25 December 2010

China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Updated With Latest Analysis & Sources

First posted 28 March 2010, updated until 25 December 2010 with additional analysis and sources:


Open source data offer significant evidence that China has prioritized and is proceeding rapidly with anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) development. A variety of Chinese sources have stated a desire to demonstrate the ability to threaten carrier strike groups (CSGs). China’s ASBM “has undergone repeated tests and it is probably very close to being operational.” There are diverse, increasing indications that China has reached the point where various components of ASBM-related programs are reaching an advanced state and that ASBM tests could be fairly sophisticated in nature. While system components may be tested separately, and on the ground in many cases, fully integrated flight test(s) are likely to be necessary to give the PLA confidence in approving full-scale production and deploying ASBMs in a full operational state. At some point, such tests would be a necessary step to reach the next level in ASBM development–and to attempt to use the ASBM as a deterrent, which appears to be Beijing’s central reason for developing the system in the first place.

Indeed, a recent series of apparent flight tests, while not linked conclusively to the DF-21D ASBM, suggests that China is placing particular emphasis on ballistic missile testing of late.

In his well-regarded Information Dissemination blog, Galrahn addresses a variety of recent claims of ‘UFO sightings’ over various parts of China, most recently over Baotou, Inner Mongolia. He emphasizes that it appears that “China has conducted on average [of] two tests of major ballistic missiles [per month] over the last 4 months. That is a lot of ballistic missile testing in a short time.”

In 6 October 2010 edition of the Washington Times, Bill Gertz reports that China conducted a long-range missile test on 25 September:

“A U.S. official confirmed that China’s military fired a missile from the Taiyuan missile center, about 320 miles southwest of Beijing, to Korla, a city in western China some 1,800 miles away.”

“China watchers in Asia and the United States were alerted to the test by a Sept. 23 ‘notice to airmen’ issued by the Chinese government. The notice warned aircraft to stay clear of a corridor of airspace stretching from Taiyuan to Korla until Sept. 25.”

“Since the test, an official wall of silence has gone up. There was hope that China would announce the missile firing as it did in January, when a missile defense interceptor test was disclosed in a brief public statement. The silence may be a sign that the missile test was a failure.”

More likely, analysts say, the test showed some new military capability of China’s growing missile forces that the government does not want to advertise, notably the high-technology anti-ship ballistic missile, based on a modified DF-21 medium-range missile.”

On 6 September 2010, an editorial in the English-language edition of the nationalistic Chinese newspaper Global Times quoted the statement by Admiral Willard referenced below, and advocated forcefully that “China needs powerful” ASBMs and other “carrier-destroying measures.” The editorial elaborated:

“Since US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Pacific constitute deterrence against China’s strategic interests, China has to possess the capacity to counterbalance.”

To end “speculation” by Western intelligence agencies: “China ought to convince the international community of its reliable carrier-killing capacity as soon as possible….”

“While developing its anti-ship missile capacity, China should also let Westerners know under what circumstances will such weaponry be used.”

“An external anxiety over China’s development of its military is somewhat understandable. The greater strategic deterrence China possesses, the more cautious it should be in using force. China should carefully explore how to present its deterrence. This is a new subject for China.”

Here it must be emphasized that Global Times (环球时报, Huanqiu Shibao) is not an official newspaper. Published on weekdays, it focuses on international issues and foreign reaction to developments in China. But it is sponsored by and produced under the auspices of People’s Daily (人民日报, Renmin Ribao), the official daily newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.

In any case, these are extremely pointed statements on a strategically-important–and previously sensitive–subject. It will be interesting to see if the editorial’s recommendations are heeded. Specifically, will China “soon” demonstrate what it perceives to be “reliable carrier-killing capacity”? Will China explicitly offer transparency regarding its intended use of anti-ship missile capacity as a deterrent? Finally, is this simply the opinion of a limited number of individuals, or is it some form of a ‘trial balloon’ to probe how other nations might react to such actions?

During remarks to North Carolina ROTC students on 29 September 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized the need to factor ASBM development into future carrier operations.

