The widespread deployment of submarine-launched missiles in the South China Sea is increasing the risk of a confrontation between the US and Chinese Navy, according to a new report to the US Congress.
An October 28 report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission highlights the danger posed by the YJ-18, a sophisticated Chinese missile carried by submarines, Bloomberg reports.
Defense chiefs from several Southeast Asian countries have warned of the threats of increased undersea “clutter” as well as US maneuvers to challenge China in the disputed waters.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said this week the United States will continue operations in the South China Sea.
“We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits, and whenever our operation needs require it,” he told a Senate panel on Tuesday.
The Pentagon chief made the comments when asked about news reports that the US Navy had sent a guided-missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea late on Monday.
The USS Lassen was reportedly shadowed by two Chinese naval vessels.
The deployment of China’s YJ-18 missile could have “serious implications for the ability of U.S. Navy surface ships to operate freely in the Western Pacific” in the event of a conflict, the commission said in its report.
“The supersonic speed makes it harder to hit with on-board guns,” Larry Wortzel, the commission chairman, said. “It also makes it a faster target for radars.”
The YJ-18 missile can cruise at about 600 miles (965 km) an hour only a few meters above the surface of the sea and then accelerate to three times the speed of sound before hitting its target, according to the commission.
Washington accuses Beijing of conducting a massive “land reclamation” program through building artificial islands in the South China Sea, warning that China’s projects could further militarize the region.
China claims most of the South China Sea. Other claimants are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.