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Edited by Christian Lowe | Contact

ChiCom Carrier Killer


This is not the first time we've covered this issue...

From the US Naval Institute:

With tensions already rising due to the Chinese navy becoming more aggressive in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy seems to have yet another reason to be deeply concerned.

After years of conjecture, details have begun to emerge of a "kill weapon" developed by the Chinese to target and destroy U.S. aircraft carriers.

First posted on a Chinese blog viewed as credible by military analysts and then translated by the naval affairs blog Information Dissemination, a recent report provides a description of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that can strike carriers and other U.S. vessels at a range of 2000km.

The range of the modified Dong Feng 21 missile is significant in that it covers the areas that are likely hot zones for future confrontations between U.S. and Chinese surface forces.

The size of the missile enables it to carry a warhead big enough to inflict significant damage on a large vessel, providing the Chinese the capability of destroying a U.S. supercarrier in one strike.

Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes.

Read the rest of this story on

-- Christian


Kind of what I was saying earlier, but good post.

Posted by: gsak at April 2, 2009 04:12 PM

Dan, why don't you get a clue yourself. That article is wrong. Consider yourself owned, nub:

Tracking the carriers with "aerial reconnaissance"? And how would these aircraft get close enough to a carrier with so many anti-air defenses operating at stand-off distances? Sure, you might be able to tell the general location of the battlegroup in general by picking up the radar emissions, but you wouldn't be able to pinpoint and track the carrier, especially since the US is going to see those chinese aircraft and do something about them before the chinese can try to track the carrier.

Finally, Dan, your math sucks. Your math assumes that a ballistic missile attains its top speed immediately, and that it travels in a straight line. Wrong.

We are talking about what is supposed to be a modified DF-21 ballistic missile, which supposedly has GPS and radar for terminal guidance. Obviously GPS guidance isn't going to work unless the carrier sits perfectly still or travels in a perfectly straight line, neither of which will happen. So that leaves radar. Radar?! Not only would some crappy ballistic missile radar be easy to jam, but it would not be able to easily distinguish targets, let alone be able to detect incoming missiles and react to them, all while keeping locked on target and ensuring it will hit a target with precision while moving at EXTREMELY high speeds.

It is hard enough for ballistic missiles to hit even stationary targets with precision. Only the most advanced missiles have a CEP small enough to reliably hit a carrier. The CEP of a standard DF-21 against a stationary target is estimated to be 300-400 meters! The updated, advanced version is speculated to be much more accurate. Even with a CEP of 50, comparable to the most accurate ballistic missiles ever developed, MOST WARHEADS WILL MISS even against a stationary carrier!

The dimensions of a Nimitz carrier vary, but at the waterline it is at most 317m by 41m. So even those warheads landing within the 50m cep (which is only half), many will miss and hit the water to the starboard and port. That is a 100m wide CEP circle versus only 41m of beam.

Besides, 50m CEP is being VERY generous to the Chinese. Even the most accurate American ballistic missiles can't manage that. The highly accurate Trident D5 only manages a CEP of around 100m, and the Chinese are not comparable to the US in ballistic missile technology.

Speed is a liability for accuracy. Moving at incredibly high speeds makes it that much harder for the warhead to maneuver, and gives less time to make corrections. So if you want to keep that extremely high speed, you are going to miss. On the other hand, if the chinese warheads slow down enough to behave more like a precision bomb instead of a ballistic missile, that would make it extremely easy for the US ships to jam and/or shoot down the incoming warhead.

Posted by: kaltes at April 2, 2009 01:49 PM

While we should always be concerned I don't expect China to attack us or Taiwan in the short term. They intend to beat us financially and are doing a sound job of it currently with the current and previous presidents borrowing money from them that we can't pay back

As for the missile itself this test (
of an SM2 Block IIIV against a short range balistic missile shows excellent timing. The Navy is, I guess, saying "we have a little something, something of our own for you". I hope and pray it is never tested for real.

One other thing that I've not yet seen mentioned is how the Chicoms were able to perfect their missile technology after decades of abject failure, and we must admit that they are good. Have we all forgotten the Loral Corp and the other shady deals of the '90's? This, in the famous words of the Honorable (?) Rev Wright, is "our chickens coming home to roost".

Posted by: stevecoad at April 2, 2009 12:18 PM

I am always a bit concerned at how the Chinese are characterized (as a country threatening the US), by both the Pentagon and the media.

If US had some dispute over some portion of the Carribean with some country and there was a Chinese intelligence aircraft operating over those same waters where our new nuke subs were being tested, I don't think that US would take those PRC flights too kindly.

