Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taiwan’s Sanya Initiative: The PLA Targeting Retired Senior ROC Military Officers

Yesterday’s China Times carried an interesting article regarding growing U.S. and Ma administration wariness over exchanges between retired military officers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait (click here for an English version).

Note: See Michael Turton's excellent 31 Aug 10 View from Taiwan write up on the retired officer exchanges.

Indeed, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appears to be courting a new partner. As authorities in Beijing keep military-to-military exchanges with the United States in a deep freeze in protest over U.S. arms sales, formalized contacts between “retired” PLA military officers and counterparts on Taiwan have rapidly filled the vacuum. The PLA, using the so-called “Sanya Initiative” as a vehicle, seems to have learned just how effective retired senior U.S. military officers can be in influencing policymakers in Washington.

Since November 2009, the PLA has placed retired military officer exchanges on the front burner as an integral component of a broader influence operations campaign on Taiwan. The target appears to be a key faction within the KMT representing veterans and their families, perhaps as well as Taiwan's defense establishment via informal links between retired and active duty general and flag officers. The recent media reporting from Taiwan indicates that President Ma Ying-jeou and his administration is casting a leery eye over the brisk pace of exchanges over the last several months.

Cross-Strait Academic Conferences

Retired military officers from the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan have visited birthplaces and extended family members in China since the 1980s. However, the PLA’s direct leveraging of senior retired military officers on Taiwan for political purposes seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. During cross-Strait academic conferences in November 2009, Chinese interlocutors presumably linked with PLA planners pro-offered the concept of retired military officer exchanges as an intermediate step toward establishing a “military confidence building mechanism.” In November 2009, two such meetings took place, one during the Sunzi Conference in Beijing and another in Taipei, hosted by the Pacific Cultural Foundation. During these exchanges, retired PLA officers were alleged to have cited the Ma administration as pursuing “peaceful independence.”

While Taipei may view confidence building as a means to reduce the chances of misunderstandings or accidents that could lead toward conflict, Beijing views “confidence building” as limiting Taiwan’s future international options. Or perhaps even to lock the KMT and the Ma administration into Beijing’s definition of “One China.”

Organized and led by former General Political Warfare Department Director General Hsu Li-nung [许历农; b. Anhui, 1921], at least 18 retired general and flag-rank officers visited Beijing in April 2010. In order to help in “building mutual political trust,” Chinese hosts granted the delegation “unprecedented access” to senior civilian and military leaders in Beijing, such as Jia Qinglin, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi. While reporting is inconsistent, indications exist that the delegation also spent time with senior PLA leaders. The delegation also visited China’s “Space City” and chatted with Shenzhou astronauts. Hsu Li-nung is associated with the New Alliance Association [新同盟会] and the New Party.

Retired ROC military officer participants included Cheng Kuo-chih [程国治], former Army CINCs Gen Chen Ting-chung [陈廷宠] and Gen Li Chen-lin [桢林; b. Shandong, 1933], former Political Warfare Department Director Gen Tsao Wen-sheng [曹文生; b. Hunan, 1943], former Navy CINC ADM Miao Yung-ching [苗永; b. Shanxi, 1941], and former Navy Vice CINC and MND Vice Chief of General Staff ADM Fei Hong-po [费鸿波; b. Shandong, 1944]. A key theme in discussions was the need to build trust between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Reviving the Whampoa Spirit

The April visits were followed by a larger two-day “Zhongshan Whampoa Cross-Strait Relations Forum" [中山·黄埔·两岸情论坛] in May 2010 in Taipei’s Sunworld Dynasty Hotel. The event, cast as a reunion of Whampoa Military Academy alumni and their descendants, was attended by over 140 retired officers and other dignitaries, including Zhou Bingde, niece of Zhou Enlai.

In his opening remarks, KMT Honorary Chairman Wu Po-hsiung highlighted the importance of military confidence-building measures (CBMs) as a precursor to a cross-Strait peace agreement. Noting the difficulties in formal political dialogue, Wu suggested that sensitive political and military issues could be addressed through academic channels. Former Deputy Minister of Defense Wang Wen-hsieh (王文燮; b. Shandong, 1932) was quoted as saying “as long as political issues are solved, mainland China will withdraw all its missiles aimed at Taiwan.” Wu Po-hsiung paid homage to the former site of the Whampoa Military Academy during a visit to Guangdong in July 2010.

