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DoD’s 2010 Report on China’s PLA Modernization (III)

by Greg on August 18, 2010

No DoD assessment of Chinese military power would be complete without an update on the People’s Liberation Army’s ongoing effort to build an anti-ship ballistic missile; a weapon some hyperbolically claim could change the balance of power in the Western Pacific. We’ll set aside for the moment the issue of whether an individual weapon can dramatically alter the power balance between the U.S. military and any country x, and look at what the report says.

China has the “most active” land based ballistic missile and cruise missile program in the world, the DoD report says. The PLA is building a huge missile arsenal for precision conventional strike because it lacks, so far anyway, a stealthy strike aircraft. The vast majority of China’s ballistic missiles are of the short range (under 600km) SCUD type and lack “true precision strike capability.” And the vast majority of those missiles are aimed at Taiwan.

In the anti-access arena, China is building or buying medium-range ballistic missiles (1,000–3,000km): “to increase the range at which it can conduct precision strikes against land targets and naval ships, including aircraft carriers, operating far from China’s shores out to the first island chain.”

Regrettably, the report doesn’t tell us much about where the anti-ship ballistic missile is in terms of development progress:

“China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) based on a variant of the CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). The missile has a range in excess of 1,500 km, is armed with a maneuverable warhead, and when integrated with appropriate command and control systems, is intended to provide the PLA the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the western Pacific Ocean.”

The maneuverable warhead and an over the horizon tracking and targeting system are the key components as the missile must have terminal guidance to hit a moving ship. Geoffrey Forden discusses some of the technical challenges in fine tuning the warheads guidance in an excellent post here; the comments section is very much worth reading as well.

As Forden notes, between the time an ASBM is launched and it arrives over a patch of sea in the Western Pacific a carrier could have moved 8 miles; the missile’s warhead must be maneuverable after the end of the boost phase and he discusses various options. China would be pushing the envelope technology wise and the missile would require extensive testing before was proven, he writes.

As for an advanced targeting system, which we’ve discussed before, the DoD report says:

“Over the long term, improvements in China’s C4ISR, including space-based and over-the-horizon sensors, could enable Beijing to identify, track, and target military activities deep into the western Pacific Ocean.”

– Greg Grant

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

yesjb August 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Ultimately that is true. There has been tremendous progress in the last few years much remains to be done.
It would be far better to disable these in the boost phase; not while they're approaching from overhead (s shown)

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Egad August 18, 2010 at 2:24 pm

DEW probably have their places, but the marine environment is harsh on precision optics. And lasers, at least, would have a hard time if required to shoot through heavy rain, snow or spray.

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@Earlydawn August 18, 2010 at 1:57 pm

China's technology base is pushed to the limits trying to develop quality avionics and radars. Precision ICBM targeting is a huge leap in technology that I don't think the Chinese are going to make any time soon, unless they steal it.

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JOhn Moore August 18, 2010 at 2:24 pm

"unless they steal it. " Isnt that how they aquired almost all there tech to begin with so i doubt it will take them too long.

Time to get those Lassers on the 727 scalled down and installed on carriers and bombers that would be cool.

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chaos0xomega August 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Also important to remember, just because a nation has limited industrial/tech capacity, does not mean that it cannot develop something that works in a reasonable time frame. Not all technology is "equal" so to speak. Look back at World War 2. The Germans were masters of aerospace research and development, but they couldn't develop an atomic weapon.

Its entirely possible (though not necessarily plausible) for China to develop a precision ICBM, even though they have difficulty developing a decent jet engine and a suitable air frame that doesn't have a high chance of ending the life of its pilot.

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Guest August 18, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Exactly! Realistically what has the Chinese developed on their own? It's probably safe to say majority of the PLA's advance weapons technology was stolen, not developed. Like everything else, they steal technology, copy, and mass produce it on the cheap.

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Thomas L. Nielsen August 19, 2010 at 1:52 am

Not to sound snide or anything, but isn't that pretty much what everybody in the western world said about Japan right up to December 7, 1941?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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J Weich August 21, 2010 at 5:37 am

The Chinese were the first to use a ballistic missile to destroy a satellite in orbit (which demonstrates a very sophisticated understanding of targeting technology). The US frantically scrambled to demonstrate that they could too, several months later, using a patently ridiculous excuse to do it, and a hastily adapted missile.. It's always wise not to underestimate your foe, because being convinced that you are superior makes you a much easier target.

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@Earlydawn August 22, 2010 at 9:32 am

The complexity of the U.S. satellite shootdown guarantees that it wasn't a hasty operation. Also, you'll notice that the Chinese requested information on the U.S. shootdown. Superior capability?

