Chinese Navy To Get
Powerful New Russian
Destroyer Soon
By Barbara Slavin and Steven Komarow
WASHINGTON -- Sometime around Christmas, China is expected to take delivery of a Russian destroyer that could raise the stakes for U.S. intervention in any future crisis over Taiwan, arms experts say.
The 7,300-ton ship is the first of the Sovremenny (Russian for "contemporary") class ever exported. It is equipped with powerful cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and are designed to menace other ships.
Coupled with the anticipated delivery next year of anti-submarine helicopters and a hybrid Israeli-Russian airborne early-warning system, the destroyer could begin to alter the strategic equation in the Taiwan Strait, experts say.
"The scariest scenario is the first-shot theory", retired admiral Eric McVadon says. "If Beijing decided to take a potshot at a (U.S. aircraft) carrier, this missile would give us something to worry about".
The deal, which includes one more destroyer and is believed to be worth $1 billion to Russia, has been known to the Pentagon for some time. But the Clinton administration has not urged the Russians to refrain from the sale, a White House official said.
"The two ships are capable", says Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman. "The missile systems are very good". But Quigley says it is unclear how well Chinese crews would be trained and how well the ships - introduced into the Soviet navy in 1981 - have been maintained.
However, a statement from the Office of Naval Intelligence, in response to a query from USA TODAY, raises concern about the missiles the ship carries. Code-named Sunburns, the missiles travel at twice the speed of sound and can be equipped with nuclear or 500-pound high-explosive warheads. The Sunburn, the office said, "provides more of everything: greater speed, more range, better accuracy, greater punch and higher maneuverability".
At his confirmation hearing Oct. 28 to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, retired admiral Joseph Prueher sidestepped a question about whether the missiles would be nuclear-tipped. Prueher, former chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said that the United States has developed ways of dealing with the ship but conceded that U.S. and Taiwanese forces would have "to adjust their tactical thinking" if it was introduced into the Chinese fleet".