In June 2010, China’s Whampoa Association Chairman Zhu Jingguang [朱京光] led a mainland delegation to Taiwan. At least 20 retired military officers have been invited to attend another Whampoa Forum scheduled for late August in Nanjing.

Golfing for Peace in the People’s Republic

Activities also have included annual golf tournaments that bring together retired military officers from both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The first event, held in Xiamen in 2009, included 37 participants. The second was in late May 2010. Among PRC participants included former Deputy Chiefs of Staff Gen Xiong Guangkai and Qian Shugen. Taiwan participants include former Army CINC Huang Hsing-chiang [黄幸; b. 1931, Hunan], former Army CINC Chen Ting-chung [陈廷宠; b. 1931, Jiangsu], and former ROCAF Deputy CINC Shiah Ying-jou [夏瀛洲; b. 1939, Shandong].

Where Is It All Leading?

On the surface, exchanges between retired military officers appear harmless. Generally, general and flag rank officers have a three year "cooling off" period after retirement before legally able to visit China. It’s natural for aging or bored soldiers, sailors, and airmen to want to come to closure with an old enemy, or perhaps make some contribution to a larger cause. The general and flag officers participating in these cross-Strait exchanges have dedicated much of their lives to defend the ROC against Communist Chinese aggression. At the personal level, participation in these exchanges indicates that the Civil War is over, at least for them.

However, there may be more to the story. One could also conclude that the PLA has launched an ambitious influence operations campaign to woo an powerful interest group within the KMT as a means to promote its “peaceful development” of cross-Strait relations. Retired military officers form a relatively significant interest group within the KMT - the Huang Fu Hsing Faction [黄复兴党部]. Retired Army Generals Hsu Li-nung, Li Chen-lin, and Wang Wen-hsieh are former Huang Fu Hsing chairmen. In May 2010, President Ma Ying-jeou publicly called upon new Huang Fu Hsing Chairman King En-chin [金恩慶; b. 1943, Jiangxi] to maintain loyalty to the KMT in the run-up to the November 2010 special municipality elections. China’s Whampoa Association Chairman, Zhu Jingguang, also heads the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (CCPPR). In fact, the two organizations share the same address and phone number.

In short, while participants from Taiwan may have no malign intent, the same can't be said for the China side. The participation and presence of Xiong Guangkai by itself should give a hint. Xiong serves as Chairman, China Institute for International Strategic Studies (CIISS). CIISS is subordinate to the PLA General Staff Department (GSD) Second Department (intelligence). CIISS serve as an interface between the military intelligence establishment, experts in Taiwan and elsewhere, with regular interactions both at home and abroad."Xiong served as head of the PLA's intelligence community before moving to direct CIISS. As a member of the Taiwan Affairs Leading Group, Xiong also has been a key player in leading the charge for Taiwan's annexation. LTG (ret) Xiong Guangkai also is former deputy chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army.

Confidence Building: Intended for Beijing, Not Taipei

Confidence building measures (CBMs), such as hotlines, transparency initiatives, and military exchanges, are intended to reduce tensions and increase trust between two or more parties. CBMs are also intended to reduce the risks of miscalculations and accidents that could escalate into armed conflict. However, the PRC’s continued reliance on military instruments of national power to dissuade and coerce Taiwan into a political settlement on its terms is likely to limit the degree of confidence that could be built. Other limiting factors include asymmetries in transparency due to differing political systems, and internal political divisions in Beijing and Taipei.

“Political trust” and CBMs have become themes of cross-Strait and other international academic exchanges, albeit at a much more measure pace than that the retired military officer engagements. At a conference in Taipei in November 2009, Taiwanese scholars outlined the difficulties associated with military CBMs without political trust.

Trilateral exchanges also have addressed CBMs. European academics initiated a Track 2 forum with counterparts from Taiwan and China, in large part geared toward addressing confidence building. Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has a similar program, and conducted its latest round of discussions in Taipei in July 2010. Participants included former Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) ADM Timothy Keating, Bonnie Glaser, and Alan Romberg.

Beijing’s aggressive courting of retired military officers from Taiwan is likely to backfire, as media reporting already suggests. PLA influence operations targeting retired ROC military officers has parallels in the United States with the so-called “Sanya Initiative” (Click here and here and here for background).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Obama White House Denies Taiwan Additional F-16 Fighters

President Ma Ying-jeou and his administration have been stepping up Taiwan's campaign to procure an additional 66 F-16s to replace the Republic of China (ROC) Air Force's aging fleet of F-5 E/F fighters (see report below). The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 1979, requires the United States "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character."

Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense (MND) first submitted a formal letter of request (LOR) for price and availability (P&A) for an additional 66 F-16 fighters as early as March 2006. To date, two successive administrations have refused to acknowledge or act upon the LOR due to fear of Chinese retribution. Released by President George Bush in 1992, the ROC Air Force currently has 146 F-16s in its active inventory. A former senior U.S. Air Force official said in a July 2010 Reuters interview that a positive Obama administration decision on moving forward on an F-16 deal is "way past due."

Concerned over how the China issue could affect re-election prospects in 2012, opposition to release of additional F-16s to Taiwan is said to be concentrated within a small circle of pro-Beijing political advisors around President Obama. As a fully fledged democracy, the ROC on Taiwan has municipal elections scheduled for later this year, and with Presidential elections slated for March 2012.

"Taiwan seeks F-16s to boost defence"

Thursday 19th August, 2010 (IANS)

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou called Thursday on the US to sell F-16s to Taipei to boost the island's defences after the Pentagon said this week that China is gaining military superiority over Taiwan.

'Taiwan people's top concern is Taiwan's security,' Ma said. 'I hope the US can cautiously consider selling F-16C/Ds to Taiwan as the balance of cross-Strait military power is tipping in China's favour.'

Ma made the comment while receiving visiting US Senator Roland Burris. It is the third time this month that Ma had raised the F-16 purchase while receiving US visitors.

Taiwan ordered 150 F-16A/Bs from the US in 1992 but is seeking to buy 66 F-16C/Ds to replace the outdated models.

The US is evaluating Taipei's request after Beijing asked Washington to end arms sales to Taiwan, calling them an obstacle to Taiwan-China unification.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, to be brought back into the motherland one day, by force if necessary.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Taiwan Arms Sales: Temporary Hold or Freeze?

Today's Taipei Times covered an interesting Washington Times editorial penned by Randy Schriver. Randy is former Senior Country Director for China and Taiwan for the Secretary of Defense, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for China/Taiwan affairs during the Bush administration. He currently presides over the Project 2049 Institute and is an associate with Armitage International.

The editorial and Taipei Times' reporter William Lowther's summary, coming in the wake of the cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), is a useful reminder of an often ignored fact. Despite expanding cross-Strait economic links, China still relies on implicit or explicit threats of military force to resolve political differences with the Republic of China (ROC, or Taiwan).

Taiwan Link commentary is in blue (NOTE: Image courtesy of the Washington Times)

US may be considering Asia-Pacific policy shift



Wednesday, Jul 14, 2010, Page 1

Former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia Randy Schriver said that US President Barack Obama's administration may be “on the verge” of changing its policies toward Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.

COMMENT: Guided by a coherent strategy and US legal statutes, policies should shift along with the dynamic nature of cross-Strait relations, China, Taiwan, and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. However, a policy that is grounded upon the so-called "status quo" is doomed to be reactive in nature. The lack of a coherent Obama administration strategy, juxtaposed against well-defined Chinese goals, exacerbates the problem. Instead of actively advancing positive foreign policy goals, such as a Chinese renunciation of use of force, a "status quo" policy emphasizes negatives. Setting the bar as low as possible, success is defined by no PRC use of force. However, real success is Chinese abandonment of the military instrument as a means to resolve an inherently political problem.

While not spelling out the possible change in detail, Schriver strongly hinted that it could result in a Taiwan arms sale freeze.

COMMENT: One could argue that a freeze on release of new systems has been in place since the Obama administration assumed control of the Executive Branch in January 2009. The Congressional notification package submitted in January 2010 was a final step in a long process that began with Bush administration policy decisions made years ago. The Bush administration committed to release the systems. The January 2010 Congressional notifications constituted the remaining second half of a package that the Bush administration should have forwarded in October 2008. President Barack Obama and his small group of political advisers have yet to approve and notify Congress of any new sale of major defense articles to Taiwan.

