Friday, January 25, 2013

Did China Test its “Carrier-Killer?”

Want China Times is reporting that China may have tested its new anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the DF-21D.

The DF-21D, sometimes referred to as a "carrier-killer," is fired from a mobile truck-mounted launcher into the atmosphere, with assistance from over-the-horizon radar, satellite tracking and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles where a warhead is delivered to its target at a speed greater than sound.

Want China Times explains:
"The People's Liberation Army has successfully sunk a U.S. aircraft carrier, according to a satellite photo provided by Google Earth, reports our sister paper Want Daily — though the strike was a war game, the carrier a mock-up platform and the "sinking" occurred on dry land in a remote part of western China.

Satellite images revealed two large craters on a 200-meter-long white platform in the Gobi desert used to simulate the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The photo was first posted on SAORBATS, an internet forum based in Argentina. Military analysts believed the craters would have been created by China's DF-21D anti-ship missile, dubbed the "carrier killer."
If such reports are accurate, this would be another step towards developing a weapons system that could tip the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific in China’s favor.

A logical next step would be for China to test the weapon against a moving vessel at sea as opposed to a stationary target on land.

China's new missile would also need to be tested against an uncooperative target. Such a weapon would face various challenges to hitting a vessel in the open ocean. As defense analyst Roger Cliff explained in an interview with The Diplomat:
"The thing to keep in mind is that, in order for China to successfully attack a U.S. navy ship with a ballistic missile, it must first detect the ship, identify it as a U.S. warship of a type that it wishes to attack (e.g., an aircraft carrier), acquire a precise enough measurement of its location that a missile can be launched at it (i.e., a one-hour old satellite photograph is probably useless, as the ship could be 25 miles away from where it was when the picture was taken), and then provide mid-course updates to the missile. Finally, the warhead must lock onto and home in on the ship."

In terms of countermeasures and ways to defeat the missile, Cliff also explained the U.S. had a number of options, although some measures may be difficult to employ:
"…over-the-horizon radars used to detect ships can be jammed, spoofed, or destroyed; smoke and other obscurants can be deployed when an imagery satellite, which follows a predictable orbit, is passing over a formation of ships; the mid-course updates can be jammed; and when the missile locks on to the target its seeker can be jammed or spoofed. Actually intercepting the missile is probably the most difficult thing to do. The SM-3 has an exoatmospheric kill vehicle, meaning that it can only intercept the missile during mid-course, when it’s traveling through space, so an Aegis ship escorting the target would have to fire its SM-3 almost immediately in order to intercept the missile before it reentered the atmosphere, or else there would have to be an Aegis ship positioned right under the flight path of the missile. The DF-21D may be equipped with decoys that are deployed in mid-course, making the SM-3’s job harder. U.S. Aegis ships are also equipped with the SM-2 Block 4 missile, which is capable of intercepting missiles within the atmosphere, but the DF-21D warhead will be performing some high-G maneuvers, which may make it impossible for the SM-2 Block 4 to successfully intercept it."

China's ASBM was also in the news this week for other reasons.

Inside Defense reports that the Pentagon's testing directorate has stopped publicly raising concerns about the lack of a surrogate missile needed to test defenses against the DF-21D.

Last year the Pentagon’s operational testing chief, J. Michael Gilmore complained that the Department of Defense (DOD) had not been given funding to develop a threat-representative anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) target for open-air trials, which Gilmore characterized as an "immediate test-resource need."

Pentagon spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea has confirmed that DOD will no longer be discussing the ASBM target shortfall in public because of security concerns.

"Additional discussion of Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Target at the unclassified level is not possible at this time," Elzea said, Inside Defense reported.

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