Midshipman First Class Travis Rapp, Duke Navy ROTC: “Given the impending budget cuts across the Department of Defense, and I heard you questioned the expansion of Navy carrier strike groups, what do you see as the sustainable fleet of the future?”

Sec. Gates: “What I’ve been trying to do is get people to think about—this goes back to the first question—is about adaptability. If the Chinese or somebody else has a highly accurate anti-ship cruise or ballistic missile that can take out a carrier at hundreds of miles of ranges and therefore in Asia puts us back behind the second island chain, how then do you use carriers differently in the future than we’ve used them in the past?

“I’m trying to get people to think about how do we use [carriers] in a world environment where other countries will have the capability, between their missile capabilities and their satellite capabilities, to knock out a carrier if you get to a certain point… within range.”

At the very end of a lengthy interview in the September 2010 issue of Seapower (p. 39), Undersecretary of the U.S. Navy Robert O. Work addressed a broader but closely-related issue: that of increasing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenges to U.S. forces.

Seapower: “What issues regarding the department keep you awake at night?”

Work: “Two are central all the time. What keeps me up at night is making sure that we do not break the all-volunteer force…. Second, we’re really focused on the war in Afghanistan as we should be, but [Defense] Secretary [Robert M.] Gates has just asked the Navy and the Marine Corps to say how we’re going to operate in what he terms an anti-access area denial environment where the enemy has a battle network that is as capable as our own and has the ability to fire lots of guided weapons. We’ve never faced an enemy like that before. We have essentially had a monopoly on guided weapons warfare since the early ’90s.”

On 24 August 2010, Admiral Robert F. Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), made the following statement to Japanese media in Tokyo:

To our knowledge, [China’s ASBM] has undergone repeated tests and it is probably very close to being operational.”

A 16 August 2010 background briefing by a Senior U.S. Department of Defense official indicates that China still needs to successfully integrate its ASBM with C4ISR in order to operationalize it:

“We continue to be concerned about their efforts to development this—this particular system. I would say the primary area… where we see them still facing roadblocks is in integrating the missile system with the C4-ISR. And they still have a ways to go before they manage to get that integrated so that they have an operational and effective system.”

“But nonetheless, this is an area that, for all the obvious reasons, remains, you know, of great concern for us.”

The 2010 U.S. Department of Defense Report on China’s Military offers a general background:

“Augmented by direct acquisition of foreign weapons and technology, [defense industry] reforms have enabled China to develop and produce advanced weapon systems that incorporate mid-1990s technology in many areas, and some systems—particularly ballistic missiles—that rival any in the world today.” (p. 43)

“Production trends and resource allocation appear to favor missile and space systems….” (p. 44).

“China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world. It is developing and testing several new classes.” (p. 1)

“China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) based on a variant of the CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). The missile has a range in excess of 1,500 km, is armed with a maneuverable warhead, and when integrated with appropriate command and control systems, is intended to provide the PLA the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.” (p. 2)

“The PLA is acquiring conventional MRBMs to increase the range at which it can conduct precision strikes against land targets and naval ships, including aircraft carriers, operating far from China’s shores out to the first island chain.” (p. 31)

“The PLA Navy is improving its over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting capability with Sky Wave and Surface Wave OTH radars. OTH radars could be used in conjunction with imagery satellites to assist in locating targets at great distances from PRC shores to support long range precision strikes, including by anti-ship ballistic missiles.” (p. 2)

“Over the long term, improvements in China’s C4ISR, including space-based and over-the-horizon sensors, could enable Beijing to identify, track, and target military activities deep into the western Pacific Ocean.” (p. 37)

Based on sophisticated organizational analysis, Mark Stokes and Tiffany Ma suggest that the Second Artillery may be constructing ASBM missile brigade facilities in the northern Guangdong Province municipality of Shaoguan (韶关):

“Last week, China’s state-run media quietly announced the construction of facilities for a new Second Artillery missile brigade – the 96166 Unit – in the northern Guangdong municipality of Shaoguan… the province is already home to a Second Artillery short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) brigade (the 96169 unit in Meizhou)….”