There may be a belief that a freeze on any new arms sales to Taiwan will reap benefits from Beijing, such as cooperation on North Korea, exchange rate adjustment, war on terrorism, Iran, etc. Or that the political costs of freezing new arms sales to Taiwan are and will be minimal, at least compared to the political pain that Obama's political advisers perceive China could dish out. And having committed to a "no trouble making" policy, the Ma administration is unlikely to push too hard on any US policy issue, economic, military, or otherwise. However, in bowing to Chinese pressure without any sign of direct reciprocation in the form of a substantive missile pull-back, the Obama administration is implicitly giving credence to China's reliance on military coercion as an instrument of national policy.

And furthermore, the Obama administration has reversed a policy decision made by President Bush in April 2001: diesel electric submarines. However, in fairness, there's plenty of responsibility to go around for failure to execute the submarine program. The ROC Navy earns low marks for creativity for placing the program in the hands of a conservative US Navy that never wanted to manage the program in the first place. The ROC Navy could have easily assumed programmatic responsibility and entrusted Taiwan's own shipbuilding industry.

Presidents Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou could have directed the ROC Navy to pursue alternative acquisition paths. However, sources close to both the Bush and Obama White House allege thatWhite House officials strongly suggested that the new Ma administration abandon Taiwan's 40-year quest for a fleet of 10 submarines. The Obama White House allegedly has repeated the suggestion. As a result, the Ma administration appears to have shelved the ROC Navy's long standing requirement.

In an article published on Monday in the conservative Washington Times, Schriver said that following the signing of the Economic Cooperative Framework Agreement (ECFA) by Taiwan and China, there was further evidence of cross-strait rapprochement.

“Curiously,” he wrote, the Chinese military buildup opposite Taiwan continues, with analysts saying that about 1,500 ballistic missiles are pointed at Taiwan.

COMMENT: This is where one should exercise caution. Bean counting of ballistic missiles has long been a metric of Chinese intent. Detractors could argue that there is little hard evidence that the 1500 number is valid, and that the growth has leveled off. But one has to define what class of ballistic missile one is referring to and elaborate upon the estimate's basis.

The ballistic missiles that are unambiguously dedicated toward Taiwan and have political and strategic significance are the short range ballistic missiles subordinate to the Second Artillery's 52 Base. An additional two 300 kilometer-range DF-11 brigades are subordinate to the Nanjing Military Region and provide tactical support for landing operations, rather than those under the Second Artillery that carry strategic significance. Furthermore, brigades equipped with nuclear-capable medium range ballistic missiles have a more diverse set of targets, and therefore could not necessarily be described as "targeted against Taiwan." The same goes for PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and Navy (PLAN) assets assigned to the Nanjing Military Region.

Therefore, the units that could best be classified as dedicated toward Taiwan are the five Second Artillery SRBM brigades that have been established for over five years. As in most military organizations, a standard table of equipment likely exists with a set number of missile assigned to each brigade. A standard number is set to match the logistical capacity of the units to which the missiles are assigned. Once the table has been filled, that's it. To continue an expansion, a new brigade with another logistical infrastructure should be formed.

If the 1500 number is based upon cumulative estimates of SRBMs manufactured and delivered, then one explanation is that new SRBM variants are replacing older variants. Older variants are likely retired. Solid rocket motors generally have a shelf life of around seven years, the point when cracks in the propellent significantly reduce the reliability and safety of the missile. Advanced storage and refurbishment technologies can serve to extend the shelf life. As new guidance, navigation, and control technologies become available, the entire design of a missile changes, foreclosing options for refurbishment.

Therefore, a plausible case could be made that the growth reflects production of replacement missiles rather than an expansion of the overall SRBM inventory (NOTE: Some have speculated that the PLA could attempt to get political credit for retiring older missile variants. However, political credit should be granted only for a true reduction in capabilities).

But could there be a new SRBM brigade, in addition to production of new variants to replace missiles in existing brigades? There is a new brigade being formed under the 52 Base. The question is whether or not the new brigade is being equipped with SRBMs or medium range ballistic missiles.

“Why have we not seen even a modest, symbolic step on China’s part, commensurate with improvements in the economic and political spheres, to reduce the military intimidation it imposes on the people of Taiwan?” Schriver asked.

“Understanding why the buildup continues, informs policy decisions the Obama administration must face,” he wrote.

COMMENT: Very good point. Mr. Schriver continues below.

There are four possible explanations for the continuing Chinese military buildup, he wrote.

The first is that China has “no intent whatsoever to diminish the tools of intimidation and coercion in which so much investment has been made.”

Rather, Chinese leaders “are forced to conclude that they must retain the military threat to keep Taiwan in check,” he wrote.

