China's anti-ship ballistic missile game changer in the pacific ocean

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NIAS Report , NIAS, Bangalore (2011)



China?s spectacular economic growth in the last decade has been accompanied by its impressive performance in the areas of space, missiles and warship building. Among the more remarkable of these has been its development of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM), which according to experts, is intended to deter or target US aircraft carriers. Western media and naval sources reacted with concern bordering on alarm to the reports of the development of the ASBM. There were also skeptics who strongly doubted China?s capability to design and engineer such a missile along with the sophisticated technical infrastructure that its operation requires. However in May 2010 when a senior US Admiral declared that in his view the Chinese ASBM had reached ?Initial Operational Capability?, it was clear that talk of such an advanced weapon was not mere speculation. This study was undertaken by a group at the National Institute of Advanced Studies to make an analytical assessment of China?s capability to design and develop an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile directed against an Aircraft Carrier Strike Group (CSG), and also the Chinese ability to create the technical infrastructure required to transform this missile into an operational weapon system. In the last few years China has exerted itself to create a satellite-based system to provide large area surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. It has launched various space-based sensors to get electronic, photographic and radar information over large ocean areas of interest. All these capabilities taken up in their entirety lead to the conclusion that they could have been created to obtain early warning of an approaching carrier strike formation. While this system may not yet be complete, there is enough indication that it has reached an advanced stage. This may be the reason why the US has stated that the ASBM has entered the Initial Operational Phase. In addition to the space-based system there is an Over-the-Horizon (OTH) radar system that can give real-time information on the location of an approaching CSG. The study projects that the error in the location of the carrier from all these space and ground based assets for a missile to target an aircraft carrier can be conservatively estimated to be 25 km. Information available in the public domain on the DF 21 missile has been analysed and an estimate made of the overall weight of a reentry vehicle that would be required if it were provided with maneuvering ability, an autonomous on-board radar, an onboard propulsion system with sufficient fuel for reaching a mobile target as well as other requirements such as aerodynamic surfaces for terminal phase maneuvers. With these stipulated capabilities, the reentry vehicle weight works out to 1700 kg. For this increased warhead weight, the study has calculated the additional fuel weight and the increased dimensions of the first and second stages of a hypothetical DF21 derivative. Measurements and dimensional analysis of available images of the DF21 D show a close match with the study?s predicted dimensions, which lends credibility to the claims made for the Chinese ASBM. Overall, the study finds after careful analysis of its space-based capabilities, its OTH radar systems, its assessed C4ISR capabilities and the state of readiness of the DF 21 D missile that it appears that China has indeed achieved an asymmetrical equalizer to the US carrier- based power projection capability. It would be rash to assume that this single factor gives China the regional supremacy it seeks. But China?s ASBM has precipitated a fresh, critical appreciation of power relativities, and shaken the traditional view of the US Navy?s unassailable superiority in the Pacific.


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