During the recently concluded International Airshow at Zhuhai, China displayed its CM-401 hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile which re-focussed attention on China’s relentless march towards building its military strength in keeping with its avowed intent of being the global numero uno by 2049 – a date set by President-for-life Xi Jinping to signal the avenging of China’s century of humiliation between 1839 and 1949. The CM-401 is reportedly the first hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile in the world and will also be available for export.
Similarly, China has also offered the M20B anti-ship ballistic missile for export. Both these missiles pose a very potent threat to any adversary and are a reliable deterrent against any aggression from the sea. If exported, these will be available with China’s allies, thus becoming an effective force multiplier in China’s aggressive intent at sea as it seeks to establish its unrivalled presence in the waters of its choosing.
The CM-401 flies at a speed of almost 5000 kms per hour or over 4 times the speed of sound at a height of 25-100 kilometres and in its terminal phase accelerates to almost 6 times the speed of sound as it approaches the target and is most effective against ships of the size of frigates and above upto a range of 290 kms. Although it is planned to be inducted on board ships and also fire from ground vehicles, its present configuration permits only the latter is presently mounted only on the latter as it is understood to be too big to be loaded on the Vertical Launch Systems presently fitted on board ships. However, it is a matter of time before the missile would become compatible with the ship launch systems too.
The M20B, the other anti-ship missile being offered for export also has a manoeuvrable ballistic trajectory and is effective at ranges from 120 km to 280 km. The limitations on range are in keeping with the internationally accepted MTCR restrictions and China’s own export regulations. The DF-21 and the DF-26 missiles in the PLA inventory, also
known as the Carrier-Killer ( in reference to the US Aircraft carriers operating in the Indo-Pacific) are said to have ranges from 1000 km to 3000 kms ! The availability of these missiles for export should be of great concern for India. China is now amongst the largest exporters of naval hardware in the region. Bangladesh has been supplied two submarines from China; Sri Lanka is also getting a warship from China as is Malaysia. Thailand may procure two submarines from China in the near future.
However, what should be of serious concern to India is the planned modernisation of the Pakistan navy. China’s closest ally is on the cusp of upgrading and augmenting its surface and undersea warfare capability with the addition of four ultra-modern frigates of Chinese design and perhaps eight submarines, also from the same country. It is likely that these four frigates will be fitted out with modern weapon systems to counter the larger and better equipped Indian Navy and be used as an effective proxy to blunt the Indian Navy’s ability to counter China’s aggressive and strategic intent to dominate the Indian Ocean Region.
China has already established its dominance in the South China Sea and is not overly worried about any meaningful opposition in those waters. It has now set its sights on the Indian ocean and with the establishment of a full fledged base in Djibouti and a potential base in Jiwani on the Makran Coast has every intention of becoming a major player in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is of great strategic significance to China because of its extensive commercial interests in Africa and the Indian Ocean littoral states; its need to successfully implement the Belt and Road initiative and to further its ‘Mahanian’ approach of establishing maritime supremacy in its quest for great power status.
The CM-401 and the M20B, with their ability to be delivered from land- based vehicles are ideally suited to launch an anti-ship attack from land thus restricting the freedom of operations of an adversary as they have to stay out of the missile’s range. It can effectively be deployed to protect shore installations by neutralising the threat from sea-based land attack missiles and can be effectively used to control strategically critical choke points which are the gateway to the movement of global trade in both directions and the unhindered movement of which is critical to the nations in the Indo-Pacific.
Defence exports provide the ability to exert diplomatic and political leverage. China has understood this well and has stolen a march over India in this regard, both in its capability and capacity to offer advanced technologies to its allies. India remains mired in its convoluted bureaucratic procedures and political wrangling and is therefore unable to leverage its obvious strengths to the same extent.