Yes, indeed! In general, the PLA has an organizational and bureaucratic interest in whipping up the Taiwan independence "threat." They likely argue that maintenance or expansion of the force posture is needed to deter independence advocates. These arguments are questionable on many grounds. However, the most relevant is that China's military posture may be the single-most important factor in alienating a large portion of Taiwan's domestic polity and has the reverse effect.

Second, civilian leaders in China may be unwilling — or perhaps even unable — to challenge the People's Liberation Army (PLA) leadership. In turn, the PLA knows that if it pulls back on Taiwan, its budget — and justification for its continued growth — could be cut, Schriver wrote.

The third possible explanation for the military buildup opposite Taiwan, he said, was it is really designed to threaten other US allies such as Japan.

COMMENT: Certainly. If Taiwan independence no longer became the justification, a new basis would be needed for military expenditures. But an overt preparations for a possible Japan contingency would undercut the PRC "peaceful development" image that the propaganda machine wants to project.

“Finally, a fourth possible explanation is that China might be willing to pull back missiles and reduce the threat — but is waiting for the right time and the right deal,” he wrote.

COMMENT: Just what would that deal be? One theory is that the PRC may want to deal with the US, rather than Taiwan on military-related issues, including confidence building measures (CBMs) that could relate to Taiwan (e.g., cross-Strait CBMs are kind of silly since Beijing's goal is to minimize Taiwan's confidence). The deal that Jiang Zemin allegedly tabled in 2002 was a missile withdrawal in exchange for agreement for halting or setting a timetable for halting arms sales.

The basic premise of such a bargain has merit and is at the foundation of the 1982 Communique. However, explicit bargaining is neither wise or justifiable. The basis for US arms sales is and should be the nature of the military challenge that China poses to Taiwan. The current PRC posture warrants a wide open door for the release of defense articles that the democratically elected government of Ma Ying-jeou deems necessary. Of course the US should make decisions to approve, disapprove, or defer based on its own interests. But as long as China refuses to significantly reduce its military posture opposite Taiwan, then arms sales should be routine and forthcoming.

Sources close the Obama administration have stated that a small group of former US government officials, senior retired flag officers, and foreign policy specialists have an on-going program with counterparts in Beijing designed to examine an "arms sales for force reductions" bargain under the auspices of a confidence building measures dialogue. The Sanya Initiative, spearheaded by retired Vice Admiral Bill Owens, has been similar, and one with explicit written blessing of Obama administration officials. A separate initiative for discussion of CBMs involves former US officials, including a former PACOM Commander. The next round of CBM talks is scheduled to take place in Beijing within the next week or two."

“If the PLA military buildup opposite Taiwan continues apace, the need to provide Taiwan with weapons for self-defense also continues. This should be manageable if Washington doesn’t lose its nerve,” he wrote.

COMMENT: But the Obama administration never had a nerve to lose. There has been no release and notifications of any new systems to Taiwan. The three notifications reported as being frozen in a June 2010 Defense News article are not even major defense items.

“The US approach over the course of many years has been to make weapons available to Taiwan so that Taipei’s leaders have the confidence to go to the negotiating table with Beijing. This approach is paying off, but some would have us abandon it just when benefits are being reaped,” he wrote.

COMMENT: Indeed. However, the ECFA is a functional, technical agreement and its political significance is overblown. It is necessary for economic reasons. The real negotiations would be those that address the permanent resolution of political differences in a manner amenable to Taiwan's democratic system of government. Negotiations would work toward a defining the international personality of the ROC or Taiwan, and the nature of its political relationship with the PRC. However, the Ma administration's position continues that of its predecessors. No political negotiations under conditions of military coercion. It has rightfully decided to make withdrawal of missiles directed against Taiwan a precondition for preliminary political negotiations that could lead toward some form of peace agreement.

He said that either through “willful misdirection” or through “naivete,” the Obama administration appears to be ready to change the long-standing policy of providing weapons to Taiwan.

The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to deny a Taiwan arms-sales freeze is in place, perhaps protesting a bit too much,” he wrote.

COMMENT: There indeed are pretty solid signs that that senior political advisers to President Obama have recommended sidelining Taiwan issues, including a conscious decision to defer any further Congressional notifications for Taiwan arms sales for the remainder of the year. Other sources allege that after the January 2010 notifications, assurances were provided to Chinese interlocutors that there would no more arms sales in the near term, without specifying for how long.

