense industries.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, said there was no reason to “believe that the first of the Apaches won’t start arriving late 2012/early 2013 as ordered” and that “further announcements through the rest of this year as the orders are placed with prime and subprime contractors by the U.S. Army.”

However, Beijing has successfully influenced Boeing in the past. In 2006, the company closed its Taipei offices and moved them to Singapore in an effort to placate Beijing. Boeing has significant investments and business deals in China’s commercial aviation industry.

The decision was seen by many as evidence of growing efforts by China to directly influence U.S. companies that sell arms to Taiwan by threatening their commercial business interests in China.

Though Boeing declined to comment on direct threats by Beijing, a local U.S. defense industry source said, “I can, however, guarantee that Boeing is getting heat in Beijing. … It’s the rules; they have to complain, threaten, badger, spew forth.”

In January, the U.S. government released a $6.4 billion FMS arms deal to Taiwan that included utility helicopters, surface-to-air missiles and naval vessels. China responded by threatening to punish U.S. companies involved in the sale.

In February, a Chinese defense official openly advocated direct punitive economic measures against the United States.

“While China’s position on [Taiwan] arms sales is well-known, the position of all contracting parties is this is a government-to-government sale,” Hammond-Chambers said. “Therefore, there’s no reason to believe that Boeing would not follow through on a transaction/order from the U.S. Army irrespective of any pressure China may try to bring. I am unaware of any Chinese effort to pressure Boeing.”

Taiwan’s Army has been modernizing its aviation capabilities with new helicopters, forming new aviation brigades and special operations units. The Army is still operating aging Bell UH-1H utility helicopters procured during the 1960s and 1970s, and has two squadrons of Bell AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters and Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior observation helicopters procured in the 1990s.

Bell pitted the new AH-1Z against the Apache for the attack helicopter bid and the UH-1Y against the Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk for the utility requirement. Bell lost both bids, and many see this as evidence Taiwan is moving away from Bell aircraft and toward Boeing and Sikorsky helicopters now favored by the U.S. Army.

In January, the United States released 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters to replace Taiwan’s Vietnam-era UH-1H utility helicopters.

In the 1990s, Boeing sold nine CH­47SD Chinook transport helicopters to replace three Boeing-Vertol commercial Model 234 Chinooks for the Taiwan Army.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Singapore's VT Halter Lays Egyptian Keel

Defense News


Singapore's VT Halter Lays Egyptian Keel

Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI - Singapore-owned VT Halter Marine laid the keel for the first of four Egyptian Navy stealthy Fast Missile Craft (FMC) vessels during a ceremony April 7 at a shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss.

The $807 million contract will provide the Egyptian Navy with four FMCs designed to perform coastal patrol, surveillance, interdiction, surface strike and naval battle group support. The U.S. Navy is procuring the ships for Egypt.

VT Halter, a subsidiary of ST Engineering, finalized the contractual portion for the fourth vessel in March for $165 million. The first FMC is scheduled for delivery in mid-2012 with final delivery of the last vessel in 2013, an ST Engineering source said.

"They were modeled after the Vospar Hull," the source said, and are "750 metric tons and 64 meters in length."

Weapons include a 76mm cannon forward and a 20mm Phalanx close-in weapons system aft.

"The vessels will also incorporate numerous combat system assets and electronic sensors, equipping the vessels with capabilities in anti-aircraft, anti-surface and electronic warfare," said a statement released by ST Engineering.

"The U.S. Navy's procurement of these ships for our Egyptian partners represents a commitment to continued cooperation between the United States and Egypt," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Bill Landay, program executive officer for ships. Vice Adm. Mohab Mameesh represented the Egyptian Navy at the ceremony.

VT Halter Marine builds a variety of military and commercial vessels. In 2009, the company won an $87 million contract to build an enhanced version of a T-AGS 60-class oceanographic survey ship for the U.S. Navy. In 2006, the company won a $199 million contract for the design and construction of a T-AGM missile range instrumentation ship for the U.S. Navy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Volcanoes Slim Threat to Guam Base

Defense News


Volcanoes Slim Threat to Guam Base


TAIPEI - Could a volcano devastate Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in the same manner Clark Air Base, Philippines, was destroyed by Mount Pinatubo in 1991?

That is the question a joint team from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Southern Methodist University (SMU) is tackling in a two-year, $250,000 project designed to improve early warning monitoring of seismic events in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam. The project involves the installation of new infrasound devices alongside traditional volcano monitoring equipment, such as seismometers and global positioning systems.

The volcano research will aid U.S. troop safety, said Margaret Allen, senior research writer at SMU. "Technology used to detect nuclear explosions and enforce the world's nuclear test ban treaty now will be pioneered to monitor active volcanoes in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam," she said.

Guam has increasingly become an important strategic chess piece in the Asia-Pacific as the island becomes the primary base for forward deployment of U.S. military forces in the region.

The chief of the volcano project, James Quick, was in the Northern Marianas in March to oversee the installation of the infrasound equipment on three of the 15 Mariana Islands. Nine islands have active volcanoes, he said, and on average the archipelago experiences about one eruption every five years.

Quick, now with SMU, served previously as the program coordinator of the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. "Compared to Clark Air Base, ... the threats are less direct to military deployment in Guam and the Marianas," he said.

A volcanic eruption on Guam itself appears unlikely, said Mark Reagan, professor of igneous petrology and geochemistry at the University of Iowa.

