China’s military has conducted its third anti-missile test, according to state-run media.
On Wednesday the People’s Liberation Army conducted a “land-based anti-missile technology experiment,” Xinhua reported, citing China’s Ministry of Defense. The report said that the Defense Ministry also said that the test “achieved the desired objectives,” without providing any additional details.
This is the third test of its kind that China has announced. In January 2013, state media cited the PLA as saying that it had successfully conducted a “land-based mid-course missile interception test.” The reports at the time said that the test had involved highly sensitive technologies used for “detecting, tracking and destroying a ballistic missile flying in the outer space.”
Chinese state media reported the same thing in January 2010 following China’s first test. At the time, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson had assured the world that “The test was defensive in nature and targeted at no country.” Xinhua also clarified that the test “would neither produce space debris in orbit nor pose a threat to the safety of orbiting spacecraft.”
According to Global Security, the U.S. intelligence community assessed that the first anti-ballistic missile test in 2010 had used a SC-19 missile launched from the Korla Missile Test Complex in western China to successfully intercept a CSS-X-11 medium-range ballistic missile that was launched from the Shuangchengzi Space and Missile Center approximately 1,100 kilometers away from Korla.
Global Security also noted that the SC-19 missile had also acted as the “payload booster” for many of China’s direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) tests, including the one in 2007 in which China shot down one of its own weather satellites.
Similarly, following the 2010 test, Jeffrey Lewis noted that while China is trying to separate its anti-satellite and missile defense systems, “the technology is fundamentally the same: the development of kinetic energy interceptors — so called ‘hit-to-kill’ technologies that use a bullet to hit a bullet.” Notably, the 2007 ASAT test and the first ballistic missile defense test were both conducted on the same day—January 11. The second missile defense test was also conducted in the month of January.
Lewis also noted in the same analysis the different ways China has publicized its ASAT and missile defense testing. Despite the similarities in the technologies used, Beijing has clouded its ASAT missile tests in ambiguity. It usually fails to acknowledge the tests or mischaracterizes them publicly.
By contrast, China usually announces its missile defense tests nearly immediately. At the same time, the U.S. has said in the past that China has failed to notify it of upcoming tests beforehand, and Beijing provides almost no exact details about its missile defense tests, instead speaking only in very general terms. The Xinhua report on this most recent test was even more succinct than previous ones, although it may be expanded upon in the coming days.
The anti-missile test comes just days after China ordered 12 major airports in the eastern part of the country to cut a quarter of their daily flights through the middle of August. The restrictions were imposed, according to state media, because the PLA is conducting “high frequency exercises” in the areas affected. The exact nature of the drills were unclear from the reports. However, state media had previously said that starting on July 15, the PLA would be conducting three months of live-fire drills in six regional military commands. The anti-ballistic missile test was likely a part of these exercises.