Regardless, principled, professional Asia/China hands on the NSC staff, and within State Department and the Pentagon know better, and of course will rush to reassure the public audience that there is no freeze. But the real test will be in the next few months. If the three minor notifications that President Obama has decided to hold aren't unfrozen in the next few months, then political pressure likely will mount, especially should the Republicans do well in the November elections.

However, a key driver that may put any further notifications on ice for the rest of the year could be the invitation that President Obama issued to Chinese President Hu Jintao last month for an official state visit, which most likely would occur shortly after Congressional elections in November 2010.

“Why does the administration continue a fiction that Taiwan has not formally requested more F-16[C/D] fighters? Why do mid and junior-level officials within the Obama administration allude to instructions from ‘senior leadership’ to hold congressional notifications on Taiwan arms sales and not to expect another major sale in 2010?” he asked.

COMMENT: See above. Under normal circumstances, release of additional F-16s should be a no-brainer. Taiwan already has F-16s, and additional airframes are replacements for old F-5s that are at the end of their useful service life. With Block 20 F-16s no longer in production, the Block 50/52 C/D version is the least capable variant available. Block 60 F-16 C/Ds would be a jump, as would the F-35B, which most analysts would agree is best suited for Taiwan's unique operating environment. If the F-16 issue isn't resolved by the end of this issue, the ROC Air Force (ROCAF), Ministry of National Defense (MND), and the Ma administration would be well-advised to submit a letter of request (LOR) for price and availability (P&A) data for 66 F-35B fighters to the Obama administration. And send a copy to the key staffers on the Hill to make sure they know that an LOR has been submitted.

“Even after [the] ECFA, a strong and capable Taiwan remains a key ingredient to security in the region,” he wrote.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

China’s Missile Defense Interceptor Program: An Independent Chinese Analysis

China’s successful exo-atmospheric interception of a ballistic missile on January 11, 2010 marked a major milestone in a long term program with roots in the 1980s. Taking place three years to the day after the successful intercept of an aging satellite in low earth orbit, details of the recent test are scarce and likely will be for some time.

However, a well regarded independent Chinese military-technical analyst, known as KKTT, published a detailed analysis on a national bulletin board site (BBS) site the day following the announcement of the test. In an article entitled “A Preliminary Analysis of China’s Ground-Based Mid-Course Missile Defense Interceptor Technology Test” (我国陆基中段反导拦截技术试验初步分析), the author appears to be not only informing his domestic audience what the test represents and what it doesn’t, but also communicating an implicit message to foreign audiences: the test is modest, legitimate, and not necessarily containing a political message. Following is a summary of the article, which appears to be the most detailed assessment of China’s missile defense program to date.

The Rationale for Missile Defense

The author begins with an assessment of four drivers or characteristics of a missile defense program scaled to protect against ballistic missiles with a range of 3500 kilometers or less:

Neutral Effect on Strategic Stability. A missile defense system is not intended to affect strategic stability with the United States and Russia. An ability to undercut the ballistic missile capabilities of the major nuclear powers is unrealistic. According to the author, an assured second strike capability will remain the bedrock of China’s nuclear deterrent.

Defense against Small Nuclear States With Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles. A missile defense capability would be reasonable as a hedge against smaller nuclear powers, such as India. Citing the Agni III program, the author asserts that India has linked ballistic missile development programs with China.

Support for Local Conventional Warfare. If Taiwan develops ballistic missiles, and with “independence elements” threatening to strike the Three Gorges Dam, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, then missile defenses are needed.

Point Defense Against Conventional Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles. The author cites discussions in the U.S. to field a conventionally armed submarine launched ballistic missile intended to go after hard buried targets, such as command centers.

While advocating defenses against ballistic missiles with a range of 3500 kilometers or less, KKTT acknowledges the possibility of fielding a system capable of intercepting ICBMs operating at higher velocities over the longer term.

Roots in the 640 Program and U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative

After a general discussion regarding basic missile defense technologies, the author caveats that his analysis is pieced together from publicly available sources within China and its accuracy not guaranteed.

With China’s efforts to develop a missile defense interceptor and ASAT in the 1960s establishing a foundation, preliminary research on a kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) began in the wake of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) announcement in March 1983. As China’s answer to the SDI, the 863 Program “advanced defense” focus area included direct ascent ASAT and missile defense interceptor programs (specifically 863-409). [NOTE: The earlier effort was known as the 640 Program, which was cancelled in the 1970s. Other focus areas within the 863-4XX series include high power laser and high powered microwave].

