Chinese missiles are now in range to destroy five U.S. air bases in Asia in the event of a conflict with the United States, according to a preliminary report by a congressional panel that scrutinizes China-related security and economic issues.
“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] currently has the capability to attack with its conventional missile capabilities five of the six main U.S. air bases in East Asia,” said the draft version of the annual report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to be issued on Nov. 17.
The five U.S. bases in range of a Chinese missile strike are located in Japan and South Korea, the report said, cautioning that the sixth base was also under threat.
“Improvements to the PLA Air Force’s bomber fleet could soon allow it to target Guam,” the Pacific island where a U.S. air force base and other strategic military facilities are located.
The report said that not only would U.S. bases be threatened in the event of a conflict with China, but so too would U.S. deployed aircraft.
The commission said China’s improving capabilities to challenge the U.S. military’s freedom of access in East Asia was “an issue of growing concern” to Washington.
Over the past two decades, China’s missile forces have evolved from “operating and maintaining China’s small nuclear deterrent to fielding a seemingly ever-expanding conventional ballistic and cruise missile inventory.”
Improved air and missile capabilities increasingly allow China’s military to conduct combat operations along China’s periphery, reaching regional U.S. allies such as Japan, and possibly endangering U.S. forces based in the region, the report said.
It warned that China appears to be in the final stage of developing an anti-ship ballistic missile capable of targeting large ships at sea, such as U.S. aircraft carriers.
“Any PLA missile strikes and air raids against U.S. bases, if successful, could force the temporary closure of regional U.S. bases and inhibit the U.S. military’s ability to operate effectively in East Asia. In addition, the future deployment of an anti-ship ballistic missile could seriously interfere with the U.S. military’s freedom of access to the region,” the report said.
China’s improved missile and bomber capabilities appear to be aimed at inhibiting U.S. military movements in the Western Pacific in the event of war—especially over Taiwan—the report said, quoting U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in testimony last year to Congress.
China’s military modernization, said Gates, “could threaten America’s primary means of projecting power and helping [U.S.] allies in the Pacific: our bases, air and sea assets, and the networks that support them.”
The Commission wanted Congress to require the Pentagon to report annually on the extent of U.S. military’s capacity to withstand a Chinese air and missile assault on regional bases.
It also wanted lawmakers to try to make clear to Beijing “the implications that the successful development of an anti-ship ballistic missile would mean to the region’s stability.”
Reported in Washington by Richard Finney.