“Although the introduction of the 1,700km range solid fuelled, terminally guided DF-21C ballistic missile into Guangdong is possible, the brigade is also a candidate to be the first unit equipped with the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The DF-21C, first introduced into the active inventory in 2005, is designed to attack fixed targets on land. If an ASBM is successful in passing the necessary design reviews and a sufficient sensor network is in place, the Shaoguan brigade could become the first in the PLA to field a lethal capability against moving targets at sea out to a range of 1,500-2,000km or more from launch sites.”

“The Second Artillery planned to finalize the design of the DF-21D by the end of 2010 and the establishment of a permanent deployment location often coincides with the design finalization of a new missile. However, an initial operational capability is likely a ways off, as a follow-on testing of a prototype design may be needed prior to certification for full-rate production.”

Shaoguan’s location near Hunan Province, with the inter-provincial Nanling mountains and tunnels through them that complicate satellite surveillance (under construction since at least 2008), offers significant advantages:

“Whether the unit is equipped with the DF-21C or the more advanced DF-21D maritime variant, the establishment of a conventionally-capable medium range ballistic missile brigade in Guangdong would decisively expand the Second Artillery’s striking radius. More specifically, it would enable the Second Artillery to support the Central Military Commission to enforce territorial claims in the South China Sea, or strike targets in a Taiwan-related contingency without having to overfly Japanese territory.”

Other recent indications of Chinese ASBM development progress include the reported completion of a DF-21D rocket motor facility in 2009 and the recent launch of 6 advanced Yaogan satellites (the most recent on 22 September 2010), three of which were apparently placed in the same orbit on 5 March–thereby perhaps offering better coverage of critical areas along China’s maritime periphery. Another possible indication is a recent news release attributed to China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) citing Wang Genbin, Deputy Director of its 4th Department, as stating that the DF-21D can hit “slow-moving targets” with a CEP (circular error probable, meaning half of missiles fired will strike within) of dozens of meters. Mark Stokes, a noted expert at the Project 2049 Institute on this and related issues, stated on 4 June 2010 that “odds are what you’re seeing now in terms of testing is… flight tests of the [DF-21D] motor itself and the airframe… the final step would be most likely going against a target at sea in a realistic environment.”

For detailed analysis of Chinese ASBM development and its larger strategic implications, see the presentation I gave at the at the Maritime Security Challenges Conference 2010, Maritime Forces Pacific, Canadian Navy, Victoria, British Columbia, 29 April 2010.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

(Scroll down for a second video of me narrating the CCTV clip mentioned here).


Admiral Robert F. Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), recently testified in writing before the House (25 March) and Senate (26 March) Armed Services Committees that “China is… developing and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 MRBM designed specifically to target aircraft carriers.” Admiral Willard’s testimony in this regard has been covered in the Washington Times, and is receiving extensive attention in the Chinese blogosphere. More broadly, Admiral Willard’s testimony offers an excellent overview of China’s military progress, which has been particularly rapid in key areas that offer the potential to hold U.S. military platforms at risk in the Western Pacific.

The hearings themselves are worth watching. For the key exchange in Admiral Willard’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, go to minute 29:35 on the webcast

Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), Ranking Committee Member:

“Admiral Willard, from PACOM’s perspective, how would you assess China’s intentions and capacity to develop and field disruptive technologies, including those for anti-access and area denial? Specifically, can you comment on China’s anti-ship ballistic missile capability and how it’s evolving?”

Admiral Willard:

“Thank you, Congressman McKeon. I can, and thanks for the question. The China military capacity has been growing by and large unabated for the past 10 to 20 years. The past 10 years have been pretty dramatic, and as you suggest, this has included investments in what has broadly been termed anti-access capabilities. Area denial capability is another way to think about it. And these range from the investments in submarine capabilities, to investments in integrated air and missile defense capabilities, to—as you suggest—anti-ship ballistic missile capabilities at extended ranges from the mainland of China….”