The program remained in the preliminary research phase of the research and development (R&D) cycle until the mid-1990s. The specific basic technologies included a digital closed loop fiber optic gyroscope, binary optical/mid-wave infrared seeker, restartable attitude/orbital control system, and “thrust precision control.” The Second Academy overcame a technical bottleneck in 1999 when it did its first “suspension” (悬浮) test of the KKV, the second country in the world to do so.

When the 863 Program was restructured in 2002, the KT-409 interceptor project transitioned from the preliminary research to the R&D phase in 2002. R&D was divided into two focus areas: 863-801 and 863-805, with the latter including an ASAT test as an intermediate milestone in the KKV program.

The author asserts that the KKV weighes 35 kilograms, as compared to 60kg for the U.S. Ground Based Interceptor and 18kg for Standard Missile-3 (SM-3). The PLA General Armaments Department (GAD) is said to have awarded a prize to designers of the 35kg KKV in 2000 for overcoming technical obstacles. {NOTE: While not explicit, a possible connection may exist between the 35kg KKV and China’s microsatellite and nanosatellite buses.}


The author indicates that testing on sub-systems began as early as 2003. The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) 066 Base and Sixth Academy were responsible for developing the solid rocket motors for a three-stage solid launch vehicle to be used in ASAT and missile defense interceptor tests. The 066 Base is said to have overseen the first test of a modified solid rocket motor in 2003. {NOTE: Under normal circumstances, the CASIC Sixth Academy is responsible for solid motors with a diameter less than 2 meters. Other sources indicate that the solid motor used in the missile defense interceptor is a variant of DF-21’s FG-05 (FG-5D). The FG-05D supposedly uses a lighter weight composite material in the motor casing, thus increasing its strength to weight ratio.}

Integrated ASAT flight tests were conducted from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center on July 7, 2005 and February 6, 2006. With these first two tests proving unsuccessful, a third test from Xichang space launch center on January 11, 2007 intercepted its intended target. Members of the Central Military Commission (CMC) visited Xichang and awarded the designers with one of China’s highest technical honors. After the ASAT test, the Second Academy conducted a strategy review session, redesignated the KT-409 interceptor as the HQ-19, and began plans for testing against a ballistic missile target.

The author asserts that preparations for the missile defense test appeared to be underway since early December 2009, with no connection with Taiwan arms sales-related contract announcements. The author assesses the target missile – DF-3 or DF-21 – was launched from Taiyuan Space Launch Center. The interceptor was launched from the Korla area in Xinjiang, with impact in the vicinity of the Gansu-Xinjiang border. The flight profile of the target was basic and more increasingly stressful testing is to be expected. The test allegedly was supported by a new phased array radar in the Korla area (+41° 38' 28.17", +86° 14' 11.98"), which was under construction in 2004. The Korla radar is said to support the PLA General Armaments Department (GAD) 20 Base. {NOTE: See Google Earth image of the new Korla radar above.}

The Missile Defense/ASAT Senior Design Team

The author assesses that Chen Dingchang (陈定昌) serves as chief designer of the ASAT/missile defense system. Born in Shanghai in 1937, Chen Dingchang is a graduate of the Tsinghua University and was trained briefly in the former Soviet Union. Leading the Second Academy’s design department when the 863 Program began, Chen was promoted to the Second Academy directorship in 1990. He subsequently directed the China Aerospace Mechanical and Electronics Corporation (CAMEC) (now CASIC). In addition to serving as a member of CASIC’s S&T Committee, Chen directs the General Armaments Department (GAD) Precision Guidance Expert Group (总装备部精确制导专业组). {Click here for more background on Chen Dingchang.}

Zhang Yiqun (张奕群) is said to be the deputy chief designer for the KKV sub-system. Zhang is from the Second Academy’s Second Design Department. A senior designer from the CASIC Fourth Academy’s Fourth Design Department, Zheng Chenghuo (郑盛火), is said to be leading the development of the solid launch vehicle sub-system.

KKTT concludes with an assertion that the interceptor is only one part of a broader system, including space surveillance and tracking and national and operational-level command and control systems. The PLA Air Force has been pressing on the need to integrate air and space defense, but no decision has been made regarding subordination of a missile defense system.