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saberhagen August 31, 2010 at 2:23 am

lol, they WERE NOT the first one doing that. read some history

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roland August 19, 2010 at 4:04 am

Don't underestimate the Chinese abilities. They are good in math and they invented the abacus remember? http://thescienceexperts.com/answers/who-invented

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chanel August 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Don't show the teeth to whom you take. The PLA of China is able to do with the fact that the outer space missiles with the nuclear warheads go shoots in any places in China and get hangs over the raidpots in the States for a long term as synchronous satellites or the mines in earth and drop suddenly as the raindrops through the remote instructions. If the warheads hit, thousands of A-bombs or H-bombs go exploding over the States. It is just a work of the spacial synchronous technology. If the states show the teeth to China as the Smart Power, disasters as thousands of the September 11th or more are focused of the people in the States.

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Guesty McGuesterson August 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Huh?

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praetorian August 18, 2010 at 3:28 pm

What ??

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Tim August 18, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Must have been driking too many Chicom Kool-Aid… uh… tea.

Thousands of A-bombs/H-bombs go exploding over where? Do these grow on trees?

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MCQknight August 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Babel fish is not very helpful when translating whole paragraphs, bud.

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chaos0xomega August 18, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I think he's trying to say that we have nukes in orbit, and that the Chinese are going to hack them so that they can redirect them to fire on the U.S.

If that is what he is trying to say, then trying to make sense of the gobbledy-gook he posted ain't worth my time.

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Andres August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am

in contrary to your "thousands of H/A-Bombs are going to explode over the states – who has the 50'000 warheads?

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chanel August 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Recently, China sends more than 10 satellites a year to set up its spacial network for the globe control and the Chinese Spacial Station of the outer space relays. The PLA of China lessens the people as the States lessen the F-35 for the wars in remoteness and multidimension but in Chinese philosophy. If the States go war with China, they must be trapped by second strikes unless smash it thoroughly in few days. If Japan,Viet Nam and so on, together go against China, the States work. If not, the States pay big and get nothing.

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Chops August 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

The auto-translate on my computer doesn't work on jibberish.

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josh August 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm

seriously write something in english>

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Tim Adkison August 18, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Guys you just gatta speak his language! Idea know what saying. English class you need take. Not chinese Americans are we!

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Jeff Fraser August 19, 2010 at 12:22 am

Crap, meant to vote down but hit wrong button. Just imagine it says -5.

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Thomas L. Nielsen August 19, 2010 at 3:40 am

Yoda? Is that you?

Couldn't resist. Sorry.

Thomas L. Nielsen
Lucembourg

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Mark August 19, 2010 at 11:36 am

The US won't attack China and vise versa. The enconomies are to closely linked. It just won't happen.

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chaos0xomega August 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm

You mean like how closely the American and German economies were linked prior to World War 1 and World War 2? Or the way the Japanese economy was tied to the American economy? Or better yet, how the Northern economy was tied to the Southern economy prior to the American Civil War? After all, you can't have closer economic ties than what exists within a nation.

People throw around that argument a lot, but there is historical evidence which shows the opposite situation to be the reality.

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David August 20, 2010 at 5:25 am

Great!

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Kotaro Akikawa August 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Let's start with some basic English skills then eh…

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chanel August 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm

If we fight with one with a knife, we use a spear; if one with a spear, we use a gun.

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Andres August 19, 2010 at 7:10 am

If you only had a gun against the japs in WWII.

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jsallison August 18, 2010 at 4:32 pm

All your base are belong to us.

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chanel August 18, 2010 at 5:26 pm

The vertical raids must be a trend. The nukes like the products on trees. We wish I drank while the exploding bombs.

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Scott August 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm

The question must be asked did china ever acquire tech from the pershing 2`s? the active radar area correlator worked

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guest August 21, 2010 at 8:22 pm

this kind of optical homing software is commercial off the shelf tech i've read. integrating it into a guidance package for a warhead is fairly small spuds engineering. aside from arriving at the basic concept to try this it doesn't seem to present any serious engineering/software design issues. trying to defend against this however is a whole different kettle of fish.

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Ying & Yang August 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm

when do you stop??? after everyone on earth is dead??? The nukes today are alot more powerful than 1945.

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chanel August 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Pershing 1a, 1b, 2 are out and quit by the PLA. The raids from zenith to earth are too quick to be caught by the ARAC that even caught in the half way they cause explosions. If you know the ChiCom, you know the Viet Com is the ChiCom's; if you know ChiCom Kool Aid, you know ChiCom's records.The Wars came Com World and the peace came Com Collapse as in the Soviet.