That afternoon, Admiral Willard elaborated at a press conference:

Admiral Robert Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, “U.S. Military Overview of Asia-Pacific,” The Foreign Press Center, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., 3:33 PM EDT, 25 March 2010.

Question: “Thank you, Admiral. Betty Lin of the World Journal. Some members – some congressional members this morning were interested in the anti-ship ballistic missile threat. Could you talk about how significant the threat is and how PACOM is preparing to address the threat? And in your past dealings with the Chinese, have you talked about this? And what was their response for that?”

Admiral Willard: “Yeah, thank you. What is being referred to as a technology development, a capability development by the People’s Republic of China to develop a ballistic missile with anti-ship capabilities – inside a broader collection of capabilities that represent anti-access, a term used to describe kind of a forward power projection capability from mainland China. Each of those capabilities are concerning without a knowledge of how they’re intended to be applied in the future.”

“So trying to understand what the ballistic – anti-ship ballistic missile system is designed for and against, and its relation with other anti-access capabilities – what that strategy entails is very much an issue that we would like to discuss mil-to-mil with the Chinese. I think this raises the importance of a continuous military-to-military dialogue, which, as you know, is currently suspended as a consequence of our announcement of the former Taiwan arms sale.”

“The issues with the PRC that we would like to discuss military- to-military include areas that we have opportunities to engage, areas of common interest, and then very frankly, these areas of broader uncertainty or concern. I think both governments and both militaries would benefit from that continuous dialogue.”

The Senate Armed Service Committee hearing lacked a direct exchange on Chinese ASBM development. The closest equivalent came in response to a question from Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), when Admiral Willard discussed growth in Chinese access denial capabilities. See minute 102:29 of the webcast.

Even as China is improving its potential ability to hold U.S. aircraft carriers at risk, it is developing one of its own. In his written testimony, Admiral Willard stated, “China’s leaders are pursuing an aircraft carrier capability. In 1998 China purchased an incomplete former Soviet KUZNETSOV class aircraft carrier, which began renovations in 2002 at its shipyard in Dalian. I expect this carrier to become operational around 2012 and likely be used to develop basic carrier skills.”

In my personal opinion (as with all other writing on this website):

What is China doing, and why? Mounting evidence from Chinese doctrinal, service, technical, trade, and netizen publications suggests that China has been developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) since the 1990s; now there is official confirmation that it has advanced to the stage of actual testing. This should dispel notions previously held by some that Beijing could not, or would not, develop an ASBM. I know my own understanding of the issue has evolved considerably since Cortez Cooper and I testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in March 2007, when I said: “China is… thought to be in the process of developing anti-ship homing warheads for its ballistic missiles, which is a very worrisome development. If they work, they would be extraordinarily difficult to defend against.” Three years later, almost to the day, many uncertainties remain, but the seriousness with which Beijing is pursuing ASBM capability is not one of them.

China’s progress in this area, while disturbing, should surprise no one. Chinese development of ASBM systems and related capabilities has been documented publicly by previous U.S. government unclassified analyses (from the Department of Defense, National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Office of Naval Intelligence, and Congressional Research Service) as well as statements by senior officials (including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead). In November 2009, Scott Bray, Senior Intelligence Officer-China, ONI, stated that: “ASBM development has progressed at a remarkable rate…. In a little over a decade, China has taken the ASBM program from the conceptual phase to nearing an operational capability. …China has elements of an [over-the-horizon] network already in place and is working to expand its horizon, timeliness and accuracy.” When the Navy’s Senior Intelligence Officer for China makes such a significant statement, attention is long overdue.

Congressional Research Service Naval Affairs Specialist Ronald O’Rourke offers a larger strategic context on pp. 3-4 of his 1 December 2010 report on “China Naval Modernization”:

DOD and other observers believe that the near-term focus of China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has been to develop military options for addressing the situation with Taiwan. Consistent with this goal, observers believe that China wants its military to be capable of acting as a so-called anti-access force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict involving Taiwan, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. naval and air forces. ASBMs, attack submarines, and supporting C4ISR systems are viewed as key elements of China’s emerging anti-access force, though other force elements—such as ASCMs, LACMs (for attacking U.S. air bases and other facilities in the Western Pacific), and mines—are also of significance. China’s emerging maritime anti-access force can be viewed as broadly analogous to the sea-denial force that the Soviet Union developed during the cold war to deny U.S. use of the sea or counter U.S. forces participating in a NATO- Warsaw Pact conflict. One potential difference between the Soviet sea-denial force and China’s emerging maritime anti-access force is that China’s force includes ASBMs capable of hitting moving ships at sea.”