Ok, the Chinese play rough and I don't recall us have been as rough with the Ivan flights down the Eastern Seaboard back in the Cold War, but any downing or roughing up of snooping US intelligence assets at or near someone's backyard is to be expected.

I don't mean to say that what the Chinese did was right, but we can't say that we're 100% fault-free, either.

The article quotes the NI saying that "tensions are rising." Do we really want to have tensions with China over a few rocks in the South China Sea? Let's pull back out air and surface intel assets. Just let the subs hang out there :)

Posted by: OutsideBox at April 2, 2009 11:57 AM

Whitewalls on a missile transporter?

Posted by: NavyE9 at April 2, 2009 08:46 AM

I'm with the gruntdoc - dig those stylin' whitewalls on the launch vehicle. Like a Godzilla movie.

Posted by: elroy at April 2, 2009 08:45 AM

"Chinese Sub Came Close To U.S. Ships"

Chinese are also currently investing in UAV and satellite technology to make tracking our fleet's movements easier. I had a aviationweek link that spoke to some of this, but it is currently down with their site, but I'll put it up anyway.;=Naval%20Expansion%20Makes%20China%20a%20Growing%20Power&channel;=defense

Yes, the Chinese(and other countires)fund our standard of living and finance our wars, yet the Chinese have repeatedly made threatening gestures to our aircraft and ships even with this symbiotic relationship. Direct conflict has been avoided, becuase the stakes were too high for us. Would the stakes also be too high for the U.S. if the Chinese were to assert themselves by claiming disputed territory such as the Diaoyu islands or even Taiwan?

"China Says U.S. Ship Was Operating Illegally:
China views almost the entirety of the South China Sea as its territory. Its claims to small islets in the region have put it at odds with five governments €” the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan."

I dont want to be an alarmist, but this is all worth considering as we become further indebted to foriegn backers.

Posted by: Drake at April 2, 2009 05:50 AM

Jeebus, all this back and forth is like two nervous virgins before the big night.

Seriously, its going to be a relief when its all over and we light the cigarettes. Fortunately, to help things along, there is some porn scheduled in the form of North Korea preparing to fire off its Taepodong and dump a load all over Japan, but that will no doubt end prematurely as usual, with the Great Leader later boasting about how awesome his performance was.

Posted by: XFactor at April 2, 2009 05:18 AM


Chinese satellites and other aerial reconnaissance assets looking for our ships would be a forgone conclusion. Still, looking for a carrier in the open ocean is like looking for a needle in a haystack. That is the point I was making.

Of course if a carrier is conducting operations in a confined area like the strait of Formosa (average width of around 100 miles) it would be a lot easier to find. And yes, once it is found it's speed would not matter as much with a weapon like this. Thank you for the facetiousness.

Posted by: Mark at April 2, 2009 02:14 AM

China needs the American consumer, and America needs Chinese money. It's a symbiotic relationship, and Taiwan is good for both parties because the Commies have a patriotic rallying point whenever they need a foreign devil to blame, and the Pentagon has a new boogey-man when it needs to justify big-ticket, seriously big-money weapon projects during budget time.

Posted by: drago at April 2, 2009 01:55 AM

Submarine-launched nuclear torpedoes, people.

I repeat...

Submarine-launched nuclear torpedoes.

Think about it. Why go MAD when you can tip your torps with small atom bombs and wax the entire fleet with one shot to the crotch.

Posted by: drago at April 2, 2009 01:49 AM

As a former ballistic missile technician, I'd like to add that solid-fueled ballistic missiles have a very-defined minimum range. This means that the boost vehicle must complete all burnout and staging events before releasing the post-boost vehicle. The result is an achievability plot that looks like a 2-D donut on your map. This fact might not be significant in this particular case, since getting inside the minimum range would likely expose you to other threats, but it's something you should remember when considering ballistic missile attacks.

Posted by: gsak at April 2, 2009 12:57 AM

Dan, I don't have confidence that the conventional version of this missile would present a significant threat to a carrier, based on a carrier's top speed and the warhead's reliance on electromagnetic signals for terminal guidance. If we were going in, we would know what to do. Maybe right this instant it's a threat... soon, not so much.

It's hard to dodge a nuke, though.

Posted by: gsak at April 2, 2009 12:39 AM

kaltes, here's a clue. Do put it to good use.
From the very same US Naval Institute story:

"Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack."

Mark, re:finding the carrier group: Assuming that there are no Chinese satellites to observe the CBG, and assuming that the concept of aerial reconnaissance has somehow fallen through the cracks, there's the simple issue of speed.