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josh August 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Guy why are you rambling?

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chaos0xomega August 18, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Actually, I think I understood this post better than his others. He's saying that the Pershings have been retired by the PLA (I wasnt aware they ever had access to the Pershing), that the missiles (?) move to quickly on re-entry to be intercepted, and if you do intercept them, they'll cause an atmospheric burst.

Then he says something that the Vietnamese commies are friends of the Chinese commies, and that war causes communism to spread, and that peace causes it to collapse.

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josh August 18, 2010 at 7:39 pm

One can only hope I am right on this point. When is the last time any one has bought anything out of China that was worth a crap? Even if they do manage to steal what they need, their workmanship is so poor that the failure rate will be through the roof. I mean look at what they have stolen so far. All I have seen is multiple failures. To hit a moving ship the size of an aircraft carrier with something the size of a mini van is a long shot. For us yes for the chinese I would venture to bet its more than a longshot.

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Mat August 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I've realised Chanel is writing poetry. (See? It sort-of makes sense now.)

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Stevemarino August 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm

WAL_MART, the third arm of China. It was Nixon who gladly opened the door to China junk and put America in the position we are today. Leave it to GOP and the Chamber of Commerce to sell this country at any cost. It's all about money like those in the House of the Lord, where Christ chased them out.

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Uncle Bill August 19, 2010 at 1:14 am

Nixon moved us from a war footing with both China and Soviet Russia, setting us on the path to the peaceful, normalized relations that we have today. We no longer live in fear of the Russians or Chinese trying a nuclear first strike. Our citizens travel freely to each other's countries and we are trade partners. That's actually not too bad a result.

Nixon also brought LBJ's disastrous and dishonest war in Viet Nam to an end, although the Dem congress subsequently voted not to honor the deal we made to supply the South.

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STemplar August 18, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I think we get what the Chinese are developing, and I think what we are doing in response will counter it just fine.

The X-47B seems to be working out fine, as long as they can integrate it into carrier landings. That will give US carriers plenty of legs to avoid any Chinese anti access weaponry and deliver Day stealth strikes from the sea.

The SSGNs clearly rattled cages when they surfaced around the Pacific a couple weeks ago. They give us 600+ Tomahawk strikes.

The DARPA article asking industry to provide a 2000nm fast strike option from VLS, will add to the USNs ability to hammer Chinese targets beyond their ability to prevent.

The bomber/global strike program is still underway in some fashion, the specs for the proposed range and payload pretty clearly say, "Stealthy un-refueled combat radius from Guam"

So while we worry about the Chinese anti ship ballistic missile, I'd say what we are developing is making plenty of people worry in Beijing.

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chaos0xomega August 19, 2010 at 3:03 am

I dunno, I've been reading up on the Chicoms a lot recently (I recommend digging up articles from Indian, Japanese,and Korean sources, as they are semi-impartial sources in the sense that while they do support the US, they are discussing the Chinese efforts directed at defeating the U.S. specifically), and it seems to me that the Chinese aren't just developing stuff to screw with us, but they've anticipated what many of the counters are, and are going so far as to develop counters to the counters. It seems to me that the "anti-counter" technologies are less discussed than the obvious anti-access "big-ticket" items such as the carrier-killer and anti-satellite missiles, etc.

Whether this is by design, or because the technologies are still a while away, I cannot say, but it seems that the Chicoms are developing (or have developed) VHF radar specifically designed to counter our current generation of stealth technology (this comes from RAND, something called CETC Y-27, couldn't find much about it), which is supposedly expected to come online in China right about 2018-2020. The Chinese also seem to be focusing on developing attack subs and a large force of high-speed stealthy surface combatants intended to target not just American surface vessels, but also designed to track and destroy american submarines. And supposedly (and this one I under no circumstances am even remotely close to believing, it seems to far-fetched), some analysts report that China has already developed a stealth-bomber modeled after the B-2, based off of data stolen in 2004/2005.

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STemplar August 19, 2010 at 3:42 am

I'm sure China is thinking about how they might counter our systems. It is however clear their efforts for the near to mid term were to force us out of the first island chain. With the systems I mentioned, what we are looking to field will essentially by pass or greatly mitigate those efforts. We are developing the systems to essentially strike from a Guam kind of range, 2000nm-ish. They are going to need a deep water fleet to play at those ranges. That's a long way off for them, and they have zero experience. Frankly the logistical operational mountain aside, the sheer knowledge base that we possess I don' t think they can ever develop and match without actually going to war.