It’s not hard to see why China is developing and testing an ASBM–it strongly desires the ability to both deter advocates of independence on Taiwan and to prevent U.S. carrier strike groups (CSG) from intervening effectively in the event of a future Taiwan Strait crisis. Beijing has defined its immediate strategic concerns clearly in this regard. More broadly, the Chinese are interested in achieving an ASBM capability because it offers them the prospect of limiting the ability of other nations, particularly the United States, to exert military influence on China’s maritime periphery, which contains several disputed zones of core strategic importance to Beijing. ASBMs are regarded as a means by which technologically limited developing countries can overcome by asymmetric means their qualitative inferiority in conventional combat platforms, because the gap between offense and defense is the greatest here.

Since at least the mid-1990s, China has been engaged in a variety of efforts to develop an ASBM; current programs revolve around the “Delta,” or “D,” variant of the DF-21/CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). Chinese open source publications provide strong indications that Beijing has been developing an ASBM at least since the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Crisis. This strategic debacle for China likely convinced its leaders to never again allow U.S. carrier strike groups intervene in what they consider to be a matter of absolute sovereignty.

What is China saying about its ASBM development? Quite a lot, actually, but no direct official statements so far… Even China’s military, in an apparent attempt to deter the U.S. from intervening vis-à-vis Taiwan and other claimed areas on China’s disputed maritime periphery, has provided significant hints of its own ASBM progress, as well as some thought-provoking mysteries. In an unexplained cartoon animation at the end of a lengthy 29 November 2009 program on ASBMs broadcast on China Central Television Channel 7 (China’s official military channel), a sailor falsely assumes that his carrier’s Aegis defense systems can destroy an incoming ASBM as effectively as a cruise missile, with disastrous results. The program is available in Parts 1, 2, and 3 on YouTube; start at minute 7:18 on the second clip to view this disturbing sequence. Here’s an English narration of the clip that I gave at the Maritime Security Challenges Conference 2010, Maritime Forces Pacific, Canadian Navy, Victoria, British Columbia, 29 April 2010:

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Still, Chinese officials have yet to address their nation’s ASBM development directly in an open public forum. On 26 October 2009 General Xu Caihou, Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China Central Military Commission, People’s Republic of China, delivered an address and entertained questions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C. Bloomberg reporter Tony Capaccio raised the ASBM issue with Gen. Xu: “Many analysts in the United States, reviewing China’s weapons, are wondering why China is developing anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles to use against the United States Navy if, in fact, your goal is cooperation with the United States Navy.” Gen. Xu did not respond directly, instead stating more broadly that ballistic and cruise missile development was necessary for mainland China to safeguard its interests vis-a-vis Taiwan: “Now I want to address the question related to suspicions about China’s research and development of weapons and equipment. I want to make clear that the limited weapons and equipment of China is entirely to meet the minimum requirement for maintaining national security. The research and development of weapons and equipment, including that of our cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, some of which were on display on our National Day military parade, is entirely for self-defense. In my meetings with my foreign friends, both within China and on my overseas tours, I’ve heard similar suspicions or misgivings about China’s effort in developing advanced weapons and equipment, so I want to add, here, that given the vast area of China, the severity of the challenges facing us and the heavy responsibility on the part of the PLA to guarantee national security, territorial integrity, it is – the limited capabilities and limited weapons and equipment is merely for the minimum requirement of national security. As you also know, China has yet to realize complete unification.” Click here to view the transcript. On the linked video, go to minute 81:35 for Tony Capaccio’s question and to minute 92:18 for Gen. Xu’s response.

