China Debuts ‘Carrier Killer’ Missiles in Military March

Conventional missiles are displayed duirng a parade in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 3, 2015. China on Thursday held commemoration activities, including a grand military parade, to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)

China’s military parade on Thursday in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender during World War II was notable not only for its massive troop formations, but also its missiles.

As expected, the People’s Liberation Army featured several types of missiles from the Dongfeng (“East Wind”) family, including the DF-10 anti-ship missile, DF-15B short-range ballistic missile, DF-16 and DF-21D medium-range ballistic missiles, DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, and the DF-5B and DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles — a handful of which made their public debut.

We know this because the PLA conveniently wrote the names on the sides of the weapon systems — in English, as per the image above. Here’s how Andrew Erickson, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College described it:

“All the major missiles were labeled with their English abbreviations in big white letters, likely to help guarantee that their presence isn’t lost on foreigners.”

Among the missiles making their first public appearances were the DF-21D, shown above and billed as a “carrier killer” for its ability to strike carrier strike groups, including U.S. assets in the Asia-Pacific region. Others included the DF-16, which could threaten Taiwan; DF-26, another carrier killer that could also strike U.S. bases in Guam; and YJ-12, a supersonic, sea-skimming cruise missile, according to Erickson.

Despite the display of military might (and pomp and circumstance), even Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted that the country can’t afford such a large standing army in announcing troop cuts of 300,000 personnel. The PLA is the world’s largest military force, with roughly 2.3 million service members.

“It’s a common practice for Chinese leaders to pledge disarmament after big parades,” Song Xiaojun, a military commentator, told the China Daily newspaper. Though the disarmament announcement isn’t a new practice, it’s in line with Xi’s pledge of never seeking hegemony, Song said.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • IHTFP

    Is the DF-21D radar-guided, or how does it find the carrier?

    • Berzrkr50

      Probably radar guided along with some GPS capability.

      • IHTFP

        Will need to bring a lot of chaff then.
        Have they ever tested it?

    • Sandy

      something tells me this might be deception….or why would they paint the letters in English? It’s a bit too blatant, akin to the Iranians and their deception ops and the Iraqis with “baby-milk factory” written in the backs of their coats…

    • Patterson

      DF-21D think of it as a guided V2 missile, re-enters the atmosphere at fantastic speeds, guided by GPS and also homes in on a Carrier which gives off an enormous electro-magnetic signature. Want to mess your shorts, watch a Russian Cruiser fire 36 cruise missiles in a few seconds. Funny how 5 Chinese Warships showed up near Alaskan waters this week.

    • NICO

      by Satellite and its own radar.

    • bart ninja

      it just reads hillarys emails.

  • IHTFP

    They paraded some drones but no fifth-gen fighters.

  • Lance

    We know they have these al ready whats the news??

    • IHTFP

      They were publicly displayed for the first time.

  • anonymous coward

    A ballistic reentry for an anti-carrier attack will give little time for maneuverability for the RV and the plasma sheath around the RV will make optical, radar and IR guidance quite hard to acquire. To give the RV more time to lock on to the ship, it will need a less then ballistic reentry path and that gives the opfor (in this case, most likely the Americans) time to target and counter with packages ABM packages such as AEGIS.

    • Sandy

      AC…it isn’t clear that the “anti-carrier” missile is ballistic…is it? If so, I would agree with you, but I tend to think this whole thing is a deception operation.

    • citanon

      A DF-21, being a medium range ballistic missile, has a terminal velocity of ~Mach 10. I’m not sure that’s fast enough to create a plasma sheath.

      The RV is maneuvering and will be hard to hit by SM3.

      On the other hand, with only small thrusters on board, the RV will have to make its small corrections early and often to stay on course. If US ships use their high powered AESA arrays to jam the RV, it could go way off course, no SM3 intercept even needed.

      Notice that despite depictions by animators in the Chinese media, the PLA itself always talks about a “soft kill”. This makes sense if their plan is to get the warheads in a larger kill box over the general area of the CAG, then have the warheads fragment to send out tungsten darts or other nasty submunitions. These would not be able to sink a carrier but could take out its electronics, and wreck havoc if aircraft, fuel and weapons are top deck. This strategy would be less vulnerable to jamming and be less demanding on the ability to establish a high fidelity weapons track. Seems to me this is what makes most sense.

  • Iron

    The SM3 likely wouldn’t even have to intercept it. To hit a moving carrier, even with the DF-21, requires a very complicated string of real time intelligence gathering and signals intelligence. China would need to know the position of a carrier in near-real time, and as it moved, continue to track it, and somehow relay this signal to the DF-21 in flight (which means, a patrol boat with a radio isn’t going to do it). It’s a very complicated sequence that can be interrupted in many, many places.

