China could have 75 to 100 nuclear missiles pointed at U.S. by 2015

Thursday, January 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ China is expected to have as many as 100 long-range nuclear missiles aimed at the United States by 2015, many of them on hard-to-find mobile launchers, a new CIA report says.

China sees a larger, mobile force as necessary to maintain its nuclear deterrent against the United States, says the report, ``Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015.''

The report, released Wednesday, also says North Korea and Iran will probably possess long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States by the same year.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said Thursday that China would strengthen its national defense ``in accordance with its own needs.''

``I have no details on the specific report,'' he said, ``but I think such matters are merely baseless speculation.''

Similar assessments have been used to justify U.S. plans for multibillion-dollar missile defense systems capable of shooting down a limited ICBM attack on the continental United States.

Last month President Bush used the threat of missile attack by terrorists as a reason for the United States to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia.

``I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks,'' the president said.

But the new report says terrorists aren't expected to employ long-range missiles to deliver nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction on the United States.

``Ships, trucks, airplanes and other means may be used,'' it says. Hostile countries may employ similar means, it says.

These delivery methods can be used covertly, are cheaper and more accurate than non-U.S. ICBMs, and avoid any missile defenses, the report says.

Currently, China has about 20 silos with CSS-4 nuclear ICBMs that are capable of reaching the United States, the report says. Another dozen nuclear missiles can reach targets in Russia and Asia. It also has a few medium-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and probably only one submarine from which to launch them.

The report is an unclassified summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, which draws together information and analyses from the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies about foreign countries' missile development programs.

The Chinese military is developing three new missile systems, two truck-launched missiles and a new submarine-launched missile, all of which could be fielded by 2010, the report says. The Chinese may also be able to mount multiple-independent re-entry vehicles _ MIRVs _ on its older silo-based missiles. These enable a single missile to launch warheads at several targets, vastly increasing the missile's potential damage.

China sees an expanded ICBM force as necessary to overcome a U.S. missile defense system _ and therefore maintain its ability to strike the U.S. mainland. This would provide a deterrent during a conflict over Taiwan.

While U.S. officials insist the missile defense program is to defeat strikes by North Korea and other ``rogue'' nations, some of those proposed defenses might be sufficient to shoot down all 20 Chinese ICBMs. Analysts say that having a missile defense system would give the U.S. more freedom to go to war over Taiwan, should China invade it.

Arguing for such a system, Bush suggested earlier this year that a rogue state might not be restrained by the fear of nuclear annihilation as the Soviet Union was.

One-hundred missiles would be too many for most of the missile defense systems envisioned by the Pentagon, ensuring that China has a deterrent against U.S. entry into a fight over Taiwan.

``Beijing is concerned about the survivability of its strategic deterrent against the United States and has a long-range modernization program to develop mobile, solid-propellant ICBMs,'' the report says. ``The (U.S. intelligence community) projects that by 2015, most of China's strategic missile force will be mobile.''

China also is expanding its short-range ballistic missile force, and will probably have several hundred by 2005, the report says. These are armed with conventional warheads which could be used to bombard Taiwan from the Chinese mainland.

North Korea, meanwhile, has halted missile flight-testing until at least 2003, although it continues to develop the Taepo Dong-2, a two-stage missile that would be capable of reaching parts of the western United States. North Korea also probably has one or two nuclear weapons that could be mounted on those missiles, the report says.

Iran, meanwhile, might be able to test a long-range missile around 2005, but more likely won't have the capability to do so until 2010, the report says.

The report reflects some differences of opinion between U.S. intelligence agencies, with one unidentified agency arguing that Iran won't be able to test missiles able to reach the U.S. mainland even by 2015. Its projections also assume each country's political direction will not change significantly during the next 13 years.

Iran will rely on foreign assistance from Russia, China and North Korea to complete its missile program, the report says.

Russia's strategic missile force will continue to get smaller, with or without arms control agreements, but Russia will still have far and away the largest nuclear missile inventory capable of hitting the United States, the report says.