- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

China's air force test-fired a new air-to-air missile for the first time last week in a move that has altered the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, defense officials say.
The missile was identified by U.S. intelligence agencies last week as the Russian-made AA-12 Adder during a test-firing by two Chinese Su-30 fighters, said officials familiar with reports of the testing.
"This is the first time the Chinese have tested this missile," said one senior defense official.
Another U.S. official familiar with Chinese military activities said: "This is a big ramp-up in the threat, if the Chinese actually have deployed the AA-12, no question," adding that Beijing's deployment of the missile could lead to transfers to Taiwan of a similar U.S. medium-range air-to-air missile.
The AA-12's advanced guidance system makes it what military officials call a "beyond visual range" missile and a significant boost in firepower over the AA-10 missiles that were China's most advanced air-to-air armaments until last week.
The two Russian-made jets fired AA-12 missiles at target drones and scored hits in the tests early last week, defense officials said.
The air-to-air missiles were part of China's purchase from Moscow over the last several years of up to 80 Su-30 fighter-bombers. The missile transfer had been expected as part of the deal, but U.S. intelligence agencies had not been able to confirm the AA-12 deployment until last week's tests.
China also has purchased 2,000 Russian AS-14 air-to-surface missiles, which have a range of up to six miles. The first 1,000 missiles were delivered over the past several months, and a second shipment is expected in the next several months, defense officials said. The AS-14 is an advanced missile with a 1,500-pound warhead that is guided to ground targets by lasers, television cameras or thermal-imaging sensors.
A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment when asked whether the Pentagon plans to transfer U.S. AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missiles that have been purchased by Taiwan but are kept at bases in the United States.
The U.S. government sold 200 AIM-120 missiles to Taipei in September 2000, but prohibited the actual transfer of the missiles to Taiwan because of a U.S. policy. It states that United States would not be the first nation to introduce a new missile capability into Asia. As a result, Taiwan was forced to store the missiles at U.S. bases.
A similar arrangement was worked out with Singapore's military, which purchased 100 AIM-120s in 2000 but did not receive the missiles.
The transfer of those missiles was contingent upon neighboring Malaysia's reported purchase of AA-12s from Russia.
Defense officials said China's test-firing makes likely a transfer of the AIM-120s to Taiwan.
China has opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which have stepped up under the Bush administration. The White House announced last year that it would sell Taiwan four guided-missile destroyers, six diesel-electric submarines and other military equipment.
The AA-12 has a range of up to 31 miles about the same range as the AIM-120. The missile is guided by an active radar finder that helps it home in on flying aircraft.
It is known as a "fire-and-forget" missile because of its sophisticated radar guidance.
"This is a very capable missile with much greater range than anything the Chinese currently have," said a U.S. intelligence official.
Taiwan's air force, which deploys indigenous fighters and U.S.-made F-16 jets, has French-made MICA and indigenous Sky Sword 1 and Sky Sword 2 air-to-air missiles.
Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Jamestown Foundation, said the introduction of the AA-12 represents a major shift in power across the Taiwan Strait.
"Why aren't we allowing Taiwan to deploy [AIM-120s] where there has been a long-standing military requirement?" Mr. Fisher asked. "Deterrence requires maintaining superior military capabilities, and by failing to allow Taiwan to deploy its missiles, we have undermined deterrence."
Mr. Fisher said the Su-30 deal also will likely include the transfer of other sophisticated Russian missiles to China, including laser- and television-guided bombs, long-range television-guided missiles and possibly anti-ship missiles with ranges of 180 miles.
"The purchase of the Su-30s alone constitutes a significant attempt to shift the balance of power on the Taiwan Strait," Mr. Fisher said.
U.S. intelligence officials disclosed to The Washington Times in January that China was modifying the Su-30s to carry advanced C-801 anti-ship cruise missiles.
The recent AA-12 missile deployment is not expected to be contained in the Pentagon's long-delayed annual report on the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, defense officials said.
The report has been completed for several months but was held up from release by Pentagon officials who wanted to avoid offending Beijing during the May visit to the United States of Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao.
The release of the report also was delayed until after the visit to China by Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs. Mr. Rodman returned from China last week, and the report is expected to be released in the next several days, officials said.
Mr. Fisher said the Chinese are also developing a copy of the AA-12 known as the Project 129 air-to-air missile.
"It has a Russian radar and data link, combined with a [Chinese] rocket motor, which is said to have a better performance than the AA-12's motor," Mr. Fisher said, noting that the new Chinese missile could have a greater range than the Russian original.

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