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An Eastern Wind
China’s Carrier-Killer Ready for Its Close-Up

Beijing will mark the 70th anniversary of the Second World War by parading, for the first time, a new missile said to be capable of taking out aircraft carriers. With a range potentially extending more than 900 miles and a top speed faster than any counter-measures deployed to intercept it, the new DF-21D missile sounds like a fearsome weapon. Ashley Townshend, a University of Sydney research fellow, told the FT that “This is the missile that really does potentially encroach on US capability to deploy military power close to Chinese shores. It significantly raises the risks and costs.”

More background on the weapon can be found here, via the Diplomat:

The missile is mobile and fired from a truck-mounted launcher, making its detection more of a challenge. Most accounts have the weapon receiving guidance from over-the-horizon radar, satellites and other pieces of intelligence gathering technology. Many reports have the missile hitting its target, most likely a military vessel like an aircraft carrier, at a speed many times faster than sound (some say Mach 10 – 12). Scholars debate if present U.S. missile defenses can shield carriers against the weapon, especially if sea-based AEGIS naval platforms were also pressed to defend against sea and land-based cruise missiles simultaneously in numbers that could overwhelm the amount of interceptors available.

It is, of course, still unclear how functional this new weapon will be in the real world. The full slew of countermeasures available to the U.S. Navy is vast, and includes disrupting the complicated satellite guidance systems required to make the missile accurate. But if it does work, the premier instrument of American naval supremacy could be meaningfully blunted.

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  • Tom Chambers

    As it happens, my summer reading has included Friedman’s ‘Design History of U.S. Destroyers’ which covers the period 1890–1980. It has been interesting and relevant to see there just how many destroyer defensive weapon systems were developed, built into the fleet, and adjudged to be failures, especially in the ’50s and ’60s, because they were either technologically inadequate for the defensive task they were developed to meet or were too costly to be built in adequate numbers to accomplish that task, or both. Much the same here–offensive weapons trump defensive measures.

  • Fat_Man

    “Why a Big-Ship Navy Can’t Win the Wars of the Future” by Mike Fredenburg August 26, 2015

    “Smaller, harder-to-see, and harder-to-target missile-attack ships of 600 tons or less can attack land- and sea-based targets, execute ongoing sea-control operations and, after two or three weeks on station, withdraw to refuel, resupply, re-crew (if necessary), and rearm. Crew sizes of 25 to 50 could vary from mission to mission. For a fraction of the total displacement and cost, a squadron of eight of these ships could provide the kind of sea control and tactical situational awareness impossible for a single Burke-class ship or even the Navys new 3,500-ton Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs).”

    “Railguns: The Next Big Pentagon Boondoggle?: The Navy’s replacement for traditional artillery may be an expensive fantasy.” by Mike Fredenburg December 18, 2014

    “When the Navy retired the last battleship in 1992, they promised the Marines and Congress they would quickly replace the devastatingly effective gunfire support provided by the battleships.

    “More than 20 years later, the Navy has failed to meet its promise but instead has spent tens of billions on hugely complex, risky programs that have failed to even come close to replacing the battleships firepower. The railgun has all the signs of being another such program. Consequently, the Navy and Congress need to pursue alternatives that can put extremely-long-range guns on our ships in a matter of few years, rather than remaining in thrall to the high-tech chic of the railgun.”

    • Fat_Man

      The fundamental insight of the technological revolution of the past 40 years came from Carver Mead. He saw that it was possible to create a virtuous cycle: smaller, faster, cooler, cheaper.

      In 2002, the DoD conducted the Millennium Challenge 2002 war game. It was an embarrassment for the conventional ideas of the Pentagon. The Pentagon is a giant bureaucracy that seems committed to producing bigger, more expensive, slower, and less capable weapons like the F-35. the airplane that will do more to destroy the US Air Force than the MIG 15.

      We need to fix the bureaucratic monster that the Pentagon has become.

      “The New Rules of War: The visionary who first saw the age of “netwar” coming warns that the U.S. military is getting it wrong all over again. Here’s his plan to make conflict cheaper, smaller, and smarter.” By John Arquilla February 11, 2010

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    American military power analysts always assume a level of competence in potential opponents equal to or greater than their own. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was projected as an equal military power, but battlefield experience in Afghanistan where the Soviet Union got beaten by poorly armed, trained, and led insurgents, which Americans destroyed with a casual elegance. And again in the Persian Gulf where Soviet military equipment proved to be utterly ineffective, proved otherwise. I think the same case here, military analysts are puffing up the threat to get increased budgets, while down playing the competence and quality of US forces.

    US Aircraft carriers are very hard targets, destroying one with conventional explosives would require multiple hits with 2,000 pound bombs. A nuke could kill one, but if you open that can of worms, the US will make you glow in the dark. Also, precision attacks with a weapon going mach 10-12 against an evasive moving target which is messing with the GPS, Jamming control signals, and shooting at the incoming missile is an almost insurmountable hurdle. Even a tiny fragment which gets in the path of a missile going mach 10-12 will instantly turn the frag into plasma and destroy the missile, as the Energy is equal to the Mass times the Velocity squared. A missile going mach 10-12 is extremely hot from the air friction, and counter missiles can easily home in on the heat signature. US Aircraft carriers are always part of a group, and locating the carrier inside what the countermeasures will turn into a miles wide and deep cloud of smoke, chaff, and flares will be no easy task.

    All that being said, I don’t much like Aircraft carriers, as I feel cruise missiles, long range bombers, air refueling, submarines, and UAV’s have pushed the need for them way back. And I wonder if they are really cost effective any more? Being extremely expensive to build, maintain, and man. We could probably buy a thousand fighter bomber UAV’s and the air tankers to keep them refueled, for the cost of one Ford class Aircraft carrier and it’s equipped aircraft. Such a force could be flown into placed anywhere in the world from the US in a day. And losing one or even dozens wouldn’t cost any American lives, and they could all be replaced in few days from the assembly line. Aircraft carriers on the other hand take 7 years to build and commission, require 4,500 men to operate the ship and its 75+ aircraft, cost $10 billion to build and $2.4 billion per year to operate. Losing even one would be a terrible loss which would significantly reduce the strength of the Navy for years.

    • rheddles

      Carriers are extremely effective peacetime weapons. Ever been on one? Im f’n pressive. We should use them more aggressively in doing peacetime demonstrations in foreign ports. The hardest softpower around or vice versa. We build one every five years. We should lower it to 4 years after we get the Ford class debugged. They cost maybe $20B all in for a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), or $5B/yr.

      Submarines are extremely effective war time weapons. We don’t talk about them. Think of the Chinese economy without imports. We build two Virginia’s every year. Cost less than $4B/yr. I’d go to three. Then the balance would be correct.

      We will lose a few CV’s if real fighting breaks out. We lost BB’s at Pearl Harbor. But we won the war. Same will be true in the next war; if we fail to avoid it. CV’s do a better job of avoiding the next war than SSN’s. SSN’s will do a better job of fighting the next war. Let’s build both.

      p. s. Would you rather be a Chicom firing a missile you’ve never tested against a CSG or the RADM in command of the CSG?

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