By Jon Dougherty
China is reportedly fitting container ships with silos for long-range cruise missiles, effectively turning its massive freighter fleet into an extension of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)
The Washington Free Beacon reports that by adding cruise missiles to freighters, China is also essentially turning ports into military bases as well.
The site noted:
The new missile is in flight testing and is a land-attack variant of an advanced anti-ship missile called the YJ-18C, according to American defense officials.
The missile will be deployed in launchers that appear from the outside to be standard international shipping containers used throughout the world for moving millions of tons of goods, often on the deck of large freighters.
The YJ-18C is China’s version of the Club-K cruise missile built by Russia that also uses a launcher disguised as a shipping container. Israel also is working on a container-launched missile called the Lora.
If this doesn’t add a new wrinkle to the Trump administration’s trade negotiations to China, nothing does.
In fact, the discovery comes as the White House is completing details of a final trade agreement with Beijing that includes provisions allaying American concerns regarding illicit Chinese trade practices that no doubt includes theft of U.S. intellectual property.
In addition, however, the missile could also complicate and even disrupt Chinese plans to buy or build international ports as part of its Belt and Road Initiative that will provide Chinese warships and military assets a large network of bases and commercial ports worldwide.
Rick Fisher, a China military affairs expert, told the WFB he’s not surprised that China is reverse-engineering a Russian Club container-launched missile.
“It fits with China’s penchant for seeking asymmetric advantages against its enemies,” said Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“Containerized missiles give China, Russia, and its rogue state partners new options for directly or indirectly for attacking the United States and its allies,” Fisher added.
“Shipping container missile launchers can be smuggled through ports or via highway ports of entry and stored for years in a climate-controlled building within range of U.S. military bases, and taken out when needed for military operations,” the expert noted further.
Arming commercial ships isn’t prohibited by international maritime law, but placingÂ offensive weapons — as these missiles would be — on commercial vessels presents problems because there aren’t many nations that would accept them. So in essence, the Chinese would be harming their own trade by arming commercial ships. And if Chinese crews would not permit their ships to be inspected for missiles, then many countries probably wouldn’t allow them to dock.
Nevertheless, arming merchant or auxiliary ships is a concept the U.S. Navy has also considered as part of its “distributed lethality” concept.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10