    It’s more likely than needing the SM3 to intercept it – which it could probably do – the DF-21 wouldn’t even get off the ground. The very first thing the US always goes for is the C4ISR capability of any country. China would be blind, deaf and mute before they had the chance to fire off any DF-21s. And if they tried to fire based on even slightly outdated intelligence, the carrier would easily be miles away.

  • Big-D

    I was more scared of the USSR’s real capabilities they had 20 yrs ago with their Backfire bombers and their ASM than I am of the untested DungFeng missile.

  • BlackOwl18E

    The US Navy is actually taking this threat very seriously. They’ve got SM-3 missiles now that are capable of intercepting ballistic missiles to a point, but apparently they’ve proven to be unreliable for hitting maneuvering targets. Now the Navy seems almost possessed to develop an anti-missile laser weapon capable of being mounted on a ship.

    • spartan

      They are unreliable even for hitting non-maneuvering targets.

      • DavidT

        An SM-3 shot down a malfunctioning NRO satellite in 2008 that was reentering the atmosphere at mach 20, much faster than the terminal speeds of the DF-21D reentry vehicles estimated at mach 10-12. Anything faster and the slightest tick would send the RV off course by hundreds of miles so its maneuvering on a path toward a U.S. carrier is limited which gives the Navy options to counter it whether through an AEGIS system, free electron laser, rail gun, ship decoys, electronic attack on the RV’s guidance system, etc.

        Not saying we shouldn’t take this threat lightly, but with so many options in the U.S.’s arsenal, the DF-21D isn’t the end of the world for the U.S. Navy.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Until re-entry creates a plasma sheath around the missile, it should be capable of receiving data from aircraft or satellite or tattletale spy ship, should it not? For that matter, since southern China is now the world’s factory floor, you probably can’t get within hundreds of miles of the coast without being subject to hey-lookit-that chatter from merchant shipping. That isn’t enough for targeting, but if there are enough ears listening, it’s going to provide a nice cue as to where to look.

  • Leo Johnson

    I wonder if they tried this on one of their own “Carrier’s” to find out if it really work’s.

  • 11CP5

    Losing 300,000 soldiers. Wonder what the make up of them are? Don’t think they will get rid of many fighting jobs. IMHO they can afford to lose 300,000 without much stress on the military. Cool looking trucks. LOL

    • Retired Army

      My guess; miltary staffed and managed factories producing goods. Stop taking work away from the civilian sector.

  • Ming the Merciless

    More ships, smaller targets, lots of decoys & countermeasures. These are probably north of 10+ million bucks a pop so they are not just an endless barrage weapon.

    A serious threat but not a game changer.

  • Dan Walsh

    It is good that the US Navy is taking this seriously. Considering the investment in carrier platforms, no threat should be taken lightly. This does, as all things go within the scope of DOD, start with military contractors who have demonstrated that greed is first and developing a system at, or under budget that works as promised.

  • Ed C

    Let’s face it, this is a doomsday missile, if it does manage to penetrate our defenses and sinks a carrier, a nuclear response by us is inevitable. It’ll never be used.

    • Dan Walsh

      I pray your logic is correct. I shudder sometimes when I think of just a few possibilities that could trigger a nuclear nightmare. The 2 things that scare me most are the rapid technological advances and the push to use these untested technologies in our platforms and exiting of a political leadership that was post WWII and remember the cold war. The new breed does not have that scenario to influence judgment.

    • Wulf145

      If any war goes nuclear then it is good night for everyone.

      Is it really standing Doctrine for the US to destroy the whole world (i.e. go Nuclear) if an adversary mounts an effective defence against the US Navy? (serious question – I do not know)

      • Dan Walsh

        Very good question. This is 1 issue that I think of when the scenario of a nuclear exchange happens. It is very difficult to sort through since often times, public and private policy can be worlds apart. All the known and unknown variables do not help in coming to a probable conclusion. The timing of your question could not happen at a better time. As a member of the RNC, I shudder when I think of the possibility of Mr. Trump being elected President. Forceful and ego-centric personalities like his could scoff at policy and consul. So refreshing to entertain an intelligent dialogue.

    • ilkarnal

      Absurd. “We lost a carrier – therefore, let’s lose our major cities to nuclear warheads!” Totally divorced from reality.

      • crackedlenses

        How much of our fleet would China be allowed to cripple before nukes would be put on the table? Not supporting the idea of nuking them at the first carrier lost, but there is a limit to the losses we can sustain without being forced to go nuclear….

  • wtpworrier

    “China Debuts ‘Carrier Killer’ Missiles in Military March”___________________________________HA!!!. I guess they are trying to scare us, and judging from some of these posts, they succeeded.

  • chuckiechan

    If China and Russia aren’t willing to attack the USA now under Obama, they never will.

