USS George Washington
Chinese Developing Carrier-Killing Missile
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON – U.S. naval planners are scrambling to deal with what analysts say is a game-changing weapon being developed by China — an unprecedented carrier-killing missile called the Dong Feng 21D that could be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier at a distance of more than 1,500 kilometers (900 miles).
The weapon, a version of which was displayed last year in a Chinese military parade, could revolutionize China’s role in the Pacific balance of power, seriously weakening Washington’s ability to intervene in any potential conflict over Taiwan or North Korea. It could also deny U.S. ships safe access to international waters near China’s 11,200-mile (18,000-kilometer) -long coastline.
Setting the stage for a possible conflict, Beijing has grown increasingly vocal in its demands for the U.S. to stay away from the wide swaths of ocean — covering much of the Yellow, East and South China seas — where it claims exclusivity. It strongly opposed plans to hold U.S.-South Korean war games in the Yellow Sea off the northeastern Chinese coast, saying the participation of the USS George Washington supercarrier, with its 1,092-foot (333-meter) flight deck and 6,250 personnel, would be a provocation because it put Beijing within striking range of U.S. F-18 warplanes.
The carrier instead took part in maneuvers held farther away in the Sea of Japan. U.S. officials deny Chinese pressure kept it away, and say they will not be told by Beijing where they can operate. “We reserve the right to exercise in international waters anywhere in the world,” Rear Adm. Daniel Cloyd, who headed the U.S. side of the exercises, said aboard the carrier during the maneuvers, which ended last week.
But the new missile, if able to evade the defenses of a carrier and of the vessels sailing with it, could undermine that policy. “China can reach out and hit the U.S. well before the U.S. can get close enough to the mainland to hit back,” said Toshi Yoshihara, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College. He said U.S. ships have only twice been that vulnerable — against Japan in World War II and against Soviet bombers in the Cold War.
Former Navy commander James Kraska, a professor of international law and sea power at the U.S. Naval War College, recently wrote a controversial article in the magazine Orbis outlining a hypothetical scenario set just five years from now in which a Deng Feng 21D missile with a penetrator warhead sinks the USS George Washington. That would usher in a “new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerges to displace the United States.”
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The Chinese missile is an “anti-access” weapon. It’s mere existence restricts the movement of U.S. aircraft carriers in waters within range. This missile, and subsequent generations that are to come could spell the end for the aircraft carrier as a weapons system if this missile technology proliferates across the globe, making it harder to justify the astronomical financial costs of building and maintaining a carrier fleet that is subject to ever diminishing access to the world’s oceans. The carrier fleet would eventually join in obsolescence the mighty battleships and dreadnoughts that preceded it as the U.S. Navy’s ability to project military power inevitably contracts, and its role shrinks to resemble that of other navies across the world; protecting the littoral waters of the homeland only, something Navy planners must no doubt be worried sick about.
Yet as China arms itself for the last war and develops missile systems for dealing with naval threats whose expiration date is on the visible horizon, the U.S. prepares for future conflicts with the development of space-based weapons systems like DARPA’s hypersonic troop transport and the X-37 space bomber, the latter which may in effect put the U.S. carrier fleets out of business before the Chinese do. Who needs aircraft carriers when you’ve got a fleet of these hanging in stationary orbit above their target:
DARPA’s Mach 20 Hypersonic Glider and Air Force’s X-37B Space Plane Make Their Debuts
Future space marines might commemorate yesterday as a historic moment, based on the coinciding launches of DARPA’s hypersonic glider and an Air Force space plane. Both test vehicles could pave the way for new warfighter transports or weapons systems, the Ares Defense Blog reports.
DARPA’s HTV-2 was first into the air, around 7 pm EDT. The hypersonic vehicle is designed to glide through the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds 20 times greater than the speed of sound. The Santa Maria Times notes that several maneuvers were scheduled to test how HTV-2 handles during the hypersonic glide stage, before hurtling into the Pacific Ocean at more than 13,000 mph for a planned demise.
A future hypersonic platform could theoretically deliver precision strikes to targets around the world with “little or no advanced warning,” as DARPA puts it. A second test is planned for 2011, based on the success of yesterday’s sortie.
Barely an hour after the HTV-2 debut, the U.S. Air Force launched its X-37B space plane. That much-anticipated mission lofted the space plane — powered by gallium arsenide solar cells with lithium-ion batteries — into orbit for possibly as long as 270 days, according to the Ares Defense Blog.Like DARPA, the Air Force has remained relatively tight-lipped about the exact purpose of such a space plane. But it’s not hard to imagine what hypersonic weapons or a space plane might do for the future of U.S. military operations, as far as speed of deployment is concerned.