Sure, the CVN top speed is classified and it's one of the fastest naval vessels out there. So shall we say 100 knots?

The missile in question has a top speed of 12160km/h. Our hypothetical, jet-propelled carrier is travelling at 185km/h. In the 12-14 minutes it takes the missile to reach target *at maximum range*, the carrier will have travelled an impressive 30km. What's the range at which it becomes identifiable to optical sensors?

Posted by: Dan at April 2, 2009 12:22 AM

Fruits of decades of U.S. Foreign Policy and billions spent on think tanks, research and high paid agents flying around the world paying local militia. And dont forget, the mess in Afpak is all U.S. funded as well

Posted by: Manu at April 2, 2009 12:20 AM

No doubt, Mark.

It'd be funny if we got one of these shot at us and it totally missed...

Posted by: gsak at April 2, 2009 12:08 AM

I think people are forgetting that before you can hit a aircraft carrier you have to find the stupid thing. Despite their size and even the footprint of their battle group, they are very hard to find in the open ocean. Besides the ocean being freaking huge, they are a constently moving target. Also they are some of the fastest ships in the fleet, with the top speed being classified.

Unless they were operating in some easily monitored area off a coastline, the Chinese would have a hard time finding them even with satellites. You can't kill what you can't find, so the bigger deal is how they are trying to find and track the things.

Posted by: Mark at April 1, 2009 11:57 PM

You can put anything you want on the post-boost vehicle, as long as it can withstand the stress of re-entry, which varies with missile trajectory. I don't see why an incoming warhead couldn't have an advanced-enough radar to thrust itself away from an incoming KE interceptor.

I'll agree that the next state-sponsored use of a nuclear weapon will be against a military target, in the ocean. EMP or otherwise.

Posted by: gsak at April 1, 2009 11:30 PM

This proves to me that the West is doomed. Isn't in the large influx of cash from Western consumers that is driving this innovation and modernization of the Chinese military? If we stopped buying Chinese products tomorrow, this problem goes away. Sadly people are too concerned about cheap goods that they could care less about the future.

China will continue to become more powerful all the while assuring the west that they are a peaceful country. At some point the west will not have the desire or ability to stop them. That is when China will become a major world power, or maybe THE only world power.

If I had any faith in our government, maybe I'd feel like we could stop this, but not even the all mighty Obama gives a crap about the future of the US. As with all politicians, he cares more about what you are going to do for him today. The Chinese know this, and are much more patient then we can ever imagine. They are just biding their time until the right moment presents itself.

Posted by: Will at April 1, 2009 11:03 PM

"Foreign leaders know this, and are counting on it, which is why they have been pushing Obama so far and he hasn't done anything about it."
And what the hell pray, does this refer to? Some nation state attack or threaten our forces or country somewhere with a credible force in the last 70 days and it wasn't reported in the news?

Posted by: soonergrunt at April 1, 2009 10:52 PM

Oh and one more thing: the US is not going to launch nukes because we have a ballistic missile heading toward a carrier. Stop kidding yourselves.

The whole "you can't use conventional ballistic missiles without triggering world war 3" is just a tactic the russians use to undermine US development of conventional ballistic missiles. The russians are awesome at manipulating our media and the useful fool doves who work with defense issues.

A nation like Russia or China will not think twice before using conventional ballistic missiles at less than intercontinental range. Yes, if China launched an ICBM heading towards Hawaii or Alaska, it might be a different story, BUT I seriously doubt the Obama administration would launch nukes.

I would be willing to bet that, even if China nuked our carrier, Obama would not order nuclear retaliation. People these days would cry about punishing chinese civilians for the actions of their government. Also, China could hit our carrier with a nuke, then simply say "don't try to nuke us or we will launch everything we have left at the US mainland", and Obama would back down. "Peace in our time" and all that. Launching nukes in retaliation would be an "escalation".

Yes, MAD would fall apart. Guess what? Just because you believe in MAD doesn't mean Obama would pull the trigger on nuking hundreds of millions when the time came.

Foreign leaders know this, and are counting on it, which is why they have been pushing Obama so far and he hasn't done anything about it. He is too busy with his domestic agenda to care.

Posted by: kaltes at April 1, 2009 10:26 PM

Umm hello? This is why we have missile defense, people.

Let the Chinese invest many billions on this complex system, and then they can watch us shoot these missiles out of the sky.

And no, these missiles cannot dodge interceptors. Please. It is so difficult to just manage to develop a GUIDED ballistic missile (no one in the world has one, not even the US) capable of hitting a moving target, that pulling that off doesn't leave extra room for things like decoys and maneuver.

Adding things like decoys works well for ICBMs, but would not work for a guided, precision system like this.

