Dr. Andrew Erickson is a professor at the U.S. Naval War Collegeís China Maritime Studies Institute and a Truman Security Fellow. This is his first post for Danger Room; these are solely his personal views.
Last week, Adm. Robert Willard, the head of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), made an alarming but little-noticed disclosure. China, he told legislators, was ďdeveloping and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 [medium-range ballistic missile] designed specifically to target aircraft carriers.Ē
What, exactly, does this mean? Evidence suggests that China has been developing an anti-ship ballistic missile, or ASBM, since the 1990s. But this is the first official confirmation that it has advanced (.pdf) to the stage of actual testing.
If they can be deployed successfully, Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles would be the first capable of targeting a moving aircraft-carrier (.pdf) strike group from long-range, land-based mobile launchers. And if not countered properly, this and other ďasymmetricĒ systems ó ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, torpedoes and sea mines ó could potentially threaten U.S. operations in the western Pacific, as well as in the Persian Gulf.
Willardís disclosure should come as little surprise: Chinaís interest in developing ASBM and related systems has been documented in Department of Defense (.pdf) and National Air and Space Intelligence Center (.pdf) reports, as well as by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and the Congressional Research Service. Senior officials ó including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair (.pdf) and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead ó have pointed to the emerging threat as well.
In November 2009, Scott Bray, ONIís Senior Intelligence Officer-China, said that Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile development ďhas progressed at a remarkable rate.Ē In the span of just over a decade, he said, ďChina has taken the ASBM program from the conceptual phase to nearing an operational capability.Ö China has elements of an [over-the-horizon] network already in place and is working to expand its horizon, timeliness and accuracy.Ē
When someone of Brayís stature makes that kind of statement, attention is long overdue.
Equally intriguing has been the depiction of this capability in the Chinese media. A lengthy November 2009 program about anti-ship ballistic missiles (video) broadcast on China Central Television Channel 7 (Chinaís official military channel) featured an unexplained ó and rather badly animated ó cartoon sequence. This curious 'toon features a sailor who falsely assumes that his carrierís Aegis defense systems can destroy an incoming ASBM as effectively as a cruise missile, with disastrous results.
The full program is available in three segments (parts 1, 2, and 3) on YouTube. Skip to 7:18 on the second clip to view this strange, and somewhat disturbing, segment.
Likewise, Chinese media seem to be tracking PACOMís statements about this more closely than the U.S. press. The graphic above is drawn from an article on Dongfang Ribao (Oriental Daily), the website of a Shanghai newspaper.
Beijing has been developing an ASBM capability at least since the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Crisis. That strategic debacle for China likely convinced its leaders to never again allow U.S. carrier strike groups to intervene in what they consider to be a matter of absolute sovereignty. And Chinaís military, in an apparent attempt to deter the United States from intervening in Taiwan and other claimed areas on Chinaís disputed maritime periphery, seems intent on dropping significant hints of its own progress.
U.S. ships, however, will not offer a fixed target for Chinaís DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles. Military planning documents like the February 2010 Joint Operating Environment (.pdf) and Quadrennial Defense Review (.pdf) clearly recognize Americaís growing ďanti-accessĒ challenge, and the QDR ó the Pentagonís guiding strategy document ó charges the U.S. military with multiple initiatives to address it.
In a world where U.S. naval assets will often be safest underwater, President Obamaís defense budget supports building two submarines a year and investing in a new ballistic-missile submarine. And developing effective countermeasures against anti-ship ballistic missiles is a topic of vigorous discussion in Navy circles. The United States is clearly taking steps to prevent this kind of weapon from changing the rules of the game in the Western Pacific, but continued effort will be essential for U.S. maritime forces to preserve their role in safeguarding the global commons.
Fears grow that PLA may test 'carrier killer'
Jun 30, 2010
Whenever China conducts military exercises or tests, the growing band of foreign analysts charting its modernisation wonder whether it will launch the game-changer - the so-called "aircraft-carrier killer" that no nation has yet tested.
In some military and diplomatic circles, fears are mounting that the live firing tests in the East China Sea announced on Monday and due to start today could see China attempt to launch its first anti-ship ballistic missile.
The ASBM represents one of the People's Liberation Army's most controversial weapons - harnessing technology that the US and the former Soviet Union pledged never to pursue.
Wary of its costs and dangers, Washington and Moscow agreed to ban the development of such a weapon towards the end of the cold war.
