For more than a century, surface warships have been struggling to survive against mines, submarines, aircraft and, more recently, cruise missiles. Now Chinaâ€™s rapid development of a sophisticated anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) raises the threat to a new level.
The U.S. Navy, mindful of the threat and no less focused on advancing its technologies to protect its fleet, remains confident in its ability to project naval power globally on the surface as well as under water. But for less technologically advanced navies of the Asia-Pacific region, it is becoming difficult to see how in the decades ahead they can stand up to an opponent that can target surface ships with hypersonic homing warheads that can range more than 1,500 km (900 mi.)â€”and perhaps much farther.
China Daily is citing a range of 2,700 km for the revolutionary missile, the DF-21D, presenting the crucial data point in a report based on comments by the chief of the Chinese general staff, Gen. Chen Bingde. The Pentagon said last year the DF-21Dâ€™s range is â€śin excess of 1,500 km.â€ť
If not a journalistic error, the statement means that U.S. aircraft carriers launching strike missions while keeping clear of DF-21Ds would need aircraft with even longer ranges than thought. It means that the DF-21Ds can be safely kept further inland. And, for Asian navies, it means the whole South China Sea can be covered from Guangdong, a Chinese province where DF-21Ds are based.
Chinaâ€™s second key revelation about the DF-21D is that it is still in development, though the U.S. has said it is in service.
â€śThe missile is still undergoing experimental testing and will be used as a defensive weapon when it is successfully developed, not an offensive one,â€ť says Chen. â€śIt is a high-tech weapon and we face many difficulties in getting funding, advanced technologies and high-quality personnel, which are all underlying reasons why it is hard to develop this.â€ť
Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in December that the DF-21D had reached the equivalent of initial operational capability. Taiwan has also said China has begun to deploy the missile. Yet Chenâ€™s comments, made after a meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Adm. Michael Mullen, imply that any DF-21Ds that have been deployed are not regarded as fully developed.
â€śItâ€™s possible that an initial ASBM variant could be more basic,â€ť says Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, an Asia-focused think tank in Arlington, Va. â€śThen maybe a follow-on variant could integrate some of the more sophisticated technologies, such as a high-altitude radar system.â€ť
U.S. Naval War College Prof. Andrew Erickson says the tone of Chenâ€™s remarks â€ścould be interpreted to reflect a high level of uncertainly and ambivalence about the missileâ€™s immediate prospects, directed at a Chinese audience through Chinese media.
â€śViewed in this light, the three factors Gen. Chen outlinesâ€”funding, technology, talentâ€”may be viewed as serious constraints, even bottlenecks, in the challenging task of successfully maturing and integrating an ASBM system of systems.â€ť
To Read more - China Details Anti-ship Missile Plans | AVIATION WEEK