What does this mean for the U.S.? If developed and deployed successfully, a Chinese ASBM system of systems would be the world’s first capable of targeting a moving carrier strike group from long-range, land-based mobile launchers. This could make defenses against it difficult and/or highly escalatory.

Various obstacles could limit China’s ability to deploy ASBMs effectively, particularly in the areas of detection, targeting, data fusion, joint service operations, and bureaucratic coordination. When it comes to targeting a carrier strike group, there will not be a sharp red line between no capability and full capability. Some Chinese writers believe that even the significant likelihood of a capability may have a large deterrent effect. The ASBM is envisioned primarily as a deterrent weapon by Chinese analysts; to many this makes it inherently “defensive” in nature.

But make no mistake: efforts at deterrence themselves, however envisioned, can have significant strategic consequences. In this regard, it is worth noting that Beijing has consistently opposed a wide variety of U.S. missile defense efforts; if a missile specifically designed to strike an aircraft carrier is “defensive,” then how can a system specifically designed to intercept an incoming missile not be “defensive,” and hence acceptable?

On a more disturbing note, authoritative PLA sources reveal overconfidence in China’s ability to control escalation, which is itself an extraordinary danger. Chinese ASBM deployment could increase bilateral and regional tensions and may only prompt U.S. forces to deploy countermeasures rather than prevent carrier strike group employment.

When assessing possible ASBM futures, the following bears remembering: China has prioritized ballistic missiles for decades, enjoys a formidable science and technology base, and can be expected to devote considerable resources and expertise to ASBM development. If and when the DF-21D is developed sufficiently, Beijing might reveal a dramatic weapon test to the world—with or without advance warning—in some way geared to influencing official and public opinion in Taiwan, the United States, Japan, and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific. Such an unprecedented public demonstration could be used to signal either growing Chinese power during a time of stability, or Beijing’s resolve in a time of diplomatic tension or crisis. If not addressed properly, a successful test could create the impression that American power projection capabilities—and the regional credibility that depends on them—had been dramatically diminished.

The fact of a hit, however manipulated and revealed, could change the strategic equation—much as the efficacy of the 20–21 July 1921 test-bombing of the battleship Ostfriesland was hotly contested by the U.S. Navy (and remains debated to this day), yet altered service budgets immediately and helped catalyze development of what later became the U.S. Air Force. Is there today a Chinese equivalent of Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (the iconoclastic visionary who championed the Ostfriesland demonstration to further the development of air power) eager to promote such a test to further the cause of the Second Artillery (China’s strategic rocket forces, which would likely control an ASBM) and its pioneering of new ways of warfare?

This much is clear: with the DF-21D ASBM, China appears to be intent on fielding a system that directly threatens U.S. carriers. If not countered properly, this could weaken the U.S. military alliances and reassurances that have helped maintain peace in the Western Pacific for over six decades, in part by preventing costly and dangerous arms races. The game and its governing rules are changing, whether we like it or not. Only through serious investment in counter-targeting efforts and other countermeasures can we prevent Beijing from changing the game uncontested.

What is being done to address this challenge? China’s ASBM is part of a much larger pattern in which the development and proliferation of various weapons systems–such as ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, and naval mines–threatens to hold U.S. platforms at risk in vital areas of the global maritime commons. Today U.S. operations in the Western Pacific appear most threatened in this regard, but similar challenges are emerging in the Persian Gulf, and might eventually materialize elsewhere.

The following, as reported in the December 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics, suggests a measured but proactive U.S. response:

“Adm. Patrick Walsh, the current commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, sees preparation as a way to avoid a future fight. ‘When we look at these sorts of developments, such as the ASBM, they are technological developments that we respect, but do not necessarily fear,’ Walsh says. ‘The key element in any sort of deterrent strategy is to make it clear to those who would use a given piece of technology that we have the means to counter it, and to maintain a technological edge.’”

Fortunately, U.S. ships will not offer a fixed target for such “asymmetric” weapons, including Chinese ASBMs. U.S. military planning documents, including the March 2010 Joint Operating Environment and February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)—the Pentagon’s guiding strategy document—clearly recognize America’s growing “anti-access” challenge; the QDR charges the U.S. military with multiple initiatives to address it.