By firing a ballistic missile in a conflict - a rocket that would traditionally carry a nuclear warhead - to strike a single ship, China would risk a catastrophic miscalculation by its enemies, who might fear they were under nuclear attack and therefore retaliate in kind.
The weapon apparently under development by the PLA's Second Artillery would see a variant of the DF-21D medium-range missile carry a technologically-advanced warhead that would break in the last stages of flight and manoeuvre itself towards a target, such as an aircraft carrier.
Fired from a mobile launcher, Beijing knows such a weapon would have a considerable deterrent effect, forcing a dramatic rethink of how the US deploys its aircraft carriers, particularly the one permanently based with the Seventh Fleet in Japan.
Respected US-based military scholar Dr Andrew Erickson said that while he had no specific information, this could be the week.
"We cannot rule out that possibility," Erickson, an associate professor at the China Maritime Studies Institute of the US Naval War College, said. "Beijing has reason to believe that multiple days of tests will receive significant attention and even trigger adverse political reactions.
"So for the tests to be worthwhile, they would probably have to not only produce useful technical results but also have significant deterrent effects in the eyes of China's decision-makers ... These standards could only be met if the tests were sophisticated and successful."
In an unusual move, the PLA announced on Monday that the tests would run over six days, and ordered vessels to keep out of designated areas.
The tests come amid a freeze in Sino-US military exchanges and as the United States and South Korea prepare for high-profile anti-submarine exercises in the Yellow Sea - a move Beijing has objected to, fearing the drills would further raise tensions in the wake of North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
South Korean press reports said the exercises were due to start this week and would involve the aircraft carrier the USS George Washington. Pentagon officials said the start date, details and precise location had yet to be finalised - but said the US had every right to exercise with its treaty ally, South Korea, in international waters.
The George Washington is currently steaming off Okinawa.
Chinese military officials reportedly denied the live firing drills were intended as a rebuke to Washington and Seoul.
Erickson noted a number of indications that China had reached the point where advanced ASBM tests were possible and needed for a weapon "that China has so clearly prioritised".
He cited the reported completion of a rocket motor factory for the DF-21D and the recent launch of five advanced Yaogan satellites. Three of those had been placed in the same orbit in March, giving improved coverage of China's maritime periphery.
The timing of tests this week could reflect the "desire to pressure the US Navy not to hold exercises involving carrier strike groups with its South Korean counterpart in areas near China's territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, and the perception that the July 4 weekend would be a time of reduced press coverage and activity", Erickson said.
It was likely China wanted international scrutiny of such a test, he added.
Several Asian and European military attaches said that China would soon have to test its weapon.
"If you are going to prove that you have a deterrent, it pays to let people know you've got it," one veteran Asian military attache said. "And China's leadership will want to know that this weapon is feasible before they rely on it as a key part of their strategic thinking. Quite when is the burning question."
Gary Li, a PLA analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said mainland reports suggested China would use its fleet of Houbei Type 022 fast missile vessels as part of the tests. These ultra-fast catamarans are designed to fire cruise missiles at carriers in "hit-and-run" attacks.
Its eastern sea fleet submarines had also apparently left port, he said, suggesting that the PLA could be preparing for wide-ranging anti-carrier operations.
Erickson noted that China had long-planned "saturation" attacks on a carrier strike group, harnessing a range of weapons from fast missile boats to ballistic missiles launched from land.
"We might therefore expect the PLA to test a variety of missiles from a variety of platforms, both to test progress [of capabilities] ... as well as a high level of
but what about"harnessing technology that the US and the former Soviet Union pledged never to pursue.
Wary of its costs and dangers, Washington and Moscow agreed to ban the development of such a weapon towards the end of the cold war."
BMD support? Get off the DoD Kool-Aid please. USN just plays it up to get more funding for the SM-3. China can't even land a ballistic missile with pinpoint accuracy on an immobile target, much less hitting a moving naval platform.
The much feared 'carrier-killer weapon' of PLA may exist or not, and if it does exist it may succeed or not, one thing that is for certain however, is that the world will have to get used to a chinese military that is befitting china's growing economy. While on per capital basis I don't see it happening any time soon, as whole China very well could over take US as world's largest economy, both in PPP term of in nominal term, within 20 years. Then there is no reason why china should not have a military as powerful as US's.
