China Flight-Tests Missile Interceptors

April 2021

Since the U.S. departure from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, several countries have accelerated efforts to develop or acquire missile defense technology, particularly theater-range interceptors, as a means of protection from other states’ offensive ballistic missiles. China is no exception and has continued efforts to develop and test anti-ballistic missile capabilities, even though it has objected to similar U.S. efforts.

On Feb. 4, China announced that it was able to successfully use missile defense technology against a ballistic missile in its midcourse phase in early February. This is the fifth publicly announced, land-based missile interceptor flight test conducted by China.

In an official statement, a Chinese Defense Ministry official said, “China conducted a successful test of its ground-based midcourse defense system. The missile interception test was defensive in nature and is not targeted at any country.”

China tested this capability for the first time in February 2018. U.S. officials said in July 2020 they estimate that China will not likely achieve an initial operating capability against intermediate-range ballistic missiles and long-range ballistic missiles until
the late-2020s.

In addition, earlier this month, the EurAsian Times reported that China has brought their HQ-19 missile interceptor into operation. The HQ-19 system is designed to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,000-3,000 kilometers, in the midcourse phase of their trajectory, when the incoming missiles are outside the atmosphere.

The HQ-19 system is similar to the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is currently deployed in South Korea. Even though the United States declared that THAAD was in South Korea as a defensive measure against North Korean missiles and not to counter China, Chinese officials objected to the THAAD installation in part because that deployment also included an advanced radar system that China worries could be used to monitor its military activities.

China also has other ballistic missile defense capabilities, including the Russian-made S-300 SAM and the S-400 SAM, which are capable of intercepting medium-range ballistic missiles.—CHELSIE BOODOO