July 11 (Bloomberg) -- China’s military has the world’s “most active and diverse ballistic missile program,” with an expanding inventory of nuclear warheads that can reach the U.S., according to a Pentagon intelligence report.
The arsenal includes a new submarine-launched JL-2 ballistic missile that will for the first time let Chinese submarines target parts of the U.S. from near China’s coast, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in a new assessment obtained by Bloomberg News.
China is expanding its missile program under a broader military modernization plan that’s seen the country’s defense spending more than double since 2006. China’s neighbors including Japan and the Philippines have expressed concern that its government is becoming more aggressive in the region, as the U.S. also puts new emphasis on forces in the Asia-Pacific.
Some of China’s weapons are “specifically designed to prevent adversary military forces’ access to regional conflicts,” according to the report, an update to one released in 2009.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters in Washington today that China’s “sophisticated ballistic missile programs” were under way long “before there was ever any discussion about a strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific” by the U.S.
China is developing and testing new missiles, upgrading older systems, forming new missile units and working on ways to counter missile defenses, the report said. The number of Chinese nuclear warheads capable of hitting the U.S. “could expand to well over 100 within the next 15 years,” it said.
China is in territorial disputes across the region, with nations including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. A Japanese defense report released June 9 said China is trying to change the regional status quo by force. China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded by saying Japan has been “spreading the so-called China threat, creating regional tension.”
The conclusions on China are part of a Pentagon report that surveys world developments in ballistic-missile technology and trends, including in North Korea, Iran, India and Pakistan.
The National Air and Space Intelligence Center, located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, is the Pentagon’s top provider of aerospace intelligence.
The report repeats the intelligence community’s long-standing assessment that Iran could develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. by 2015.
It also recounts Iran’s recent history of missile launches and modification of the Shahab-3 medium range missile that’s capable of reaching Israel.
“Iran has ambitious ballistic and space-launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality and accuracy” of its missile force, it said.
Iranian military units “continue to train extensively in highly publicized exercises” that enable these forces to “hone wartime operational skills and evolve new tactics,” the report said.
Iran also is fielding “increased numbers of theater ballistic missiles, improving its existing inventory and is developing the technical capability to produce an ICBM,” it said.
North Korea, the report said, recently unveiled the new, road-mobile Hwasong-13 ICBM and continues to develop the Taepo Dong-2 “which could reach the United States if developed as an ICBM.”
The nation also maintains a large inventory of short-range missiles and is developing an intermediate-range weapon, said the report.
Both the Hwasong-13 and Taepo Dong-2 have maximum ranges of at least 5,500 kilometers (3,420 miles).
“Continued efforts to develop the TD-2 and the newly unveiled ICBM show the determination of North Korea to achieve long-range ballistic missile and space launch capabilities,” the report said. “North Korea has exported ballistic missile systems and will probably continue to do so.”
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