WTF????? Why these exaggerations about fear? If they are testing a weapon so we should also fear in the same fashion as (irrational) US is trembling; when will media learn objectivity and not make a Hill out of a mole!!!!!
Chinese 'Carrier-Killer' Missile Could Reshape Sea Combat
China is developing an unprecedented new missile that is designed to be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier from a distance of more than 900 miles, sources say.
Initial reports on the new missile suggest it could reshape conflicts at sea, but U.S. weapons experts told FoxNews.com that it's no game-changer, nor a revolutionary threat to America's aircraft carriers -- which are the center of U.S. Pacific defense strategy.
"Some have called it a game-changer. I would dispute that claim," said Toshi Yoshihara, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
When complete, the Dong Feng 21D -- a version of which was displayed last year in a Chinese military parade -- would give China the ability to reach and hit U.S. aircraft carriers well before the U.S. can get close enough to the mainland to hit back.
A nuclear bomb could theoretically sink a carrier, too, assuming its sender was willing to raise the stakes to atomic levels. The conventionally armed DF 21D's uniqueness is its ability to hit a powerfully defended moving target with pinpoint precision.
"The emerging Chinese anti-ship missile capability, and in particular the DF 21D, represents the first post-Cold War capability that is both potentially capable of stopping our naval power projection -- and deliberately designed for that purpose," said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the nonpartisan, Washington-based Center for a New American Security.
Details of the missile are still unknown, and the county has yet to test the system. Yoshihara said China would need to rely on a range of technologies to track boats and guide the warhead to a moving target like a carrier.
"There would be several layers of sensors, including over-the-horizon radar, which would help track surface units. They also have airborne sensors to look out into the Pacific, as well as space-based satellites to track a strike group." Three layers of targets would provide a very accurate snapshot with which to precisely guide a missile.
But questions remain about how fast China will be able to perfect its accuracy to the level needed to threaten a moving carrier at sea.
"This is probably one of the biggest mysteries," Yoshihara said. "My quick answer is we don‚Äôt know."
"Yes it's a very large target, but it's operating in the vast expanse of the Pacific. Besides, we're talking about a warhead falling onto the earth at 10 times the speed of sound. How do you guide it in pinpoint fashion?"
Even as the Chinese are developing the DF 21D, the U.S. Navy is working on counter technologies. "They're already investing in missile-defense systems designed specifically to defend against anti-ship ballistic missiles," Yoshihara pointed out.
This isn't the first time such a system has been attempted; the Soviet Union tried to build anti-ship ballistic missiles during the Cold War -- and abandoned the program as too challenging.
Meanwhile, weapons such as the nuclear bomb were far more important factors in changing the shape of military conflicts, Yoshihara noted. "The advent of an anti-ship ballistic missile simply increases the cost of us contemplating intervention in, say, Taiwan," he noted. Such a missile system may give military commanders second thoughts before engaging in a certain area, or reduce U.S. options in times of crisis, he added.
Still, there have been enough advancements in technology that such a missile system is far more realistic than before -- a question of when rather than whether. Ultimately, the new missiles may lead to long-term shifts in strategy more than anything.
Should the U.S. adjust its investment from air to sea, and boost research and spending in submarines? And do pinpoint accurate missiles alter the military's strategy, since formerly safe bases in the area are equal targets?
"If those missiles can reach carriers in the open ocean, they can target critical naval bases all along the Pacific Rim," Yoshihara said.
"That challenges the basic principle of American power projections in the Far East."
China‚Äôs anti-ship missile not a threat to India: Navy
Playing down speculation that China‚Äôs new anti-ship missile programme, which is being termed as the ‚Äėaircraft carrier killer missile‚Äô, is a threat to India, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma has said destroying a warship at sea is a complex problem given its multiple defence layers.
Taking a more measured stance than his predecessor Admiral Sureesh Mehta who raised repeated red flags over China‚Äôs growing maritime capabilities, Admiral Verma said that targeting warships in the high seas was not an easy task and the most difficult task is to spot the ship.
‚ÄúThere are hundreds and thousands of ships in the sea at any time. It is extremely important to spot the ship before targeting it. This presents limitations in terms of maritime reconnaissance and long-range searches,‚ÄĚ Verma said, responding to queries on the Chinese system. The Navy Chief was talking to reporters after delivering a lecture at a seminar on aircraft carriers organised by the National Maritime Foundation here.