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China's ground-based anti-missile capability lags behind US: experts

China's anti-missile system is still in its infancy and lags behind that of the US, Fu Qianshao (傅前哨), a Chinese air force military expert said, after the Information Office of China's Ministry of National Defense announced on January 27, 2013 that China carried out a ground-based midcourse missile interception test on the same day, which achieved “the desired purpose”.

The interception process of a ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system. It is part of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) to intercept long-range or even intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere. The flight path of a ballistic missile is generally divided into three phases. The first is the boost phase in which a missile is launched and flies through the atmosphere. The second is the midcourse phase during which the missile flies outside the atmosphere and towards the target area. China's test on January 27 intercepted a missile flying in this phase. The third is the reentry phase when the missile reaches over the target area and re-enters the atmosphere and hits the target. Photo:

The photo taken by a resident in Xinjiang shows an unusual blue flash on the night of January 27. Photo:

The ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system consists of radar, ground-based interceptor missiles and the command and control system. It is mainly used to detect and track incoming long-range ballistic missiles of the enemy, and to intercept them in the space by launching missiles from the ground so that they cannot reach their targets.

According to Fu Qianshao (傅前哨), currently only the US and China have the GMD system technology.

China’s last GMD test was carried out successfully on the January 11, 2010.

Yin Zhuo (尹卓), Chinese navy major general and director of China’s Navy Information Expert Committee, said that the success of this test is a sign of China’s greatly improved anti-missile capability, and that the country will substantially upgrade the efficiency and mission success rate of its missile defense system.

Some Chinese Internet users even said the test has the same significance as that of the atomic bomb for the country.

Ground-based missile interception system in the National Missile Defense system of the US. Photo:

GMD system: China at experimental stage, US at combat deployment stage

However, China is not yet capable of carrying out sea-based midcourse ballistic missile interception program due to the limiting conditions of its comparatively small warship tonnage as well as its missile and radar performances.

"China has only done the land-based missile interception test. Whereas the US, in addition to the land-based interception, relies more on the sea-based interception and will advance into the space-based interception which is the actual space warfare strategy,” Ji Yinan (金一南) , deputy director of the strategy department of National University of Defense Technology (国防科技大学) located in Beijing, said in an interview. "In anti-missile technology, China still lags far behind the US."

“If we want to make the GMD systems to serve in China’s combat deployment, at least we should develop our own early-warning satellites in the next step. If we do not have early-warning satellites for ballistic missiles, the midcourse interception cannot be put into practical use,” said Song Xiaojun (宋晓军), a commentator of CCTV, China’s official TV station.

The US launched a ground-based  interceptor missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on January 26 (local time), the same day with the China test. Photo:

On the same day, the US successfully fired a ground-based interceptor missile from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast. The US said the missile completed a series of maneuvers when it reached the space.

This is the first launch after the failure of an interception test by the US GMD system at the end of 2010.

Although the US said the test was not aimed at any target, some Chinese military experts believe that the possibility of the US to have deliberately arranged the launch to coincide with China’s test cannot be overlooked

"I think the US has long been ready, because it was reported long ago that China was to conduct the GMD anti-missile test. The activities related to the US anti-missile system have been very frequent, so it was ready for the test the same day as China. I think the US probably intended to do this,” Yin added.

According to Yin, China's development of a missile defense system is mainly a strategic deterrent to the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) program of the US in the space demilitarization process.

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