China’s DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles could wreak havoc on US aircraft carriers

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Long-standing US concerns about Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles seem well-founded, according to a recent congressional research report that says Chinese missiles could likely wreak havoc on US aircraft carriers.

Top US commanders believe China’s stockpile of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) can strike moving targets, according to a March 8 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on China’s naval capabilities. This capability would virtually prevent the US Navy from accessing an area thousands of miles off the Chinese coast.

The report notes: “A December 3, 2020 news article stated that Admiral Philip Davidson, the Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, confirmed, for the first time from the US government side, that the People’s Army of liberation of China has successfully tested an anti – ballistic missile against a moving ship.

“China would also develop hypersonic glide vehicles which, if integrated with Chinese ASBMs, could make Chinese ASBMs more difficult to intercept.” In addition, China will have 425 combat ships by 2030, according to the report, compared to a current total of less than 300 in the United States.

The new report also reinforces earlier concerns expressed by many US military leaders in the context of a comprehensive assessment of Chinese capabilities.

Last year, the former head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson, told a Senate panel that in August 2020 the Chinese military conducted a coordinated test launch of its best anti-ship ballistic missile in the South China Sea to send an “unequivocal message.”

“These medium-range anti-ship ballistic missiles are capable of attacking aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific,” Davidson said, identifying the DF-21D as one of the deadly missiles in China’s arsenal. “Their employment in a large-scale PLA exercise demonstrates the PLA’s focus on countering any potential third-party intervention during a regional crisis.”

A Chinese rocket brigade practiced rapidly transferring DF-26 ballistic missiles to another location to launch a second wave of missiles. Photo: Xinhua

The DF-21D remains central to China’s policy of deterring military action off its eastern coast by threatening to destroy the main sources of US force projection in the region, the aircraft carrier battle groups.

In January 2011, Vice Admiral Jack Dorsett, then Chief of Naval Intelligence, told reporters that the Pentagon had underestimated China’s development and deployment of the DF-21D missiles.

However, the DF-21D is not the only Chinese missile that worries the United States. Another missile, the DF-26, is the most critical missile in Beijing’s arsenal to limit American mobility. This long-range missile is often referred to as “Guam Killer” by many defense analysts.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, China today has between 750 and 1,500 short-range ASBMs with 250 launchers, 150-450 medium-range ballistic missiles with 150 launchers and between 80 and 160 long-range missiles. with 80 launchers. launchers.

The DF-21 intermediate-range missile has a range of 1,500 kilometers, while the DF-26 long-range missile has a range of 4,000 kilometers.

File:Dong-Feng 26.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Dong-Feng 26 – Wikimedia Commons

The American air base in Guam is nearly 3,000 kilometers from the Chinese coast, well within range of the DF-26. According to an analysis by RAND Corporation, the U.S. facility at Kadena, which is “the only major U.S. air base within unsupplied range of the Taiwan Strait,” is 816 kilometers from Shanghai.

It is also well within range of Chinese intermediate-range missiles.

“China’s navy is a key part of a Chinese challenge to the United States’ longstanding status as the primary military power in the Western Pacific.

Some U.S. observers are expressing concern or concern about the pace of China’s shipbuilding effort and the resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes and capabilities of the Chinese Navy and the U.S. Navy,” the report said. report.

The US Response

Concerns about the DF-21D threat may have influenced the US Navy‘s decision to focus on ballistic missile-intercepting air defense vessels, such as the Arleigh Burke Flight III, on platforms such as as the Littoral Combat Ship and the DDG-1000. .

However, existing US defenses can be overwhelmed by missile barrages. Additionally, no existing anti-missile system is capable of countering hypersonic glide vehicles.

The CRS report warns, “The Chinese Navy is seen as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue water ocean areas in the Western Pacific – the first challenge of the type that the US Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War.”

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Artist’s rendering of a hypersonic missile (via Twitter)

Other alternatives being considered by the United States include SSGN-launched cruise missiles and hypersonic assault vehicles, which would attack Chinese bases before the second artillery can launch the missiles. The EurAsian Times had recently reported that the United States plans to deploy its first hypersonic weapon on a warship in early 2023.

The United States is also likely working on cybernetic, electrical, and physical methods to tamper with China’s reconnaissance and communications systems. The United States is also diversifying its capabilities.

Amphibious assault ships, as the US Navy refers to its fleet of light aircraft carriers, are capable of performing much of the “strategic influence” task currently performed by supercarriers. This could allow the Navy to be more flexible in its operations.

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