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China missile fear: U.S. vulnerable to nuclear-tipped submarine-launched missiles, Pentagon warns

China maintains the fastest-growing fleet of ballistic and cruise missiles on the planet, and soon will deploy a nuclear-tipped, submarine-launched ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States from Chinese waters, according to a new Pentagon report.

Beijing's new submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-2, will for the first time enable Chinese submarines to strike parts of the United States from China's coastal waters, states the 2013 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Assessment, produced by the Department of Defense's National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

It adds that the number of Chinese ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States "could expand to well over 100 within the next 15 years."

"China has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world," said the report.

Supporters of the U.S. military's beleaguered missile defense plans seized on the assessment, saying it underscores the need to push ahead with the controversial programs, which are derided by critics as too expensive and ineffective.

"For too long the Obama administration has allowed our missile defense program to languish when they should have been working to prepare for these imminent threats," Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and a member of the House Committee on Armed Services, said.

The report also confirms the revelation, first reported by The Washington Times, that North Korea last year deployed a new, road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM — the Hwasong-13. The authors of the report note that the missile has not been flight-tested, and say the number of its stages, its fuel and its range are unknown.

"North Korea has an ambitious ballistic missile development program and has exported missiles and missile technology to other countries, including Iran and Pakistan," says the assessment, which was released this week.

North Korea has continued its missile program despite another recent round of U.N. sanctions this year, and in December it successfully used a multistage Taepo Dong-2 rocket to put a satellite in orbit — technology which can be repurposed for ICBMs.

Pyongyang's dogged refusal to quit in the face of international pressure "show[s] the determination of North Korea to achieve long-range ballistic missile and space launch capabilities.

China also is rapidly expanding its conventional missile forces, especially those designed to "prevent adversary military forces' access to regional conflicts" — like the so-called "carrier killer," the Dong Feng 21-D, designed to keep U.S. naval forces at a distance.

The report also says China is developing countermeasures to missile defense, such as multiple independent re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs. When MIRVs are deployed in an ICBM warhead, several break away as the rocket re-enters the atmosphere, each carrying its own nuclear weapon — making the missile much harder to intercept.

The report repeats the assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States as early as 2015.

"Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force," the assessment states.

The Pentagon's National Air and Space Intelligence Center is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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