China’s military conducted a space-based missile defense interceptor test, claiming to have successfully targeted a ballistic missile in space, the Chinese Defense Ministry said Sunday.
The test involved hitting a target missile with a high-speed interceptor missile in space, the ministry said in a statement.
“The test reached its expected goals,” the statement said, adding that the test was defensive and not aimed at any country.
It was the sixth missile defense test by the Chinese and highlights Beijing’s efforts to develop missile defenses despite frequent state denunciations of U.S. missile defense systems as destabilizing.
Few details were provided on the test that involved firing a land-based missile at a target ballistic missile.
According to Chinese state media, the missile defense test, described as a “land-based, mid-course interception test,” involved the launch of a target missile that was tracked by ground-based early warning systems, followed by the firing of an interceptor that either exploded near the target or rammed into it at high speed.
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Earlier tests of the interceptor missile were carried out in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2021, according to state media. The missile interceptor test almost certainly involved destroying a simulated warhead in space and thus likely created floating high-speed debris.
Both China and Russia have conducted anti-satellite and missile defense tests that create space debris. Both nations in the past have used missile defense tests to hide anti-satellite tests. Russia carried out a destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) test in November and China carried out a similar test in 2007. Both tests created thousands of pieces of debris that threaten both manned and unmanned spacecraft.
The test highlights the difficulty faced by the Biden administration in seeking to use arms control agreements to limit space warfare and dangerous debris.
Vice President Kamala Harris announced in April that the United States has imposed a unilateral ban on destructive anti-satellite missile tests.
“The destruction of space objects through direct-ascent ASAT missile testing is reckless and irresponsible,” the White House said in a fact sheet. “The long-lived debris created by these tests now threaten satellites and other space objects that are vital to all nations’ security, economic and scientific interests, and increases risk to astronauts in space.”
Critics say a unilateral testing ban by the U.S. could undermine the development of missile defenses and also prevent arming the new Space Force. China for its part is racing to develop new space weaponry, U.S. military officials warn.
China “continues to develop counterspace capabilities — including direct ascent, co-orbital, electronic warfare, and directed energy capabilities — that can contest or deny an adversary’s access to and operations in the space domain during a crisis or conflict,” the Pentagon’s most recent report on Chinese space weaponry states.
The report said the Chinese are developing a mid-course “kinetic kill” interceptor that will be the high-altitude portion of a multi-tiered missile defense system.
By contrast, the new U.S. Space Force has a single announced weapon system, an electronic jammer that can disrupt satellites.
China also is developing a “space information corridor” that is part of its global development program known as One Belt, One Road.
China has repeatedly denounced U.S. deployments of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, and took punitive financial action against Seoul for deploying the system.
The Chinese asserted that THAAD threatens to undermine Beijing‘s missile deterrence power.