China's second ground-based mid-course missile interceptor successfully completed an anti-missile test within Chinese territory on Sunday, hours after the US conducted a test flight of its own missile interceptor.
There were no details available on China's test except for the official announcement that "the test has reached the preset goal" and is "defensive in nature."
It was the second time that China announced such an anti-missile test. A similar test was successfully conducted on January 11, 2010.
Ground-based mid-course anti-missile tests, which involve highly complicated technology in detecting, tracking and destroying a ballistic missile flying in space, have only been attempted by China and the US.
The success of the test, together with a series of other military equipment achievements including China's first aircraft carrier and the maiden flight of the Y-20 large transport aircraft on Saturday, has demonstrated the country's fast-growing ability to defend its own national security and deter any possible threats, the Xinhua News Agency commented Monday.
A ballistic missile's mid-course phase begins after its engines burn out and the warhead begins coasting in space. After mid-course, the warhead of long-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles will re-enter the atmosphere with a velocity of about 20 times the speed of sound, making it very difficult to intercept with current terminal-phase interception systems, according to Lan Yun, a military observer and editor with Modern Ships magazine.
Shao Yongling, a senior colonel from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Command College, told people.com.cn that China's ground-based mid-course interception test was aimed at intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the test's technical requirements were much higher than that of short- to medium-range missile defense systems.
According to Russia's Ria Novosti News Agency, the US Ground-Based Mid-course Defense (GMD) has a maximum interception altitude of 1,500 kilometers and interception range of 4,000 kilometers. In comparison, the US' terminal-phase interceptor Patriot PAC-3, which was used to defend Japanese territory during North Korea's controversial rocket launch last year, only has about 15 kilometers of maximum operational ceiling.
"China is still far from forming an operational anti-missile shield, as the US has carried out at least 16 interception tests and China has only done two so far. Even the US GMD is far from mature," Lan said.
"The initial tests may focus on the performance of the interceptor itself. A complete system will include not only land-based radars and interceptors, but also a surveillance satellite network, sea-based radar systems and a complete command and control center," Lan said.
The Washington Free Beacon website suggested that the missile used in Sunday's test could have been a modified type of missile used in the 2007 anti-satellite (ASAT) test by the Chinese military, and that this kind of anti-missile test was "assessed to have furthered both Chinese ASAT and missile defense technologies."
According to Reuters, PLA officials and documents in recent years have said developing anti-missile technology is one focus of defense spending.
China's announcement of the test is meant to showcase its capabilities to its potential rivals, Hans Kristensen, an expert on China's military from the Federation of American Scientists, was quoted by the BBC as saying. But Kristensen did not say who the potential rivals are.
Hours before Beijing's test, the US Missile Defense Agency successfully completed a flight test of a ground-based interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on Saturday. A target missile was not planned for the flight test.
The launch is part of an extensive series of tests initiated after testing was halted in early 2011 when a guidance error resulted in a failed intercept in December 2010.
Xinhua stressed that China's test isn't targeting any other country.
Related article: China carries out land-based mid-course missile interception test