Considering defending from a true ICBM is MUCH harder than defending from a shorter-range ballistic missile like this, I am willing to bet that our missile defense capability will remain more than capable of handling this threat.

p.s. this weapon is not "asymmetric" when we have a direct counter for it. It is just another weapon, like cruise missiles, mines, subs, and aircraft, that threaten our carriers.

Posted by: kaltes at April 1, 2009 10:18 PM

There's a lot of inertia associated with nuclear scenarios. Initial detection, through the NCA-related procedures and EAM Retargeting, to launch window open... etc.

Without the details, I know that a lot of people have "nuclear" on their mind. But don't.

We have the capability, and we're really shy about it.

Posted by: gsak at April 1, 2009 10:17 PM

why is nobody screaming about this. this is really bad for ever one. this weapon is a upset to the policy of MAD.

Posted by: T-800 at April 1, 2009 09:00 PM

Ok i have a quetion if it goes mach 10 it doesnt accually need an explosive warhead right?

Ok um well what if its designed to get above its target and let loose a volly of DU penetrators.
Those can go threw Battleship armor right? Add to that the heat from the DU incinerating and it will knock out alot on a carrier.

Basicaly like that hand thrown EFP that the iranians where giving to the insergents in iraq and Astan.

Imean if we can intercept a exocet which is much smaller we can hit one of these behemoths....or do they go to fast anyways just wondering.

Posted by: Valcan at April 1, 2009 08:43 PM

There are many here whom seem to think that this system is threatening primarily in the context that this weapon can be sold to less stable states. The problem with this view is that without the support systems this missile is useless. Maintaining and running this the detection and guidance that is not susceptible to electronic counter measures is vastly more difficult then building a "big firecracker". It is also unlikely that this missile will start a nuclear conflict. The arc and trajectory of the missile heading out to see will dispel that notion. It is likly by the time nuclear launch auth can be sent down the chain, the 12 minute launch to target will have been attained.

The side argument about whether this missile can take out a carrier is irrelevant if the carrier is damaged enough to be taken out of of action, it doesn't matter whether the carrier has been killed or not.

This weapon appears to supplement tactical forces by adding a strategic deterrent to acting in ANY AREA THE CHINESE MAINTAINS A NAVAL STATION. Thats not just by Taiwan but also in all the other strategic naval bases the chinese have stationed around indonesia and the indian ocean. This is just raising the stakes, its simply saying, "How Much do you love Taiwan?", willing to sacrifice a carrier or 2? Loss of enough strategic force to project force around the world?

I got to tell you, thinking about losing a carrier or when we don't have that many, and considering how long and often carriers have to be taken out of service for maintenance, thats a huge loss, even for Taiwan.

Posted by: Brian Cavanagh at April 1, 2009 08:40 PM

> "Anyone here want to take odds that the Chinese will be willing to start a war with their largest customer without a 100% guarantee of success in the field?"

China is more patient and more subtle in its dealings with the West. In fact it would be correct to say, diplomacy aside, that China has been waging a war against the US and its interests for a number of decades, but it is not militaristically overt and is conducted slowly with advantage gained bit by bit. China is good at this (despite occasional blunders), while America is not.

Posted by: Beenbag at April 1, 2009 08:39 PM

notice the pimped out vintage white-wall tires on the trailer. sweet. by the way three years or less n.korea and iran will have this missle. maybe pakistan as well.

Posted by: gruntdoc91 at April 1, 2009 07:02 PM

Its primary purpose is different from its stated purpose when it comes to dealing with the US. These types of weapons are aimed more at making the US hesitent to project too much force around Taiwan, and to enable China to gain more compromises from Western nations wrt China's ambitions for the region. In case you missed it, China is America's new best friend now.

HOWEVER, you can bet China would NOT hesitate to use such a weapon in border disputes, or against its regional neighbours if it judged the political fallout worth the gain, and it certainly seems the West is eager to acquiesce to China far more often these days.

The biggest risk is that the missile could quite likely end up being sold to foreign nations who WOULD use it against the US.

Posted by: Beenbag at April 1, 2009 06:52 PM

2000 mile range at mach 10 ?? hey hey that`s a lot of fuel !!

nice one !


Posted by: tim at April 1, 2009 06:21 PM

"Everyone is laughing this weapon off as suicide, but they forget that China like Russia sells these weapons to ther countries to which we are not freindly."
-There's nothing funny about this or the threat from China. But MAD applies to everyone China might sell this too, as well. That is, except countries headed by suicidal madmen like Iran.

