For the last 70 years, the centerpiece of US naval strategy –and, indeed, essential for the projection of American power around the globe– has been the aircraft carrier. Born of necessity after the disaster at Pearl Harbor decimated our battleships, the carrier battle group has been an effective tool of hard power for American presidents of both parties when the time came to show a foe we were serious. They provide the United States with a flexible and rapidly deployed instrument, and any plans to challenge us must find a way to neutralize them.
Something the Chinese may be on the verge of doing:
The Chinese have made significant progress on a missile system designed to sink a moving aircraft carrier from nearly 2,000 miles away, according to the top U.S. commander in the Pacific.
China’s anti-ship missile system has reached the rough equivalent of what the U.S. military terms as “initial operational capability,” Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said in an interview with Japan’s Asahi newspaper Tuesday.
At the heart of the system is the Dong Feng 21D, a mobile, land-based missile that is projected to strike a carrier from between 1,200 and 1,800 miles, depending on its payload and other factors.
Willard said that the “component parts of the anti-ship ballistic missile have been developed and tested,” according to Asahi.
The missile has not yet been flight-tested over water, Willard acknowledged.
A report at Fox News relays opinions from experts that the Chinese are a decade away from developing the guidance systems need to give the Dong Feng 21D the needed accuracy, but we all know how perceptive outside observers were about developments in the Indian nuclear program. (Hint: we were caught completely by surprise.) We shouldn’t rest easy.
What makes a weapon like this all the more threatening is that, being land-based and mobile, they can be very hard to find and put out of action. Our experience hunting missile launchers firing at Israel in Gulf War I bears witness to that.
The possibility of deployed Dong Feng 21Ds will have to factor into any actions we take during periods of tension or crisis in East Asia. Both Korea and Taiwan are potential flash-points for conflict, as are Chinese claims to international waters. Whenever there has been friction with China involving any of these, we have deployed carriers to the area to demonstrate our resolve. The new Chinese missile threatens to make that a much riskier proposition.
Of course, military technology is a game of call-and-raise. Whenever someone has developed a new offensive weapon, the other guy has found a way to counteract it — and vice-versa. Sword met shield, armor met gun, and radar met stealth. One can bet that the US Navy is looking for ways to parry the Dong Feng 21D before it’s even deployed.
We’d better hope they find them.
RELATED: A very interesting article at The Diplomat on China’s risky bet against history, with a comparison to Germany prior to World War I.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)