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China steps up conventional missile capability

Beijing: Amid escalation of maritime tensions with neighbours and a US military focus shift to Asia Pacific, Chinese military is stepping up its conventional missile capability, polishing its ability to carry out multiple launches while preserving its strategic nuclear deterrence.

"Conventional missiles are a triumph card in modern warfare. So we must be ready at any time. We must be able to deliver a quick response to attacks, hit the targets with high accuracy, and destroy them totally," Tan Weihong, Commander of Second Artillery Force, which handles conventional and nuclear missiles said in a rear interview.

The conventional missile brigade was thrown open to the official English media for the first time after it was established, lifting a veil of mystery.

"The unit first grabbed attention in July 1995, when China announced the PLA would carry out missile tests in the high seas. Six missiles were fired in a week and each successfully hit their target.
The missions announced to the world that China had both nuclear and conventional missiles, and thereby a strengthened military deterrence system," the state-run China Daily said.

"Before that, China had only nuclear missiles. The Gulf War in 1990 helped the nation`s military leaders realise that conventional missiles were playing a bigger role in modern warfare," it said.

China has upgraded its missiles in the past few years several times, the brigade`s armament has been updated several times, the Daily report said.

Meanwhile, with the increase of missile launching units over the years, the brigade had to develop a new commanding system to replace the old one that was based on vocal orders. "The new system can handle multiple launches at the same time, which was impossible in the past," Tan said.

The first conventional-missile brigade was formed under the Second Artillery Force, which controls both nuclear and conventional missiles. It is one of the four branches of the PLA, along with the army, the navy and the air force. "Our brigade is known for its accuracy in missile launches. Of the 114 missiles launched so far, all have accurately hit the target," he said.

The brigade, which spends one-third of each year outside its base, goes to every corner of the country for training. Along the way, soldiers collect information on roads and bridges to build a database, which will be useful in future operations, it said.

At the same time, data gathered at the training missions allow the brigade to determine how the equipment performs under various conditions. It helps improve missile operators` launch skills in all kinds of weather and geological conditions.

The timing of the official media`s focus on the conventional missile coincides with escalating maritime disputes between China and east Asian neighbours over the ownership of the islands in South China Sea.

China has a host of long, medium and short range missile and its recent addition of "carrier killer" missile, DF-21D which could target the aircraft carriers from a long distance set off alarms among the US military as it planned to deploy 60 per cent of its naval assets in Asia Pacific the backyard of China by 2020. India too is acquiring the new aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya from Russia.

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