Posted by: bdwilcox at April 1, 2009 06:21 PM

Just the fact that they are bouncing this around should be a good sign that the next carriers to come out of Norfolk should be much smaller. And lot more of them.
With the VSTOL Joint strike fighter coming online, and the electromagnetic catapults becoming a reality; smaller carriers can become a reality.
Two catapults (instead of four), launching electromagnetically with the aircraft landing vertically. No catch wires.
Even if the Chinese do not have the missiles, they are intent on getting them.
Lets not love the carriers like they did the battleships like they did in WW2.
As much as I love the big ones (I was on the Carl Vinson and the JCS) it is time to move on.

Posted by: Dennis at April 1, 2009 06:20 PM

It's not a jk;the U.S. military is deeply concerned about this threat. The Chinese are not going to play our game of carrier buildup, but instead create asymetrical weapons that can negate their value. Everyone is laughing this weapon off as suicide, but they forget that China like Russia sells these weapons to ther countries to which we are not freindly. For example, if you wanted to put a some carriers off the coast of North Korea to bomb nuclear sites.

I read an article related to this and I read that the U.S. Navy could be at a loss if the Chinese took Taiwan, with their increasing asymetrical capability.

Posted by: Drake at April 1, 2009 04:56 PM

This = Chinese Suicide Weapon

If the Chinese were to fire it, there is no guarantee that the missile carried a non-nuclear tip and the US would be forced to retaliate with a nuke before the Chinese missile reached its target. MAD works with the typically non-suicidal Chinese rulers (unlike Muslims hoping to welcome the Mahdi) and this would invoke nuclear retaliation.

Posted by: bdwilcox at April 1, 2009 04:30 PM

Hmmm this was out a long time ago in previous DT articles. I can see this being on every dictator and petty jihadi countries wish list...though i have to ask where they expect to get a nuke from also...

Can see the chinese using this themselves only if the preverbial sh&t; hit the fan.

Posted by: Valcan at April 1, 2009 04:27 PM

This is likely not a joke...the Chinese know that carriers make any conflict over Taiwan unwinnable for them. This type weapon is a natural threat to keep the US Navy from commiting carriers to the seas surrounding China and Taiwan.

Of course these weapons would be dependent upon knowing within a few km (likely) of where the carriers are and their speed and course.

Carriers require far too much in terms of resources to defend them in my opinion.

Posted by: CR at April 1, 2009 04:06 PM

Whether this story is in the great tradition of making Ivan, oops, Ming 10 feet tall I don't know.

Its not news that the Chinese have attained superiority over the Taiwan straits. It is news that they are designing and building weapons to dominate 100's of kilometers off shore, whether they work or not isn't the complete story. Its the manifest intent to destroy American carriers 100's of km from their own coast that is interesting.
It was news 10 years ago that China wanted to dominate the skies, waves and land between the mainland and Taiwan. Now that they've accomplished that mission, its on to the next one. Is that to dominate 1000-2000 km further offshore? Does it matter? Should America stay relaxed? I think we should see a China that covets the sway of America in the western Pacific and would like to have a piece of that action for themselves.

Posted by: richardb at April 1, 2009 03:40 PM

Is this a cleverly planted April Fools Day joke? :]

- Julie, consultant for Free Credit Reports

Posted by: juliestevenson23 at April 1, 2009 03:34 PM

So the Chinese are stupid enough to fire a weapon that cannot be distinguished from an ICBM in the first few minutes--thereby risking annihilation from our missiles?
This weapon, if it's ever anything more than a prototype or symbolic "we can sink a carrier!" is meant for one thing--complicating the strategic calculus of the US.
Never mind that we could destroy their entire navy and air force from submarine launched cruise missiles and land-based bombers if they were to try this.
The wailing of the accompanying article doesn't address the types or actual capabilities of the "complex guidance system."
How accurate is it? What's CEP? How dependent is it upon external systems that may be susceptible to jamming/destruction? lists the missile as having a 600kg payload. Assuming that doesn't include the guidance package, that means a 600kg warhead, including the casing--so about 300-400kg of high explosive for a conventional warhead. That's not enough to sink a carrier, assuming that the system can hit the carrier with any reliability.
If it's got a nuke, that would be 200-500kt yield, from the sources I've seen today. Use of either one as a surprise weapon would be a strategic blunder even larger than the US attacking Iraq, and that's saying something.
Anyone here want to take odds that the Chinese will be willing to start a war with their largest customer without a 100% guarantee of success in the field?

Posted by: soonergrunt at April 1, 2009 03:20 PM

April Fools!!!!!

Posted by: Georgios1974 at April 1, 2009 03:16 PM

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