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mareo2 August 19, 2010 at 5:18 am

X-47B is a demonstrator like UK's Taranis.

SSGNs have a limited supply of ammo.

VLS is not even a started project.

Bomber/global strike program is not even decided if the US want to reconfigure BMs to TBMs with the risk of confuse with ICBM launch, develop a vehicle or fire waves of small super-long range missiles with small warheads (47 kgs.)

Chinese ASBM seems to be on tests phase.

SSNG is a patch. Everything else is on the design board or less, From an ally point of view, there seems to be an unpredictable time gap between when they get their weapon ready and when you get your weapon ready. And that without mention how long many arms project seems to be delayed and end costing way more than expected. E.G. F-35.

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STemplar August 19, 2010 at 2:11 pm

The X-47B is a demonstrator but is frequently referred to as what a operational version would be. All experimental systems are demonstrators at first. The point is the system is under development, is progressing, and has specific set of operational goals in mind.

Of course SSGNs have a limited supply of ammo, every single warship has a limited supply of ammo, I'm not sure what your point is? The 4 subs together can ripple fire 612 Tomahawks in under 10 minutes. 612 twelve cruise missiles will do alot of damage to alot of targets.

The exact make up of global strike hasn't been decided, but in regards to confusion over a launch of a conventional ballistic missile, that has already been addressed by basing them in California and allowing inspections by the Russians if they so desire. The recent START treaty also discusses the issue of conventional versus nuclear land based ballistic missiles. I would think if it is included in a strategic treaty with the Russians, the decision cycle is quite far along at this point.

We have no idea when and even if the Chinese will field an effective anti-carrier weapon. The simple fact they are developing requires a response. The X-47B is going through a testing program right now. Carrier trials are expected in 2 years. Sounds pretty firm to me. If it works it would be entering the fleet about the same time as the F-35.

The SSGN was not a patch, you clearly have no knowledge of the history. Back in the 90s the nuclear force posture review essentially said we were heavy 4 SSBNs. Instead of the just standing them down the concept for the SSGN was born. There is nothing patchwork about the system at all and anyone with knowledge of the history of the program knows that.

I can only conclude you are trolling without the level of knowledge needed to engage in a real debate based on facts.

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chaos0xomega August 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm

The SSGN is actually a very beautiful system (and as I understand it, they're working on developing a system to cram even more missiles on there).

And as for prompt global strike, from what I understand, there will never be a mistake made of assuming its a nuclear launch, because its not an ICBM based system. It was my understanding that it was being developed as a hypersonic cruise missile.

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danf August 18, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Don't worry about our buying cheap Chinese goods. The are forced to loan it back to us so in effect they have paid for our wars and our continuing military spending. The greater threat are the democrats who hate the US and Obama who is a clear member of the "loath the military" wing of the democratic party. For evidence one only has to see that the economy clearly needs a boost which would be perfectly served by a massive dose of spending on a new generation of aircraft, missles, ships, submarines and space capabilities….Instead the administration is going out of its way to cancel programs and dismantle our military industrial base.

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Jacob August 18, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Yeah, keep dreaming….and watch more Fox News. Only an extremist like you interprets what Obama is doing as "loathing the military" and hating America.

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Mark August 19, 2010 at 11:49 am

Actually more government spending won't do anything. The problem is that the current administration has no clue what stimulates the economy. People and the free enterprize system do. They need a plan that will encourage businesses to hire and families to spend. Repeal the federal estate tax and give tax incentives to businesses that move to the US and create jobs.

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roland August 19, 2010 at 2:27 am

So my question is : Do we have anti chnese balistic missiles installed on our warships, boats, planes, subs and bases?

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roland August 19, 2010 at 2:37 am

And another big question is what if China did fire one thoudands of these one our ships, are we ready to respond back?

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Tim Adkison August 24, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Well we would that ship but then they would be virtually out of missiles to shoot again

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Tim Adkison August 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm

We would lost that ship***

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roland August 19, 2010 at 3:25 am

Another option is if China use this weapon and technology against us the other alternative other than counter offensive is knocking down the satellites that was directing and controlling these Chinese ballistic missiles on space.

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chanel August 19, 2010 at 4:06 am

The Com is sort of suicide bomber to collapse the world while he is hurt that they win in number at last. By the way, the people in the States need to work hard on the high tech not on the sharp teeth and let the social welfare policy promoting the Living Standard Income Level. The Com has been catching the dinner remains the people don't need and growing. Otherwise, the people take low-pay jobs with low-tech equipment from now on. We regret that the high tech doesn't come into heavy labor jobs.

