China conducts mid-course antiballistic missile test, system 'becomes more mature, reliable'
Published: Feb 04, 2021 10:55 PM Updated: Feb 05, 2021 12:55 AM

An HQ-16 medium-range air-defense missile system attached to an air defense brigade under the PLA 77th Group Army launched a rocket into the air at a military shooting range in desert area in late August, 2020. ( by Hu yonghui)


China successfully conducted a land-based, mid-course antiballistic missile (ABM) technical test on Thursday in a move experts said showed China's mastery of the technology as the country's antiballistic missile system gradually matures and becomes more reliable.

China conducted the test within its border, and the test reached the desired objective, the country's Ministry of National Defense announced on Thursday in a statement.

The test is of defensive nature and is not aimed at any country, the statement reads.

It was the fifth land-based ABM technical test China has publicly announced and the fourth land-based, mid-course ABM technical test publicly known.   

Mid-course is the most vital phase in the interception of a ballistic missile, and a mid-course ABM means to intercept the missile while it is in its free flight phase outside of the atmosphere, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Thursday.

While the duration of the mid-course phase is relatively long, the great difficulty of an interception lies in the high trajectory, Song said, noting that the target of interception is usually intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile.

China has already mastered the mid-course ABM system, and conducting the latest test shows that the system is becoming mature, and the success rate and reliability of interceptions are increasing significantly, which is very important for China to build a complete ABM system, Song said.

The flight of a ballistic missile usually consists of three phases in time order: boost phase in which the rocket booster will power the missile into sky, mid-course phase in which the booster stops as the missile traverses outside of the atmosphere, and reentry or terminal phase in which the missile reenters the atmosphere and dives on its target.

It's technically easy to intercept a ballistic missile in the boost phase, because the missile is still close to the ground and accelerating, but it is difficult to get close to the launch site which is usually deep in hostile territory; in terminal phase, the interception is challenging because the speed of the diving missile is very high, observers said.

Known ABM tests were carried out by China previously in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2018, according to media reports and official statements. 

As the Chinese military enhances its combat-preparedness, it is very important to establish an effective and complete anti-missile system, particularly against intermediate-range and intercontinental missiles which are usually equipped with nuclear warheads, so that China's national security can remain assured, analysts said.