CHINA says it has mobilised its new “ship killer” nuclear missiles days after an admiral threatened to sink two US aircraft carriers.
Giant rocket launcher vehicles apparently carrying dozens of DF-26 supersonic missiles were seen driving into position in China’s desert northwest plateau.
The state-run Global Times said the 20-ton rockets – said to be capable of reaching US territory in Guam – are being deployed to positions best suited at striking vessels in the East and South China Sea.
The newspaper said the deployment was in response to a US destroyer “trespassing” in the disputed international waters, which Beijing claims as its own.
And it comes days after a Chinese admiral said the best way to force the US to “back away” would be to “sink two aircraft carriers” – adding the new intermediate-range ballistic missiles could do the job.
DF-26 missiles are China’s newest long-range weapon, with a claimed range of 2,500 miles. It is called the Guam Express because it is claimed it can accurately strike US bases on the Pacific island.
It can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, and one variant is said to be able to take out carrier groups in the open ocean.
Beijing announced the deployment days after the USS McCampbell, a US guided-missile destroyer, passed through the Taiwan Strait and close to the Paracel Islands to assert international rights of free passage.
China has built fortresses, runways and missile silos on the islands which are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The dispute has stoked tensions with the US and China both refusing to back down and experts fearing war could break out.
Military aircraft and warships were sent to warn the US vessel away, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a daily briefing earlier this week.
But the state-controlled media report about the missiles indicates Beijing is beginning to lose its patience.
Government mouthpiece The Global Times warned: “The DF-26 is China’s new generation of intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of targeting medium and large ships at sea.
“It can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads.”
The missiles are ballistic, meaning they boost their warheads high into the edge of space before they plunge at very high speeds towards their targets.
Unlike conventional, shorter-range cruise missiles, the DF-26 will not be positioned close to the Taiwan Strait or on the disputed islands themselves.
Instead, Chinese state-run television service CCTV reports the truck-mounted weapons are positioned in a distant outpost.
CCTV said: “The DF-26 is attached to a brigade under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Rocket Force that operates in Northwest China’s plateau and desert areas”.
“A mobile missile launch from deep in the country’s interior is more difficult to intercept,” the Global Times quoted an expert as saying.
The state media report went so far as to highlight the significant US naval base in the middle of the Pacific at Guam was within range of the missiles.
“The report is a good reminder that China is capable of safeguarding its territory,” it stated.
The US in recent weeks has called on its international allies — including the UK and Australia — to ramp up pressure on Beijing’s attempt to assert control over the international shipping lanes and fisheries through an increased tempo of “freedom of navigation operations” by their warships.
In September the Royal Navy sparked fury in Beijing by sailing the HMS Albion through the South China Sea.
The US insists it is not interested in who owns the islands, only in maintaining the freedom of access practised through the busy trade hub since the end of World War II.
The spat comes ahead of Beijing-Washington trade talks this week. Donald Trump hit China with $200billion of tariffs in September and threatened all-out trade war.
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