China deployed new ballistic missiles last year capable of delivering nuclear warheads to ground targets in the Western Pacific, the Pentagon said.
The intermediate-range Dongfeng-26 rockets could also be used for conventional strikes against ships in the region, the U.S. Department of Defense said in its annual report on China’s military. The deployment has been anticipated since at least September, when the missiles were displayed during a military parade hosted by President Xi Jinping.
The weapons represent China’s latest strategic advancement after two decades of budget increases that turned it into the world’s second-largest military spender. The modernization drive, which has focused on expanding China’s air and naval reach, is challenging more than 70 years of U.S. military dominance in the Western Pacific.
In 2016, Xi also began a sweeping structural overhaul of the military that saw the elevation of China’s rocket force to a branch equal with the army, navy and air force. The DF-26 joins an arsenal that includes DF-21 “carrier killer” missiles.