At the recently concluded Shangri La security conference, the emerging security scenario in the Asia Pacific was the main theme for discussions. Interposed between many plenary sessions on regional security and military transparency issues was an entire session devoted to the question of missile defence. Chuck Hagel , the US Defence Secretary, in his first appearance at the conference, while dwelling on the American approach to regional security stated that “With Japan, we have agreed to review the Defense Guidelines that underpin our Alliance cooperation, and are making substantial progress in realigning our force posture and enhancing Alliance missile defense capabilities; With the Republic of Korea, we are working to implement the Strategic Alliance 2015 and discussing a shared vision for a more globally-oriented Alliance out to 2030;… Similarly, the United States is working to build trilateral cooperation with Japan and India.”
On the other hand, Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov, speaking at the same forum, observed that “We are concerned about the unilateral deployment of anti-ballistic missile defense elements [in the Asia-Pacific Region]. We believe such actions could undermine the foundation of the strategic balance and lead to a polarization of powers in the region.” The Russian leader needed firm guarantees to prove that “the missile shield potential is adequate to the declared goals and will not upset global and regional balances.”
Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, Deputy Chief of General Staff, PLA, in his exposition on ‘New Trends in Asia-Pacific Security’ spoke only in platitudes like ‘peaceful, cooperative and win-win development’ and chose to skip any substantive military and security issue. However, Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, Director, Center for China-America Defense Relations, China’s Academy of Military Science, PLA, expressed her apprehensions about the US missile defence architecture being created in the Asia Pacific region. Not only this, she confronted Chuck Hagel to better explain the US military‘s Asia pivot in the question and answer session after his speech which included a warning to China over cyber warfare. So far as the US Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is concerned, China remains unconvinced that missile defence deployments have not been designed with China in mind.
In fact, the US Defence Strategic Guidance of January, 2012 observes that “States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well”. The document also stresses that the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments. This will include developing a new stealth bomber, improving missile defences, and continuing efforts to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of critical space-based capabilities.
Further, the US, as part of the military aspect of its Asia-Pacific strategy, has paid great attention to the missile defence component of its military deployments in the region. With 60 percent of its naval fleet being deployed in Asia-Pacific, the US would eventually have six Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) based in the region. These CSGs would have integral components of Aegis destroyers and cruisers armed with Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems along with advanced surveillance sensors and missile interceptors. The U.S. Army Air and Missile Defence Command (AAMDC) is in the process of deploying a missile defense task force in Guam. This would include a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and a PAC-3 battery for ballistic missile defence. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been included in the emerging BMD architecture in the Asia-Pacific.
US forces in Japan have deployed a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) battalion in Okinawa. For some years now, the US has been deploying BMD capable Aegis destroyers armed with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in and around Japan. This is in addition to four Japanese destroyers armed with Aegis SM-3 (which would eventually go up to eight ships) systems and a number of PAC-3 batteries of its own. South Korea has also acquired Aegis ships and PAC-3 batteries and opted to cooperate with the US on BMD.
Though ostensibly the missile threat is painted to be from North Korea, the strengthening of missile defence in the Asia-pacific is largely driven by the rising capabilities of China in missile warfare domain. There are also some reports that China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) has reached the stage of operationalisation. ASBM with maneuvering re-entry vehicle warhead and termed as a Carrier –Killer would be a potent addition to China’s Anti-Access/Area Denial capabilities. Further, the testing of China’s DF-41 ICBM last July with 12000 km range and multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability besides missile threats emerging from North Korea (including a nuclear test this February) has moved the US to plan for deploying additional 14 ground based missile defence interceptors in Alaska and California by 2017. Earlier, the plan called for deploying 30 ground based interceptors on the US West Coast; with the latest developments, the total number of interceptors would go up to 44.
What has been China’s response the US moves on missile defence? Since the unveiling of the US plans for national missile defence in May 2001 China along with Russia has been a strong opponent of the missile defence. Both China and Russia argue that missile defence dilutes the value of their strategic deterrence. The American argument is that missile defence is only meant for rogue nations like North Korea and Iran that can launch attacks with a limited number of missiles as larger size of missile attack would overwhelm the missile defences.
However, of late, China has not shied away from building capabilities in this field. Conducting of an anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007, followed by a Ground based mid course anti-ballistic missile in January 2010 along with another ABM test in January 2013 were designed to strengthen its capabilities to interfere with the US space assets and possibly deal with some ballistic missile threats to China’s vital areas/assets.
China is also known to have developed an underground tunnel system where its strategic assets appear to have been located for protection. China possibly may also be concerned with the latest development of the US having built a ‘Bunker-Buster’ bomb that can be delivered by a B-2 stealth bomber and which can penetrate 100 feet of overhead cover thus posing a threat to China’s underground silos.
While China’s efforts in the direction of building its ballistic and cruise missiles along with ballistic missile defence systems are driven by the US military strategy in the Asia-Pacific, Beijing’s strategic competition with the US in the missile defence arena has the effect of reducing the value of India’s strategic deterrence against China. India’s incipient missile defence capabilities would only be able to offer a limited degree of protection to a few counter value targets. A preponderance of missile attacks are expected to overwhelm Indian missile defences. Therefore, it has been argued that China’s missile defence capabilities would be more effective against India’s deterrent rather than that of the US. Thus, China’s recent BMD tests could have been designed as a response to development of India’s Agni V missile that can reach important counter value targets in China.
Taking this argument further, India’s BMD capability is perceived by Pakistan to be causing a negative impact on the value and worth of its strategic deterrent. Pakistan has embarked upon not only expanding its nuclear arsenal but also the quantitative and qualitative aspects of its missile inventory. It has also been looking for technical means and various other counter measures to defeat the BMD. However, Pakistan has not as yet gone in for acquiring missile defence capabilities. On the other hand, it can also be said that Pakistan would have continued to expand its missile arsenal irrespective of India’s acquisition of missile defence capabilities. Development of such a capability by India in any case offers Pakistan an excuse to justify its efforts in the missile arena.
China, for long, as part of its balancing strategy against India, has proliferated nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan. To counter balance the Indo-US nuclear deal, China has gone in for providing two civil nuclear reactors to Pakistan.
Therefore, whatever happens in the Asia-Pacific scenario which causes China to respond by strengthening its nuclear and missile defence portfolio would have a concomitant effect on India’s strategic deterrent. India’s response in turn may move Pakistan to go in similar direction. Does this mean that there would be an arms race? Largely, there are no indications of an arms race as yet. India’s acquisition of nuclear and missile defence capabilities are proceeding at a very measured pace. In fact, the number of nuclear weapons held by India is less than that of Pakistan. However, China’s progress in advanced ballistic and cruise missiles combined with its rapid buildup in other military and strategic capabilities is already threatening the regional power balance. China’s neighbours also worry about its rising defence budgets year after year. And in the long run, negative effects of arms racing would be first felt by an economically weaker power.
What India needs to do is to pay more attention in developing its attack missiles rather than get charmed by ballistic missile defence which is enormously expensive. In fact, a right balance needs to be struck between acquiring missile defence and attack missile capabilities. Needless to say that development of missile warfare capabilities along with supporting systems would be an important component of modernizing our defence forces to deter our potential adversaries.