China flexes military muscle, drills 'carrier killer' missiles near US naval base

The drills allegedly show China's improved capacity to attack naval bases or move surface targets outside the first island chain of defense. 
Baba Tamim
Representational image: Chinese carrier Shandong.
Representational image: Chinese carrier Shandong.

Wikimedia Commons 

Chinese state media has reported that the PLA Rocket Force recently joined the Shandong carrier group in a 30-day exercise close to the US naval station in Guam.

The Chinese military considered the inclusion of Rocket Force as a show of power, demonstrating an improved capability for pinpoint strikes against targets thousands of kilometers distant, claimed China's state-run media CCTV on Wednesday. 

"Chinese aircraft carriers carrying out exercises on the high seas always provide good optics for foreign militaries," said a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report citing Lu Li-shih, a former instructor at Taiwan's Naval Academy Kaohsiung. 

"The exercise by Shandong was a good opportunity for Beijing to warn the US about intervention [in the Taiwan Strait]."

The action allegedly shows China's improved capacity to attack naval bases or move surface targets outside the first island chain of defense. 

The group of nations, the chain, which includes Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines, is considered a significant obstacle for the PLA to cross into or out of the Western Pacific.

Taiwan crisis and the Shandong fleet drills 

An aircraft carrier, a Type 055 destroyer, two Type 052D destroyers, two Type 054A frigates, and a Type 901 replenishment ship made up the Shandong fleet. 

Although Chinese navy maneuvers near Guam are common, the involvement of the Rocket Force suggests that China's military is pursuing a deterrent posture.

Analysts claim that the exercise tested China's Dongfeng series anti-ship ballistic missiles' capacity to launch precise strikes from high seas.

"It's more challenging for the rocket force to pinpoint targets precisely beyond the first island chains," Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, told SCMP

"The CCTV report suggests that the J-15D Roaring Shark [fighter jets] – equipped with electronic countermeasure (ECM) pods – could become the 'eyes in the sky' for the rocket force, enabling it to strike targets thousands of kilometers away."

As tensions over Taiwan rise, the report is considered a component of the PLA's strategic deterrence, alerting the US and its allies to its improved attack capabilities.

The PLA's improved DF-21 "carrier killer" missile, the DF-26 dual-capable missile, has a 4,000 km range and can reach Guam from the Chinese mainland.

The DF-21 has a strike radius of approximately 1,750 kilometers, and both missiles are hypersonic. 

China's Rocket Force and Guam

Military analyst Antony Wong Tong, who is based in Macau, claimed that the CCTV documentary was intended to convince the US that China's Rocket Force was capable of striking Guam with its sophisticated while being supported by its aircraft carriers.

Wong cited the Pentagon's recent plans to invest US$1.5 billion in a new missile and air shield for the island base as the reason the US is ready to "upgrade its missile defense systems on Guam with more comprehensive protection and other assets."

The most recent PLA exercises came immediately after its Eastern Theatre Command's "Joint Sword" exercise and before Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met the US House speaker during a stopover in California.

In recent years, the PLA has begun testing the accuracy of its missiles against moving targets at sea using smaller vessels like its Type 052D destroyer and Type 071 amphibious transport dock.

Meanwhile, Beijing sees the exercise as a good chance to alert Washington against "interfering" in the Taiwan Strait affairs, noted the SCMP report.

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