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China’s Carrier Killer Ballistic Missiles are Operational

by John Reed on December 28, 2010

It looks like this is the week China’s military rapidly advancing military tech keeps getting the limelight . First, we saw pics of the Asian giant’s new stealth fighter. Now, it looks like China is one step closer to fielding ballistic missiles aimed at holding U.S. forces throughout the Pacific at bay.

Adm. Robert Willard, the top U.S. officer in the Pacific said this week that China’s new DF-21D anti-ship balistic missiles, with their 900-mile range, have reached an early operational status.

Apparently, the missiles, widely fretted over in Washington as one of the most serious threats to the United States’ ability to project power in the Pacific (read here, here and here) have reached the equivalent of initial operational capability, Willard said in an interview with the Japanese Newspaper, Asahi Shimbun.

While the U.S. hasn’t seen an “over water” test of the missile, Willard says that the fact that the system is at IOC, means it can likely hit intended targets.

Typically, to have something that would be regarded as in its early operational stage would require that that system be able to accomplish its flight pattern as designed, by and large.

He goes on to say that while the missiles are not yet as serious a threat to American aircraft carriers as submarines are, they do represent one more layer of a complex anti-access, area denial system ranging from advanced surface to air missiles to submarines and the new ballistic missiles which could strike either U.S. allies or its carriers and bases in the region.

The anti-access/area denial systems, more or less, range countries, archipelagos such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, so there are many countries in the region that are falling within the envelope of this, of an A2/AD capability of China. That should be concerning–and we know is concerning–to those countries.

While it may be largely designed to assure China of its ability to affect military operations within its regional waters, it is an expanded capability that ranges beyond the first island chain and overlaps countries in the region. For that reason, it is concerning to Southeast Asia, (and) it remains concerning to the United States.

The rise of this type of anti-access technology has caused the Pentagon to beging reevaluating how it will fight a major war under the aegis of the Air-Sea Battle concept, which calls for the Air Force and Navy to figure out how they will work together to overcome such threats.  That plan is being finalized right now, none too soon in light of these latest developments. It remains to be seen whether the concept will me a highly fleshed out plan for fighting in places like the Western Pacific or if it will be a mere vision statement.

One aspect that will likely feature prominently in the Air-Sea Battle concept is the, so-called, family of long range strike systems being eyed by the DoD.

The family of systems idea was launched after Defense Secretary Robert Gates shelved the Air Force’s plan to build a new long range bomber by 2018. Instead, he told the service to look at what capabilities it could develop along with the other services to best overcome advanced enemy air defenses. While some sort of penetrating bomber/electronic attack/intelligence plane may be part of this family, it will also likely include stand-off cruise missiles lauchded by air or sea, and even land based ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets around the globe on very short notice.

While China insists its military tech is being developed for defensive purposes and that China will always work to safeguard “regional peace and stability,” it’s not always clear what that means. For example, China’s military has dramatically increased its penetrations of Japanese airspace, resulting in Japanese fighters being scrambled 44 times this fiscal year; double the total for 2006, according to a different article in Asahi Shimbun.

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