China’s new ‘Guam killer’ missile, capable of hitting targets some 5,500 km away, is raising new fears of a growing Chinese threat to key American military facilities and stability in the Pacific Rim, the Congress has been warned.
A congressional panel has issued a report warning of the dangers of the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, during a week in which US-China tensions flared anew with a US Navy destroyer sailing close to a Chinese-claimed island in the disputed South China Sea.
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said this week that China’s DF-26 missile — dubbed by analysts the “Guam killer” and unveiled at a high-profile military parade in Beijing last September — allows China to bring unprecedented firepower to bear on the US territory of Guam.
The territory sits well within the missile’s range.
“Foremost among China’s military assets capable of reaching Guam, the DF-26 IRBM represents the culmination of decades of advancements to China’s conventional ballistic missile forces,” CNN quoted the commission’s report as saying.
While the current state of Chinese guidance technology makes any threat low at the moment, the report warned that “China’s commitment to continuing to modernise its strike capabilities indicates the risk will likely grow going forward.”
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission was established by Congress in 2000 to look at issues between the two Pacific powers. It is required to submit an annual report to Congress on US-China relations and advise Congress on possible legislative and administration actions.
Guam, home to Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Naval Base, has been as a place from where the US could project power across the Pacific while having its forces at relatively safe distance from possible threats, including North Korea and China.
A study last year from MissileThreat.com at the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington warned, “Prior to the deployment of the DF-26, China’s only way to attack Guam would have been with H-6K strategic bombers, which would have been much less effective given the strong defensive capabilities of the US military on the base.”
About 6,000 US military personnel are based on Guam. The US Air Force has sent regular rotations of B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers as well as top-line fighter aircraft to Andersen. The US Navy has four attack submarines homeported in Apra and can use the base as a resupply point for other warships.
Guam sits 4023 km from Beijing, which puts it about 1,120 km beyond the range of China’s land-based medium-range missiles. But intermediate-range missiles such as the DF-26 have a range of up to 3,400 miles, according to the Pentagon, putting Guam within striking distance.
RAND has warned that a Chinese missile strike of 100 IRBMs like the DF-26 could close Andersen Air Force Base to large planes for 11 days. And that’s where the threat to Pacific Rim stability — from flashpoints such as disputed islands in the South China Sea — comes in.
“China’s leaders could be more willing to resort to military force in such a crisis if they believed they could successfully neutralise Guam,” the congressional commission’s report says, because the territory would be a key point of reinforcement for US forces operating farther to the west.
The panel’s report points out that China showed off only 16 DF-26 launchers at last September’s parade. “But inclusion in the September 2015 parade indicates it has likely been deployed as an operational weapon,” the report said.
The findings came out Tuesday, the same day the US Navy sent a guided missile destroyer within 12 miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea where China has built an airstrip.
China responded by scrambling fighter jets and dispatching warships to “expel” the American ship from the area around Fiery Cross Reef, part of the Spratly Islands claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
In January, China said it had completed building a runway on the island, one of three it has been constructing in the South China Sea with dredged material.
The latest passage of a guided missile destroyer was the third that the US Navy has conducted in the South China Sea.
The transits, which the US says assert rights granted under the International Law of the Sea, have stoked tensions between Washington and Beijing.
“The provocative actions of US military ships and airplanes have exposed the US motive of trying to destabilise the region and seek benefit from it.
“It also proves again the rationale and necessity of China’s construction of defense facilities on relevant islands and reefs,” Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, spokesman for China’s Defense Ministry, said in a statement.
Washington says the US plans further transits. “The United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe,” a Pentagon statement said.