Friday, 10 April, 2009

China's new super missile targets U.S. carriers in deep ocean

China is developing a new, nasty surprise for the U.S Navy's aircraft carrier battle groups -- a super-long-range anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of 1,200 miles.

The U.S. Naval Institute reported on its Web site Tuesday that the new weapon has already been under secret development for years. It is a modified version of the Dong Feng 21 missile that, in addition to its range, can carry a warhead capable of doing serious, and possibly lethal, damage to an 80,000-ton nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier.

The Naval Institute report said details of the new anti-ship ballistic missile were first revealed on a Chinese blog that U.S. military analysts regard as a credible source for information about the People's Liberation Army and Navy. The report was translated into English and can be viewed at the naval affairs blog Information Dissemination:

"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 Naval Institute noted.

The report also describes the new missile as being difficult to locate and track on radar because of its combination of "a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable."

The report said the new missile can fly at speeds of up to Mach 10 -- 10 times the speed of sound. That is about 7,500 miles per hour at sea level. It can fly more than 1,200 miles in less than 12 minutes.

The weapon was not developed in isolation. The Naval Institute report said it can be guided on to its giant aircraft carrier targets by a combination of low-Earth-orbit satellites, radar and unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. naval analysts believe that the Chinese allowed details of the new ASBM to be published unofficially because the weapon is already operational, the report said. "The Chinese rarely mention weapons projects unless they are well beyond the test stages," it said.

The new Chinese weapon, if it is operational or likely to be so soon, marks a huge advance in naval warfare and heralds a shift in the balance of power at sea that could prove strategic in its scale. It would be, as the Naval Institute report pointed out, "the first time a ballistic missile has been successfully developed to attack vessels at sea. Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack."

China has slowly but relentlessly and steadily built up already an overwhelming concentration of short-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to dominate the Taiwan Strait. Already, they have made the strait a death trap for U.S. carrier battle groups in any time of war. However, the U.S. carrier force has retained its great capability to project power hundreds of miles against land-based targets while remaining out of range of land-based and light warship-based ASBMs.

The new anti-ship Chinese ballistic missile, however, if it proves successful and reliable, could have the capability to threaten U.S. warships operating more than a thousand miles away from Chinese land bases, effectively driving U.S. naval power in the event of any conflict with China back into the Central Pacific. It will also spur urgent U.S. efforts to adapt and advance existing ballistic missile defense technology to provide defenses against the new threat.

Along with the Chinese naval buildup, U.S. Navy officials appear to view the development of the anti-ship ballistic missile as a tangible threat.

Respected analyst Raymond Pritchett writes on the U.S. Naval Institute blog at that senior U.S. Navy officers appear to be taking the new threat very seriously indeed.

"The Navy's reaction is telling because it essentially equals a radical change in direction based on information that has created a panic inside the bubble," he wrote. "For a major military service to panic due to a new weapon system, clearly a mission kill weapon system, either suggests the threat is legitimate or the leadership of the Navy is legitimately unqualified. There really aren't many gray spaces in evaluating the reaction by the Navy ... the data tends to support the legitimacy of the threat."

China's naval commanders are certainly riding high and feeling confident these days. On March 8 they harassed a U.S. survey ship, the USNS Impeccable, which appears to have been on an intelligence-gathering voyage in international waters near the major Chinese strategic submarine and bomber bases on the island of Hainan.

The new weapon also confirms reports from United Press International's Andrei Chang that the Chinese navy is no longer satisfied with simply being able to prevent the U.S. Navy and its carrier battle groups from operating in China's home waters. Beijing appears determined to create the weapons systems that will allow it to assert command of the seas at least 1,000 miles out into the ocean beyond its shores.

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