For an indication that such a process is already well underway, see the following exchange at a 4 June 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:

Senator McCain: ‘Admiral Roughead, are you concerned about the reports… about the Chinese… acquiring… missiles that can… attack an aircraft carrier as far away as 1,200 miles…?’

Admiral Roughead: ‘Yes, sir. …I …see advances in ballistic missiles, as you have pointed out, and it was that development as well as [other factors] that was the basis for my decision to recommend that we truncate the DDG–1000 and invest more in our ability to conduct integrated air and missile defense Blue Water Antisubmarine Air Warfare.

Moreover, in a world where U.S. naval assets will often be safest underwater and in more dispersed networks, President Obama’s defense budget supports building two submarines a year and investing in a new ballistic-missile submarine, as well as a variety of missile defense systems.

Regarding missile defense, in response to an Asahi Shimbun reporter’s question regarding “how much of an actual threat China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) pose to the U.S. Navy,” Admiral Patrick Walsh, U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, stated in June 2010:

“I think it represents a continued advancement and maturing of technology. … If you remember, there were many, several years ago, who were critical of the missile defense program. Now we find the missile defense program as being something that’s essential to our ability to operate freely.”

How best to develop and implement ASBM countermeasures is a topic of vigorous discussion in U.S. Navy circles.

In addition to those in the U.S., civilian and military leaders in other nations are following Chinese ASBM development closely and considering relevant countermeasures. “As far as a weapon like ASBM is concerned, if it is operationally fielded, certainly it is a matter of concern,” Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma was quoted as stating on 2 December 2010. “The areas in which it (ASBM) will be deployed in our area of operation is something we need to look at. And certainly we need to have something in place with respect to ASBM-type of weapon and we will put it in place.”

The U.S. is already taking important steps to prevent a Chinese ASBM from changing the rules of the game in the Western Pacific, but continued effort and vigilance of the highest order will be essential. As Admiral Willard suggests, Chinese ASBM development should also be raised in sustained discussions with China’s military to help reduce misunderstanding and miscommunication, which could produce disastrous and unintended results.

The following links (most recent first) offer further background on Chinese ASBM development. If you know of others, please send them to me, together with any ideas and insights, by accessing the “Contact” tab on the toolbar above. And feel free to post your comments below.

Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Wikipedia.

DF-21,” Wikipedia.

Eric Sofge, China’s Deadliest Game,” Popular Mechanics (December 2010), pp. 78-85, 129.

Martin Andrew, A Strategic Assessment of  PLA Theatre Missile and ASAT Capabilities,” Air Power Australia Analyses, 3 December 2010.

China’s ASBM Programme Matter of Concern: Navy Chief,” Outlook India, 2 December 2010.

The Fourth Modernisation—A Special Report on China’s Place in the World: China is Becoming a Military Force to Reckon with in the Western Pacific. How Should America respond?,” The Economist, 2 December 2010.

Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 1 December 2010.

Douglas C. Peifer, China, the German Analogy, and the New AirSea Operational Concept,” Orbis, Vol. 55, No. 1 (2011), pp. 114-31.

CDR Christopher Dennis, Pondering life with China’s DF-21D ‘Carrier Killer’ Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Officer’s Call, 12 November 2010.

Ian Easton, China’s Secret Co-orbital Satellites: The Quiet Surge in Space,” AsiaEye, 9 November 2010.

Jim Bencivenga, Will U.S. Naval Power Sink?,” Christian Science Monitor, 25 October 2010.

Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Red Star Over The Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010).

China’s Carrier Killers,” Newsweek, 4 October 2010.

Capt. George Galdorisi, U.S. Navy (Retired), Antonio Siordia, and Scott C. Truver, ‘Tipping’ the Future Fleet,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 136, No. 10 (October 2010).

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Remarks by Secretary Gates to North Carolina ROTC Students,” 29 September 2010.

Seth Cropsey, Keeping the Pacific Pacific: The Looming U.S.-Chinese Naval Rivalry,” Foreign Affairs, 27 September 2010.