"Our best age information places the last volcanism on Guam itself in the Miocene [epoch], and probably more than 10 million years ago," he said. "This and Guam's position significantly east of the submarine volcanoes related to modern subduction" makes the chance of an eruption on Guam remote.

However, volcanically generated tsunamis and airport closure because of ash fall are still possibilities. Ash from the 2005 eruption of the Anatahan volcano, 200 miles north of Guam, closed the Guam airport.

Quick sees less chance of a problem for Andersen, which is "farther from active volcanoes." The principal threats posed to U.S. military operations are to "in-flight aviation operating out of Guam and/or in the vicinity of the Marianas, and to military exercises that may be conducted on or near the volcanic islands."

Pagan Island, with two active volcanoes, has been identified as an ideal location to practice beach landings. Also, live-fire exercises are being conducted on the Farallon de Medinilla Island near Anatahan.


Anatahan is the most recent active volcano in the Marianas, with sporadic eruptions from 2003 through 2005, Quick said.

Tsunamis and earthquakes are still a concern for the U.S. military in Guam and the other islands. The most active volcanoes and seismic events in the area are from submarine volcanoes and earthquakes. The biggest risk from these is "probably sector collapse causing a tsunami," said Robert Stern, a professor of geosciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The submarine volcanoes near Guam might be "dead or dormant ... we haven't studied them." A plan to look at them with a tethered, remotely operated vehicle last year was "blocked by the U.S. Navy," possibly due to "elevated submarine activity," Stern said. "We will be out there again this year but will work north, out of the Navy's way."

Quick agrees more studies need to be conducted on the tsunami threat to Guam.

"Small tsunamis have been recorded on Guam in the aftermath of large earthquakes associated with the Marianas Trench."

Chinese Anti-ship Missile Could Alter U.S. Power

Defense News


Chinese Anti-ship Missile Could Alter U.S. Power


TAIPEI — China’s development of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and the associated reconnaissance and targeting systems could change U.S. strategy in the east Asian region, observers say.

Debate about the existence of a Chinese ASBM program was recently settled by U.S. Navy Adm. Robert Willard in March 23 testimony to Congress. The leader of U.S. Pacific Command told lawmakers that China is “developing and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 MRBM [medium-range ballistic missile] designed specifically to target aircraft carriers” as part of its anti-access, area-denial efforts.

That was the first time a U.S. official had acknowledged China was at “the stage of actual testing,” said Andrew Erickson, a researcher at the China Maritime Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. Such a missile “could change the strategic equation” and “dramatically diminish” America’s power projection, Erickson said.

He said China wants to be able to prevent a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group from intervening in a new Taiwan Strait crisis.

In 1996, the United States dispatched two aircraft carriers to show strength and monitor Chinese missile tests designed to rattle Taipei. China called the deployment interference in its “internal affairs.” Since then, China has sought to develop anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles.

Ian Easton, a researcher at the Washington­based Project 2049 Institute, noted that Beijing also is seeking better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

“It is clearly no coincidence that the official announcement that China is testing its ASBMs comes at a time when China is rapidly increasing its space-based intelligence-gathering platforms, both strategic and tactical,” Easton said.

An ASBM would likely need lots of help to find a ship at sea, and it appears that China is building the reconnaissance support system it needs: an elaborate satellite system and ground-based, over-the-horizon radar facilities.

On March 5, China launched the Yaogan-IX Naval Ocean Surveillance Satellite (NOSS), a “system intimately related to China’s ASBM program,” Easton said. “Unlike many space­based military satellites, Naval Ocean Surveillance Satellites are of a tactical and not strategic nature. They live and breathe to hunt and kill enemy ships.” Launched from the Jiuquan Space Center in Gansu province, the system — like earlier versions of the U.S. White Cloud NOSS —
consists of three small satellites that orbit in close formation.

A “first-generation” Chinese surveillance satellite, the Yaogan-IX carries millimeter­wave radar to help stay in good orbital formation, infrared sensors to spot ships, and antennae to pick up electronic emissions.

It “has serious implications for U.S. aircraft carriers due to its potential ability to find and track them, and its potential ability to cue land-based anti-ship ballistic missile [ASBM] systems as well as their associated sensors,” Easton said.

China launched two other reconnaissance satellites in this series in December: the Yaogan-VII electro-optical satellite Dec. 9 and the Yaogan-VIII synthetic aperture radar satellite five days later. All will work together to help Chinese ASBMs find their targets.

“The advent of the first Chinese NOSS is a watershed in terms of actual, precise, real-time targeting capability” because it will provide location data that is precise enough to guide an anti-ship ballistic missile, Easton said.

Once this technology matures, he said, the U.S. Navy will “face the unsavory choice of either risking the loss of its carriers to a Chinese first strike or having to take out the space-based eyes of China’s ASBMs with anti-satellite weapons and risk further escalation.” Erickson said a Chinese ASBM would affect U.S. strategy in the region, for even the “likelihood of a capability may have a large deterrent effect.”

Easton said regional air forces also should be concerned by China’s evolving NOSS capability, “for once mature, it could also be used to target mobile air-defense systems with pinpoint accuracy from great distances.” He said the ASBM could affect arms control, the militarization of space and many other issues.

“The ultimate conclusion one begins to come to is that U.S. carriers will very soon no longer be the uncontested juggernaut of the world’s seas,” he said.