I mean, we have heard of spy satellites, right?
(Above are my comments on the real China threat America must worry about. Here I was interviewed by Fox News Host Tucker Carlson.)
In any event, putting the theatrics aside, I hope this ends up being a moment when the U.S. media and public at large start to see the real threat from China – and not some balloon – but the rise of Chinese intelligence and military capabilities over the last thirty years.
The Rise of China: The Real Threat
Indeed, as America wasted blood and treasure in the Middle East for far too long, China was building a world-class military with one goal: to deter or defeat the U.S. in a war.
So, let us move on from the hysterics of this balloon debate and focus on the real China threats – many of which have been missed by the media over the years.
For example, China has stolen data about some of our most lethal military platforms – and almost no one seemed to care. This includes the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Ford-class Aircraft Carrier, and many others. One former U.S. Defense Department official has told me numerous times that China has easily stolen over $1 trillion dollars in U.S. military secrets over the last twenty years.
And then there is the outright military threat. For example, the rise of China’s ballistic missile forces, designed to destroy U.S. and allied bases all over the Indo-Pacific and our warships at sea.
Take, for example, the DF-21D ‘aircraft-carrier’ missile. If you think we should be worried about a Chinese spy balloon, we should be even more worried about this.
Here is what I wrote nearly ten years ago in the Washington Times:
“China is developing what could be seen as the ultimate such weapon, a real nightmare for the U.S. Navy. Since at least the mid-1990s, Beijing has been developing a highly advanced ballistic missile, the DF-21D, popularly dubbed “the carrier-killer.” On paper, such a missile could truly complicate Washington’s ability to move naval vessels as a hedge against China’s growing military might.
How the missile works is key to understanding its deadly potential. The weapon is mobile, making its detection difficult — even under the best of circumstances. When fired, the missile is guided using advanced radar, satellites and possibly even an unmanned aerial vehicle. Various reports indicate it has a maneuverable warhead potentially capable of defeating missile-defense systems. It slams down on its target — an oceangoing vessel like an aircraft carrier — at speeds of Mach 10 to 12. Even more frightening, the missile allegedly holds the ability to attack naval vessels up to approximately 1,000 miles away, outranging by many times the strike range of all U.S. aircraft aboard existing carriers.
Until recently, considering the science fiction-like description of such a weapon, many doubted the ability of China’s still-evolving defense industry to develop the missile. Many have pointed to the inability of Soviet engineers in the 1970s to develop similar weapons. Hitting a moving target on the high seas is not an easy feat; only a world-class scientific and defense industry would even make the attempt.
However, simply dismissing China’s capability to develop such a missile may have been wishful thinking. A recent report from the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation mined Chinese sources and publicly available information to conclude that America has reason to worry.
Chinese military experts began thinking about how to use missiles against naval vessels as early as the 1970s. After America deployed two aircraft carriers during the 1995-96 Taiwan crises, research moved into high gear. According to the report, as of 2010, the DF-21D was capable of hitting slow-moving targets. Late that same year, a U.S. admiral declared the missile had reached “initial operational capacity,” and U.S. officials this year think China has actually deployed the latest version of the missile.”
Fast forward to 2023, and China has tested this missile several times, and it does indeed work as advertised.
Beijing also has a longer-range missile, the DF-26B, that can hit warships as far out as Guam.
Indeed, China has so many ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missiles that many U.S. military experts think China could destroy most U.S. bases around China in a war – an actual 21st century Pearl Harbor.
So, to summarize my thoughts: Spy balloons are bad. But let’s worry a little more about the overall rise of China and its military capabilities because that is the real threat.
Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidential Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar task force in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree in International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization. Kazianis also has a background in defense journalism, having served as Editor-In-Chief at The Diplomat and Executive Editor for the National Interest.