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praetorian August 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm

holy cow !! I can understand you now.

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Ben August 19, 2010 at 4:08 am

Directed energy wont work agains a hypersonic kinetic warhead. Even if you could melt it in time, which would be virtually impossible, the thing will still carry the same mass and hit you as hard.

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Thomas L. Nielsen August 19, 2010 at 5:08 am

A DE weapon wouldn't necessarily have to MELT a kinetic warhead/projectile to defeat it. There are other options:
- Destruction of something other than the kinetic penetrator itself. Guidance/control system and any remaining fuel will be more vulnerable. Of course, if you're dealing with a tank APFSDS, then this won't work.
- Ablation from the warhead surfacecould produce enough thrust to destabilize the warhead/projectile and "crash" it.
- Ablation (loss) of warhead material could affect centre-of-gravity and aerodynamics, and thereby stability, with the same effect as above.
- If the beam delivers enough power , impulsive shock could defeat the warhead due to fracturing, spallation or breaking.

Of course, all this would still, as you point out, have to happen at a range where the warhead/remains wouldn't still impact with enough residual energy to be dangerous.

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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guest August 21, 2010 at 8:16 pm

given the likely effective ranges of dew in the nearish future and how effective even a pure kinetic strike would be on a carrier at those sorts of speeds i do not see dew as being an effective solution near term.

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Wess August 19, 2010 at 4:08 am

China will win in the long run, reson is they don't have idiots in congress or senators or any of that interferring BS, instead they have a clear cut plan with only one direction. You will lose America and you will deserve as you cannot manage yourself properly, they can.

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Andres August 19, 2010 at 7:22 am

so china is able to manage (whatever that means) itself? that's simply ridiculous.

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Tim Adkison August 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm

China is able make its country prosper and will have no politicians blocking there wartime goals like we have. Remember Vietnam????????

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Ryan August 19, 2010 at 4:29 am

chanel sounds like chinese propaganda to me…

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roland August 19, 2010 at 4:56 am

I think missile technology is todays trend. Conventional wars are already outdated and hope both will never be used.

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Enthusiast August 19, 2010 at 5:27 am

Anti-ship ballistic missiles is ridiculous, not rational and useless idea. It's clearly indication that China still far from being capable to make any serious worry for US aircraft carriers. Chinese engeneers and industry are not capable to design and produce "stealth" nuclear submarine with decent noise parameters and armament to for using of a typical Soviet/Russian tactics – come close enough to aircraft carrier group and use sub-launched torpedo and cruise missile(which are supersonic with capability of zig-zag evasions at the final stage to defeat defenses) attack..

Thats why Chinese "invented" moronic idea with AshBM. These "anti-ship" warheads should be pretty easy targets for AEGIS BMD. DF-21 is waste of money.

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Andres August 19, 2010 at 7:13 am

your last sentence is the only true thing you have written here.

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Jay August 20, 2010 at 10:59 am

No, it's backwards – it should read "Com rising causes the poverty"

He is talking about what Obama is doing to our economy – the ultimate strategic weapon in the socialist/communist arsenal.

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Ynotturbo August 19, 2010 at 8:35 am

If the United States would quit buying some much junk made in China then they would not have money to build weapons that they want to use against us. Every thing is now made in China. We would have plenty of jobs if we quit importing items that can be made here. I would gladly pay more money if it was supporting our own people and families. Guess the White House does not get it…..

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roland August 19, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Is too late our companies already have built their offices there decades ago and are already eating chowmain.

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Rhit August 19, 2010 at 3:51 pm

The American worker wants and expects to much in return for their hours worked. Why are union auto workers making 60-100k/year? There's no reason for that. They work an assembly line. Outsourced labor is factory work.

It's this arrogant American mentality that yields outsourced jobs and illegal alien employment.

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TIGERONE August 19, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I think I hear the ping, ping, sonar pings, of Peking, training submariners in Russia, for Peking, along with A/C Carrier Pilot Training! If, I lived in Tiawan, I'd be sleeping very uneasily these days!

Furthermore, China sent senior nuclear scientests to N. Korea, for a looksee! The Chineese are very patient people and have been our "frendly enemy" for quite some time throughout our history militarily! China usually gets what it wants – then shys away, for awhile! I think this time things will get pretty interesting to say the least!

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Tim Adkison August 24, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Dont worry by the time Obama is out of office the U.S. will be so weak and indebted to China that they will have the time to develop precision strike capabilities while we are still recovering

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