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By James T. Hackett
All of a sudden, we face more new missiles since the end of the Cold War. China and Russia are about to deploy new missiles and nuclear warheads specifically designed to strike this country, while India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran are increasing the range of their missiles. In contrast, we are building missile defenses.
A Pentagon report issued last month on China's military buildup describes a growing arsenal of ballistic missiles. It was followed by a successful Russian flight test of a new multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). China's missile buildup has been under way for years. Beijing has steadily increased its short-range missiles opposite Taiwan until they total about 1,000, some 900 ballistic missiles and 100 cruise missiles.
At the same time, the Pentagon report says, "China is qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic forces." For years, China has had some 20 CSS-4 ICBMs with enough range to reach the United States, and about 90 medium- and intermediate-range missiles that can target U.S. bases and allies in the Pacific.
But now new long-range missiles are coming on line. The pride of China's strategic forces are the three-stage, solid-fuel, road-mobile DF-31, which can reach Alaska and Hawaii, and the DF-31A ICBM, which targets the U.S. mainland. The DF-31 is operational and the ICBM version could be this year or next.
The only purpose of the DF-31A is to threaten the United States with nuclear weapons. The most likely scenario has Beijing threatening to use it to hold the U.S. at bay while applying military force against Taiwan. Another weapon apparently designed for the same purpose is China's new Type 094 Jin-class ballistic missile submarine. With Russian help, China has achieved major progress in submarine technology.
The first Jin-class submarine was launched in 2004 and five more are coming. Each will carry 16 JL-2 ballistic missiles (sea-launch versions of the DF-31). With a range of 5,000 miles, they can be launched against the United States from the safety of China's coastal waters. The JL-2 is believed to carry a single 400-kiloton nuclear warhead.
When the Jin-class submarines are operational, China will have the third-most-powerful sea-based nuclear missile force in the world. Considering China sold a nuclear warhead design to A.Q. Khan of Pakistan, head of an international nuclear black market, there is legitimate concern that Beijing's new missile technologies might also leak to other countries, or even to terrorists.
Russia's new weapons are even more advanced. On May 29, Russia conducted successful flight tests of both a new ICBM and a short-range cruise missile. The RS-24 ICBM appears to be a larger version of the single-warhead Topol-M ballistic missile Moscow now is producing. There are 42 Topol-Ms in silos and three mobile ones operational, with 70 more planned. They carry a single nuclear warhead, but Moscow intends to convert them to three warheads each. A high-speed, maneuvering warhead designed for the three-warhead version has been flight-tested twice with great fanfare.
The RS-24 ICBM probably combines stages of the Topol-M and Russia's new Bulava 30 submarine-launch missile, which has much greater throw-weight and can carry six nuclear warheads. All three ICBMs were developed by the same organization, the Moscow Thermotechnical Institute.
The Bulava 30 has failed in several flight tests, but its development continues and Moscow plans to deploy it in five new Borei-class missile submarines, and use it to replace the aging missiles in Russia's existing undersea fleet. These new missiles and warheads have been designed to evade U.S. missile defenses.
Russia's new cruise missile, the Iskander-M, is a longer-range version of the Iskander-E, which was designed for export. The E model carries a high explosive warhead to a range of 280 kilometers, within the 300-kilometer export limit of the Missile Technology Control Regime. But the M model, designed for Russia's own army, can deliver a nuclear warhead at least 490 kilometers to countries near Russia. It is a blunt warning to Poland and the Czech Republic not to accept U.S. bases, and to Georgia and the Ukraine not to join NATO.
President Vladimir Putin's heavy-handed attacks on the U.S. and his talk of Europe becoming a "powder keg" is underlined by Moscow's new nuclear missiles. Development of such weapons in both Russia and China, and their potential spread elsewhere, shows the urgent need to deploy missile defenses, including in Europe. It is better to build defenses that harm no one than to return to the nuclear arms race.
James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.