Mark A. Gunzinger, Sustaining America’s Strategic Advantage in Long-Range Strike (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 14 September 2010).

Andrew F. Krepinevich, China’s ‘Finlandization’ Strategy in the Pacific,” Wall Street Journal, 11 September 2010.

Andrew S. Erickson,China’s Evolving Anti-Access Approach: ‘Where’s the Nearest (U.S.) Carrier?’” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Vol. 10, No.18 (10 September 2010).

Galrahn, Clarity vs Ambiguity,” Information Dissemination, 8 September 2010.

Greg Grant, Chinese Media Calls for Carrier Killing Missile, Other Weapons,” Defense Tech, 7 September 2010.

China Needs Powerful ‘Carrier Killer’,” Global Times (English edition), 6 September 2010.

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Eric Talmadge, Chinese Missile Could Shift Pacific Power Balance,” Washington Times, 5 August 2010.

Wendell Minnick, China Builds First Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Base?,” Defense News, 5 August 2010.

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Grace V. Jean, Navy Aiming for Laser Weapons at Sea,” National Defense, August 2010.

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Signals in the Yellow Sea: China Tries to Deny U.S. Aircraft Carriers Access to International Waters,” Op-Ed, Wall Street Journal, 20 July 2010.

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Yoichi Kato, U.S. Commander Blasts Chinese Navy’s Behavior,” Asahi Shimbun, 15 June 2010.

Mark Stokes, Evolving Aerospace Trends in the Asia Pacific Region,” Panel Discussion: Implications of Aerospace Trends in Asia for the United States and the Region, Project 2049 Institute, Washington, DC, 4 June 2010.

DongFeng 21 (CSS-5) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile,” SinoDefence.com, 4 June 2010.

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Sean O’Connor, China’s OTH Network,” Imint & Analysis, 22 May 2010.

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China’s Maritime Moves Prove a Game-Changer,” Canberra Times, 17 May 2010, A9.

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Toshi Yoshihara, Chinese Missile Strategy and the U.S. Naval Presence in Japan: The Operational View from Beijing,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Summer 2010), pp. 39-62.

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Peter J. Brown, China’s Navy Cruises into Pacific Ascendancy,” Asia Times, 22 April 2010.

Mike Burleson,China’s Carrier Trap,” Carrier Alternative Weekly, 8 April 2010.

Wendell Minnick, Chinese Anti-ship Missile Could Alter U.S. Power,” Defense News, 5 April 2010, p. 6.

Greg Torode, Beijing Testing ‘Carrier Killer,’ US Warns,” South China Morning Post, 3 April 2010.

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Bill Gertz, Threat in Asia is Anti-Ship Missiles: China, Rogue Nations Watched,” Washington Times, 23 March 2010.

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王伟 [Wang Wei], 战术弹导弹对海洋略体系的影响” [The Effect of Tactical Ballistic Missiles on the Maritime Strategy System of China], 舰载武器 [Shipborne Weapons], no. 84 (August 2006), pp. 12–15, reprinted as Danling Cacioppo, China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), trans., Naval War College Review 61, no. 3 (Summer 2008), pp. 133–40.

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Richard Fisher, Jr., New Asian Missiles Target the Greater Asian Region,” International Assessment and Strategy Center, 24 July 2007.

Larry M. Wortzel, China’s Nuclear Forces: Operations, Training, Doctrine, Command, Control and Campaign Planning (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, 11 May 2007). See especially section on “Attacking Deployed Carrier Battle Groups,” pp. 12-14.

Cortez A. Cooper III, Statement Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “PLA Modernization in Traditional Warfare Capabilities” panel, “China’s Military Modernization and its Impact on the United States and the Asia-Pacific” hearing, Washington, DC, 29 March 2007.

Andrew S. Erickson, Statement Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “PLA Modernization in Traditional Warfare Capabilities” panel, “China’s Military Modernization and its Impact on the United States and the Asia-Pacific” hearing, Washington, DC, 29 March 2007, pp. 72-78.

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