Over the weekend, China started a series of military drills in the South China Sea (SCS) where it conducted the first ever test of an anti-ship ballistic missile against a maritime target and the first from its man-made islands in the SCS.
“Of course the Pentagon was aware of the Chinese missile launch from the man-made structures in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands… I’m not going to speak on behalf of all the sovereign nations in the region, but I’m sure they agree that the PRC’s behavior is contrary to its claim to want to bring peace to the region and obviously actions like this are coercive acts meant to intimidate other (South China Sea) claimants.” – Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn, Pentagon spokesman.
China has been rapidly developing and deploying layered cruise and ballistic missile capabilities to the contested SCS in order to establish an effective Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) bubble to force its will on other countries in the region and establish itself as a dominant regional power. In May 2018, China deployed anti-ship cruise missile and air defense systems to three of its man-made islands in the SCS to expand this A2/AD bubble and try to stand back U.S. Navy ships deployed and operating in the region.
U.S. Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) ships are the best equipped and most capable missile defense capability of the U.S. and the world to defend against both ballistic and cruise missile threats from China. Aegis BMD ships carry several different interceptor missiles in their Vertical Launch System (VLS) that include the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) for defense against air breathing and short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), SM-6 designed and deployed specifically to destroy Chinese cruise missiles and SRBMs, and SM-3 for defense against SRBMs to intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). Aegis Baseline 9 software ships currently have the most capability since they can defend against ballistic and cruise missile threats simultaneously and use engage on remote (EOR) to destroy threats based on data provided by remote sensors and radars.
In May last year, the U.S. began construction of the first of 14 contracted Flight III destroyers, which will further improve Aegis BMD ship capabilities against ballistic and cruise missiles with the Baseline 10 software and the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). To stay ahead of the missile threat, the Department of Defense released the Missile Defense Review (MDR) earlier this year which for the first time identified Chinese A2/AD missile bubble as a threat and called for better integration of air and missile defense systems, as well as better integration of offense-defense capabilities to enable left-of-launch missile defense.
Guam, which is part of the U.S. homeland and a key strategic location with strategic nuclear forces deployed there, is a critical place for this integration of air and missile defense systems and the integration of offense-defense capabilities. The U.S. could look to deploy a land-based AMDR and Aegis VLS tubes to Guam to allow the use of SM-3 and SM-6 interceptors, integrated with the already deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) which defends the island against SRBMs to IRBMs, for a more comprehensive and layered air and missile defense of the island. This would bring an effective layered defense and add greatly for assurance for the strategic nuclear deterrent based there and free up Navy Ships assigned to the defense of Guam. The Army and Navy are codeveloping a future hypersonic missile capability on land and at sea with submarine VLS tubes, that could be placed on Guam, to provide the integration offense-defense capabilities and enable left-of-launch missile defense to destroy mobile missile launchers before they have time to reset and launch again.
It is all about making our deterrence stronger to China.
“In deterrence, your adversary not only has to believe you have the capacity, but you have the will to resist whatever they want you to do, and that they can’t win.” – General Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on June 28.