China successfully test-fired a land-based, mid-course antiballistic missile (ABM) on Thursday, but was it a warning to nuclear-armed India? The Chinese Defense Ministry had said that the test was not targeted at any particular country but sources have indicated it may be a warning to India.
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A source in the People’s Liberation Army had told South China Morning Post that anti-ballistic missile test – which could intercept an incoming nuclear warhead – may be intended as a warning to India as the two armies remain locked in a border stand-off in the Himalayan region.
While no technical details of the test have been revealed, a no-fly warning was issued near the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in north China before the test. A video has emerged on social media of a possible rocket or missile launch emanating from northern China.
The Chinese military source, according to the SCMP report, said, “This is a technology that China has been developing for a long while. The Thursday test could be aimed at warning India, which used to adopt nuclear blackmail strategy when dealing with China.”
Following the beginning of the conflict with China along the Line of Actual Control in May 2020, India has fast-tracked the process to acquire more weapons and ammunitions to boost its combat capabilities. Reports suggest, this year, India will be deploying its longest-range, most potent nuclear-capable ballistic missile Agni-V, which has a range estimated to be over 5,000km.
The Chinese defense ministry said the test was conducted within its border and the test achieved its desired objective. The test is of defensive nature and is not aimed at any country, the statement reads. The state-affiliated Global Times has reported it was China’s fifth land-based ABM technical test and the fourth land-based, mid-course one.
Chinese experts have said mid-course is the most vital phase in the interception of a ballistic missile. It means intercepting the missile while it is in its free flight phase outside of the atmosphere.
A ballistic missile’s flight has three phases. First is the boost phase when it is powered into the sky, then in the mid-phase, the missile traverses outside the atmosphere and re-enters the atmosphere in the terminal phase. After the US, China is the second country with interception technology that destroys incoming missiles midflight.
As per the reports, China’s land-based system was intended to protect the Chinese capital and nuclear launch silos from the US intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and that the test may have been carried out to send a message to the White House. The US has been rapidly developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles after quitting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Some experts believe “China’s midcourse anti-ballistic technology still can’t knock down nuclear missiles from the United States and Russia, as there is still a gap between the PLA and the two nuclear giants”.
However, they say China’s midcourse anti-ballistic missile technology could change the balance of nuclear deterrence after it is fully developed.