China has begun developing the world's most accurate cruise missiles with the ability to hit targets in Japan as well as US military bases, according to a recent report published by the Washington-based Project 2049 Institute.
In the article titled China's Evolving Reconnaissance-Strike Capabilities, author Ian Easton claims that after many years of efforts, China has acquired a considerable amount of cruise missile systems, including the PLA Second Artillery Force's ground-launched Changjian-10 or Long Sword (CJ-10) land attack cruise missiles (LACMs), the PLA Navy's ground- and ship-launched Yingji-62 "Eagle Strike" anti-ship cruise missile, and the PLA Air Force's Yingji-63 and CJ-20 LACMs.
With up to 500 missiles deployed on 40-55 road-mobile, tri-canister launchers in the Second Artillery Force, China's strategic CJ-10 LACM may be of particular concern to US and Japanese defense planners, the report said, as the missile's range of over 1,500 kilometers can theoretically place all of Japan's main islands under threat.
The report added that the PLA Navy's 100 JH-7 fighter bombers and 30 H-6M maritime bombers are armed with anti-ship cruise missiles which also have a strike radius of more than 1,500km, while the PLA Air Force has a small number of H-6K bombers that could strike as far as the US territory of Guam.
The advanced missiles have significant tactical and strategic meaning, the report said, as cruise missiles are technologically challenging to defend against compared to ballistic missiles because they can strike from any angle and fly at low altitudes.
China would have a geographic advantage over the US if it engages in a military conflict with Taiwan or Japan, and its long-range missiles could strike American vessels and air bases before they would be able to project power into the region, the report added.
"Initially, the only theater ballistic missile in the PLA arsenal that could reach Japan was the medium-range Dongfeng-21C (DF-21C)," the report said, but according to Taiwanese intelligence officials the PLA has also begun deploying the DF-16, a new medium-range ballistic missile for "counter-intervention" missions.
According to the report, the US Department of Defense assessed that the PLA is developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 5,000 km, meaning they could eventually threaten Guam, the Marianas, Palau, northern Australia, Alaska and US bases in the Middle East. If the Chinese program is successful, even Hawaii and the west coast of the US could be threatened by ICBMs by the early-to-mid 2020s, the report said.