China has tested a land-based, mid-course anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system capable of hitting targets outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The country’s Ministry of National Defense announced Thursday that the test reached the desired objective. “The test is of defensive nature and is not aimed at any country,” a statement by the ministry says.
It is the fifth land-based ABM technical test China has publicly announced and the fourth land-based, mid-course ABM technical test publicly known.
The flight of a ballistic missile usually consists of three phases in time order: boost phase in which the rocket booster will power the missile into sky, mid-course phase in which the booster stops as the missile traverses outside of the atmosphere, and reentry or terminal phase in which the missile reenters the atmosphere and dives on its target.
Mid-course is the most vital phase in the interception of a ballistic missile. “A mid-course ABM means to intercept the missile while it is in its free flight phase outside of the atmosphere,” Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, was quoted as saying by the Global Times.
While the duration of the mid-course phase is relatively long, the great difficulty of an interception lies in the high trajectory, Song said, noting that the target of interception is usually intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
It's technically easy to intercept a ballistic missile in the boost phase, because the missile is still close to the ground and accelerating, but it is difficult to get close to the launch site which is usually deep in hostile territory; in terminal phase, the interception is challenging because the speed of the diving missile is very high.