20 September 2015

Does China’s New Missile Threaten US Power in the Pacific?

Paul Lewandowski, “Does China’s New Missile Threaten US Power in the Pacific?Parallax World, 16 September 2015.

The DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile was unveiled publicly at the Chinese Victory Day parade, raising questions about the US carrier fleet’s vulnerability in the Pacific. …

The Global Times… declared that, after nearly a decade of the weapon’s development, the DF-21D’s coming-out party signaled a more confident attitude from the PLA. 

“The demonstration [of the DF-21D], more candid than ever before in displaying the advanced and sensitive weapons, indicated military transparency and the country’s increasing confidence in its military strength,” the Global Times reported. …

Andrew Erickson, a professor in the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, believes the DF-21D’s appearance in the Victory Day parade is a genuine sign of China’s confidence in the weapon. 

“For [the DF-21D] to appear in the recent parade, it must already be operational and Beijing must already have a certain level of confidence in its basic capabilities,” Erickson told Parallax World in an email today.

Nonetheless, Erickson maintains that, although the DF-21D is operational, its supporting technology remains unproven against U.S. carriers defended by robust countermeasures. “The missiles themselves have been tested carefully and accepted into military service as operational hardware. The reconnaissance strike complex that supports them, by contrast, remains a work in progress,” he wrote in The National Interest this month.

The DF-21D relies on a complex web of technologies to guide it toward ships at sea as they unpredictably shift locations. Satellites, drones, naval vessels, or electronic surveillance must first locate the carrier group and then continuously track its location after a missile is launched. That information must be translated, processed, and reported to the warhead, which then makes mid-flight adjustments. According to Erickson, who was consulted for this article, these technologies “have not been openly and conclusively demonstrated to meet the requirement.” While China has moved quickly in recent years to improve supporting technologies, including more than two dozen satellites, it remains to be seen if the country can integrate tracking data at the speed needed to guide a warhead onto its target.

“China’s ability to use the missile against a moving target operating in the open ocean remains unproven,” Erickson reports. The Gobi Desert test, conducted in early 2014, reveals that the DF-21D can hit stationary targets with a reliable degree of accuracy, but there is no evidence the complex targeting and guidance process has been used in realistic conditions against a moving, seaborne target. 

As Erickson notes, DF-21D is still rife with uncertainty, and until the system is comprehensively and publicly proven, questions about its effectiveness cannot be dismissed. 

“Despite tremendous progress in recent years concerning both the missile itself and the systems that support it, even China’s [Missile Command] itself cannot know exactly how the DF- 21D would function under actual combat conditions,” Erickson concludes. “Nobody will know for certain if this ASBM actually works as intended unless it is actually used—a prospect, it is to be hoped, that will never be realized in practice.” …

While the DF-21D represents a new technology in the Pacific, it is not a major shift in the balance of power, according to [Robert Farley, a professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy]. The DF-21D, “cannot prevent the US [Navy] from killing Chinese ships; only change the method by which the Americans do so. The use of such a weapon in anger would carry the potential for grave escalatory consequences on both sides.”

Further analysis:

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM)—Officially Revealed at 3 September Parade—Complete Open Source Research Compendium,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 10 September 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson,Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” The National Interest, 3 September 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Missile March: China Parade Projects Patriotism at Home, Aims for Awe Abroad,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2015.

Wendell Minnick, “China’s Parade Puts US Navy on Notice,” Defense News, 3 September 2015.

Harry J. Kazianis, “Is China’s ‘Carrier-Killer’ Really a Threat to the U.S. Navy?The National Interest, 2 September 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Military Parade—3 September 2015—Your Complete Hardware & Logistics Guide (Updated Version),” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 2 September 2015.

Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 28 July 2015), RL33153.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Revelations on China’s Maritime Modernization: The U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence Offers a Wealth of New Information on the PLA Navy,” The Diplomat, 16 April 2015.

Andrew S. Erickson, “U.S. Exposes China’s Growing Maritime Power,” The National Interest, 10 April 2015.

The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century (Suitland, MD: Office of Naval Intelligence, 9 April 2015). [report, videos, graphics] If you’re having trouble downloading the report directly from the ONI website, click on this alternate link.

Andrew S. Erickson, “How China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.12 (7 June 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, May 2013). DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT HERE.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.5 (4 March 2013).

National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, 2013).

Mark Stokes, “Expansion of China’s Ballistic Missile Infrastructure Opposite Taiwan,”AsiaEye Blog, 18 April 2011.

Mark Stokes, “Beyond the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM): China’s Next Generation Long Range Precision Strike Systems,”AsiaEye, 30 December 2010.

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

Andrew S. Erickson, “Take China’s ASBM Potential Seriously,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 136, No. 2 (February 2010), p. 8.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Ballistic Trajectory—China Develops New Anti-Ship Missile,” China Watch, Jane’s Intelligence Review 22 (4 January 2010): 2-4.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts Consider the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review 62.4 (Autumn 2009): 53-86.

Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin, “China’s Antiship Ballistic Missile: Developments and Missing Links,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Autumn 2009): 87-115, A1-2.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns,” Jamestown China Brief 9.13 (24 June 2009): 4-8.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches Equivalent of ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC)—Where It’s Going and What it Means,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 12 July 2011.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Now Updated With Additional Sources,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 25 December 2010. 

Andrew S. Erickson, A 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, 72-78; published in 2007 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Congress, 1st Session, November 2007, 91.