China conducted a successful test of its ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system this week, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced on Tuesday, stressing that the aim of the test was defensive in nature and not targeted at any foreign country.
The statement, which consisted of around 50 Chinese characters, was devoid of details on the test, but an infographic that appeared on the website of People’s Daily revealed that the system consists of a control station, sensors and interceptors.
The graphic showed that under the GMD system, X-band radars and spy satellites will first scan the skies and trigger an alarm if any incoming missiles are verified, tapping into a real-time tracking system to enumerate and calibrate with pinpoint accuracy the trajectory and velocity of any missile. Then the system will launch and guide interceptors, usually without warheads, to down the enemy missile while it is still in space and before it can re-enter the atmosphere and reach China’s airspace.
It is the first time in more than three years that the People’s Liberation Army has conducted such a test, following a similar one in July 2014.
Beijing’s admission of the test confirms a long-running rumor that the PLA has been researching and trialing a hit-to-kill anti-ballistic-missile defense shield comparable to the ground-based midcourse defense system that has been protecting the US mainland.
Analysts say the US GMD and the PLA’s own system could both guarantee a higher interception rate and less collateral damage than the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, since THAAD only shoots down an approaching missile in its terminal phase (descent or re-entry), when it may have already pierced through the air border of a target country.
The virtue of systems like GMD lies in a host of technological breakthroughs in ultra-long-distance sensors and new fuels and propellants to realize faster acceleration for an inceptor, among others.
Last month state broadcaster China Central Television aired a news program about an anti-missile radar station in an undisclosed location in northwestern China, highlighting gigantic X-band active phased array radars.
State media have also previously revealed another such base in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang as well as P-band long-distance early-warning radars.