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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China Considers Russian Missile

ReutersSoldiers guarding a Chinese-made F-7 fighter at an air base in Tianjin, southern China.
BEIJING -- China may well have tested Russian AA-12 missiles, but these have long been expected as part of a package of Su-30 fighter jets and are unlikely to accelerate an arms race with Taiwan, defense analysts said Thursday.

While they would enhance China's dogfighting ability, Taiwan would maintain air superiority for the next few years as it already had indigenous and French air-to-air missiles and more than twice as many modern fighters as the mainland.

But hawks in Washington and Taipei, fearful of losing that edge, are using the reported missile test to press the U.S. government to deliver AM-120 AMRAAM missiles bought by Taiwan but stored in the United States for fear of sparking an arms race.

"Every China-watching analyst around knew three years ago in 1999 that the Russians had agreed to sell China a wide range of advanced missiles as part of the Su-30 deal, and that included the AA-12," said Robert Karniol, Asia-Pacific editor of Jane's Defense Weekly.

"That they've received the AA-12 and tested them is interesting but it's essentially a two-sentence footnote, not front-page news."

Jane's Defense Weekly reported in 2000 that China was about to take delivery of the first AA-12 "Adder" missiles.

Diplomats in Beijing said they had known for some time China bought the AA-12 to deploy on at least 38 Su-30s sold by Russia and were not surprised at reports it had been tested.

China and Taiwan have long been engaged in an arms race, with the mainland building up its capacity to launch an invasion of the island while Taipei buys advanced weaponry, mainly from the United States, to maintain its self-rule.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary, but defense analysts say Beijing will not have the air or amphibious capability to take the island until 2005 at the earliest.

The Washington Times reported last month that two of China's Su-30s had test-fired the AA-12. The Pentagon responded by saying it was reviewing when it might release the AIM-120 to Taiwan.

On Wednesday, Raytheon Co., which is assembling the AIM-120, said it would complete delivery of Taiwan's order by autumn 2003.

"This is where the Washington politics comes in," Karniol said. "That's the whole point of the leak, to put pressure on the administration to release the AIM-120."

China has not confirmed the missile test.

Han Guan / AP

Chinese soldiers lifting themselves over the side of a truck during recent exercises.
Chinese air force commander Wang Wei said Wednesday the AA-12 was designed to be deployed on Su-27s and Su-30s, but he did not know whether China had tested or deployed the missile.

"If we have this kind of missile it will help us to achieve air superiority in battle," he said during a rare tour of Chinese military bases by foreign reporters.

China has about 4,000 fighters but the majority are obsolete models based on 1950s and 1960s technology. Its only modern fighters are about 80 Su-27 and 20 Su-30 fighters, defense analysts say.

By comparison, three-quarters of Taiwan's 400-plus fighters are up-to-date, including 150 U.S. F-16s, 60 French Mirage 2000-5s and 130 Indigenous Defense Fighters, they say.

The Mirages are equipped with MICA II air-to-air missiles, also purchased from France, while the IDFs are armed with Taiwan's indigenous Sky Sword I and II air-to-air missiles.

The United States agreed to sell Taiwan AIM-120s for its F-16s on condition they would not be delivered until China received the AA-12, defense analysts said.

"It's very political," said a top Asian defense analyst, who declined to be identified. "For the Taiwanese and the Americans, in terms of the Taiwan issue, they're concerned with the air dimension of the balance of power."

"That's where the Taiwanese have always held a significant edge. As the Chinese are able to erode this capability, this makes the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait more favorable to the Chinese."

But the perception that China had gained a new capability that Taiwan did not have was wrong, defense analysts said.

"It's not a matter of China getting some advanced kit and Taiwan being desperate to match it," said Karniol. "It's the other way round. Taiwan already had this capability. China is seeking to match it."

China and Russia will hold small-scale joint military exercises in August near their extensive border, China's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The exercises, to test communications, were part of a 1994 agreement on the prevention of "dangerous military activities," said spokesman Liu Jianchao. "The goal of these exercises is to test the reliability of communications as stipulated in the agreement," he said.

Liu said the exercises were not aimed at any third country, despite reports in foreign media they were.