China Has A New High-Tech Missile That Can Reach A Major US Base In Guam

National Security Advisor Susan Rice isin China this week, discussing recent sticking-points in trans-Pacific relations with her counterparts in Beijing, chief among them a mid-August
confrontationbetween a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.

There’s a lot for U.S. and Chinese security officials to talk through, from problematic Chinese territorial claims to alleged state-backed hacking of American government computer systems. One item that could be on the menu for the talks has to do with a newly-confirmed Chinese missile technology that could target American assets.

Back in March, Chinese officials confirmed the existence of the DF-26c, a road-mobile mid-range ballistic missile that can fire at targets of up to 3,500 kilometers with greater precision than any other comparable Chinese-made system. As an analysis on the military affairs website Strategy Page noted on September 8th, that puts U.S. bases in Guam within range of one of China’s most advanced weapons.

Strategy Page’s analysis doesn’t conclude there are Chinese DF-26c batteries aimed at U.S. assets — it specifically notes China, like most countries, doesn’t reveal who it’s targeting with its ballistic missiles at any given time. However, the DF-26c has certain advantages over the rest of the Chinese arsenal. It’s truck-mounted, and runs off of efficient, easily-stored, and relatively non-volatile solid-state rocket fuel. The DF-26c can be fuelled quickly and covertly — in a way that wouldn’t tip off western intelligence agencies as quickly or as obviously as launch preparations for other, earlier Chinese ballistic missiles.

Strategy Page also notes much of China’s longer-range arsenal has various problems with age, maintenance, or general reliability. The DF-26C has apparently been in service for several years prior to official confirmation of its existence, and it represents a general improvement over its predecessors.

Most importantly, the entire DF-26 series can strike beyond the “second island chain,” a Chinese phrase for the islands on the outer edge of the disputed South China Sea, like the Japanese-claimed Senkaku, or even the Philippines. As this last 2013 video from China’s Hubei Television demonstrates, that range includes Guam as well:

Of course, there’s no indication China has any intention of unleashing a rocket barrage atone of the most important U.S. Naval bases in the Pacific. But high-tech mid-range weapons like the DF-26c are part of a Chinese defence strategy aimed at modernizing its ballistic arsenal while deterring overly aggressive U.S. moves in its backyard, an approach explained in a 2013 Congressional Research Service Report.

Like the near-collision over the South China Sea, the DF-26c is a reminder of the complications of the U.S.’s ongoing pivot to Asia. The U.S. is focusing military and diplomatic assets on what policymakers believe will become the most important region in the world — while leaving itself open to frequent and potentially hazardous confrontation with the world’s rising superpower in the process.

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