China’s Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the Chinese military conducted a space-based missile defense interception test that it claimed successfully targeted a ballistic missile in space.
The test involved hitting a target missile in space with a high-speed interceptor missile, the ministry said in a statement.
“The tests met expectations,” the statement said, adding that the tests were defensive and not directed against any country.
This was China’s sixth missile defense test, underscoring Beijing’s efforts to develop missile defenses despite the country’s frequent condemnation of U.S. missile defenses as destabilizing.
Few details were provided about the tests of land-based missiles fired at target ballistic missiles.
The missile defense test, known as a “land-based midcourse intercept test,” involves firing a target missile tracked by a ground-based early warning system, followed by a missile, according to Chinese state media. The interceptor either explodes near the target or hits the target at high speed.
According to state media, early tests of the interceptor missiles took place in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2021. Missile interceptor tests will almost certainly involve destroying mock warheads in space, and so may produce high-velocity debris that floats.
Both China and Russia have conducted anti-satellite and missile defense tests to create space debris. Both countries have used missile defense tests in the past to cover up anti-satellite tests. Russia conducted a destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) test in November, and China conducted a similar test in 2007. Both tests produced thousands of pieces of debris, threatening manned and unmanned spacecraft.
The test highlights the difficulties the Biden administration faces 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 had unilaterally banned destructive anti-satellite missile tests.
“The destruction of space objects by direct ascent anti-satellite missile tests is reckless and irresponsible,” the White House said in a fact sheet. “The long-lived debris from these tests now threatens the security, economy and science of all nations. satellites and other space objects of critical interest and increase the risk to astronauts in space.”
Critics say a unilateral U.S. ban on testing could undermine the development of missile defense systems and prevent the arming of a new space force. U.S. military officials have warned that China is racing to develop new space weapons.
China “continues to develop counterspace capabilities — including direct ascent, co-orbit, electronic warfare, and directed energy capabilities — that can challenge or prevent adversaries from entering and operating in space during a crisis or conflict,” a recent Pentagon statement said. A report called the China Space Weapons National Report.
China is developing a medium-range “kinetic kill” interceptor that will be the high-altitude part of a multi-layer missile defense system, the report said.
By contrast, the newly formed U.S. Space Force has a single announced weapon system, an electronic jammer that can jam satellites.
China is also developing a “spatial information corridor” as part of its global development plan known as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.
China has repeatedly condemned the U.S. deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea and taken punitive financial action against Seoul for deploying the system.
The Chinese claim THAAD is threatening to weaken Beijing’s missile deterrent.