    It does concern me that the best way to dissolve the “nine dash” line is to stop doing business with China and bankrupt them, and yet we say we don’t want to do that. I guess we can’t make our own rubber dog crap anymore.

  • Laser satellite imagery . Accurate with in 10 meters .

    • blight_

      Lidar you mean?

      Satellite-deployed lidar would probably be useful for imaging the ocean (a carrier would probably stick out like a sore thumb). Guess the question is how much surface area can a satellite image in a timely fashion to detect targets below.

  • bobbymike

    The US should counter with their own IRBMs by refurbishing retired LHAs so the flight deck carries hundreds of VLS cells sized to carry ATKs proposed prompt strike weapon.

  • C.V. Compton Shaw

    France, during World War II, relied on it’s system of fortifications along it’s border with Germany, the Maginot Line, to defend itself against invasion by Germany. Germany countered by amassing large well coordinated armored units along with a military strategy which compromised the Maginot line by attacking around the same through Belgium which was considered to be an inappropriate and ineffective military strategy for armour at the time. However, of course, this German strategy worked resulting in the fall of France. If France and the UK had appropriately concentrated their armored forces to meet this German strategy, by having an appropriate armored strategic maneuvering force in reserve, this German strategy may have been neutralized. However, the Allied armored forces were dispersed all along the front allowing the Germans to effectively concentrate their armored forces at the weakest point of the French defenses without significant opposition. Likewise, the USA’s carriers may prove to be the USA’s “Maginot Line” such that China and other adversaries may find ways ,such as the DF21-D “Carrier Killer” missile ,to neutralize the same and attack our naval forces at their weakest points. Thus, this implies that the US Navy should have a well thought out and well protect strategic reserve with high mobility, high intelligence gathering ability, with great ability to coordinate with other forces, and with the military means to counter such a strategy. If it is developed, it should be kept secret!

  • Nico

    It is just a peaceful party.You guys think too much. Our only enemy is Japan.
    They have kill Millions of our people
    YOu will never understand why we hate Japan.

    • Big-D

      You all hate Japan because they are not communists and you can’t control or intiminate them like you can everyone in the region. China is like the 15 yr old bully who’s bigger than all of the neighborhood 12 yrs old, but is secretly scared of the 18 yr old next door i.e. Japan

    • blight_

      Wow, depending how far back and how trivial the offense, China could invent a casus belli for many nations today. Perhaps Mongolia is next on the enemies list…

  • Lightingguy

    Amazing how much speculation on this site, with opinions based on no real facts.

    The DF-21 seemingly has a terminal radar guidance system based on the US Pershing II missile that we deployed in Europe in the 80’s. Thus the technology, which was successfully demonstrated ob the Pershing, could certainly work against a carrier, which is why the Navy takes it seriously. As well, the PRC has both real-time photo and radar satellites that could give good initial target data and they have deployed an OTHB radar that could as well give real time target data out a few thousand kilometers (The Aussies have this as well).

    So all of this makes the Navy nervous. AEGIS and RIM 161 Standard can theoretically intercept, which is why all of this capability in in the Pacific.

  • Laker80

    How do you use ballistic missiles conventionally without risking a nuclear response?

    I’d imagine if these weapons were used against carrier battle groups, Guam, and Japan they would be part of a surprise attack to achieve maximum damage…. so how do you ensure that several ballistic missile launchers don’t trigger a nuclear response? Leaving out any possibility of cyber or EMP attacks to blind the enemy during the opening phases of the attack.

  • Anonymous

    Google DF-21 Gobi Desert

    • jeff

      Not impressed. They fired from a know fixed point and hit another know fixed point.

  • Pat

    The D-21 has never been tested against a real target with advanced, with a fully opetational modern defense in real-time. We could send a nuke up and generate a EMP to wipe out their capabilities. We could revive our ASAT capability. Surface battle groups can go electronically silent and be difficult to locate. We’ve done this numerous times in the past. We could arm a SM-3 or 6 with a nuclear warhead like we did with the Talos.

    • Lightingguy

      Not likely we’d go nuke in any scenario outside of retaliation or PRC use of chemical weapons.

      As well, hiding a carrier group is not that easy when the opponent has visual and radar satellites as well as long range radars able to give a general idea as to location (OTHB).

      Yes, we hope that the plan is to use ASAT’s against the satellites as well as cruise missiles against the land based assets. Seems we need to think about taking the fight to the Chinese where it hurts and where they are vulnerable, before we find ourselves playing catch up and on the losing end.

  • Mark

    If they try to start something hide their fortune cookies.

  • Cataldo

    The units of the AEGIS system must cover an area of min 500 km radius around the target defended, to intercept RV. A goal of the Chinese is to dilute the active forces in the area, in order to achieve a great number of less powerful targets.