China's missile defense test on Monday made it the second country to destroy an incoming missile target beyond the Earth's atmosphere, the South China Morning Post reported (see GSN, Jan. 12).
The United States was the first state to demonstrate such a capability, according to the report.
Beijing's accomplishment is proof of its advanced missile defense capabilities and also shows that it now has sophisticated radar technology, the newspaper stated.
Three years ago, China took the international community by surprise when it targeted and shot down one of its old weather satellites with a missile (see GSN, Jan. 19, 2007). This led to worries that the country might seek to remove the satellites of other nations.
The 2007 event was a much simpler feat than Monday's test as the satellite's flight course was known beforehand and because it had no protective capabilities, said retired People's Liberation Army Gen. Xu Guangyu.
This week's missile interception was more complicated as the incoming target's high velocity allowed only minutes for identified and targeted and for an interceptor to be fired.
"Satellite interception is like shooting a beer bottle. Missile interception is like shooting ducks," Xu said. "Monday's announcement marked a milestone in China's active defense strategy. Midcourse missile interception requires superior technology and equipment."
Though some wondered whether the missile interception was just simulated by computers, the U.S. Defense Department said it had ascertained unusual action above the Earth's atmosphere.
China has been following and analyzing U.S. technology for more than 10 years and its navy, army and air force each possess a ballistic missile defense program, according to military research documents.
Monday's successful interception does not mean that development of China's missile defenses is finished, Xu said.
"In comparison with the U.S., we still have a lot of work to do," Xu said. "In particular, we need more better and more powerful early warning satellites. The missile defense system's base should not be on the ground, but in space" (Stephen Chen, South China Morning Post I, Jan. 13).
Kanwa Defense Review editor Andrei Chang said the test could lead nations including India, Japan and Russia to pursue defenses against ballistic missiles, the Post reported. It could also be cause for worry among some nations in the region that possess ICBMs, according to the article (Kristine Kwok, South China Morning Post II, Jan. 13).