Thursday, September 3, 2015

China's Latest Weapon - The Dong Feng 21D

A recent article in the Financial Times suggests notes that there could finally be a very significant game-changer in the struggle to stay atop the world's armed forces.  While the United States has become quite used to its basically unchallenged position as the world's sole superpower, it appears as though China has unveiled its "carrier killer" missile during its marking of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Let's open with this map showing China's current defensive layers:


China and its navy (People's Liberation Army (Navy) or PLA (N) is currently primarily focussed on the "near seas" where it is dealing with disputes over the sovereignty of various islands in the South China Sea.  China also has a long term goal of reunification with Taiwan and hopes to prevent a third party from intervening in this "internal matter".  

China's possession of a very advanced, high hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) has been rumoured since 2009.  For many years, experts have postulated about the existence of a Chinese weapon that would be capable of destroying United States aircraft carriers at a greater range than China's current inventory of missiles.  The existence of this ASBM was first discovered on a posting on a Chinese blog and was translated on the Information Dissemination website.  At that time, it was believed that the Dong Feng 21 (DF-21) (translated as "East Wind") was the world's first land-based, long range anti-ship ballistic missile that could target a moving aircraft carrier.  As it turned out, the current iteration of the Dong Feng, the DF-21D, is a two stage missile which uses a solid propellant, is road mobile and has a range of at least 2000 kilometres.  It is large enough to carry a warhead that could inflict significant damage, possibly fatal, on an aircraft carrier.  Modifications have been made to the warhead that lower its radar signature.  As well, the missile has the ability to seek active and passive radar as well as infrared signatures.  It is key to note that this missile could be used to prevent the United States fleet of carriers from intervening in the strait between Taiwan and mainland China.

Here is a photograph of the DF-21D aka the "carrier killer":


The DF-21/ASBM will target "enemy ships" using:

1.) Reconnaissance satellites that have the ability to scan ships.
2.) OTH Radar that has a range of 800 to 3000 kilometres.
3.) Unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). 

In 2011, People's Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of Staff Chen Bingde confirmed that China was developing the Dong Feng 21D ASBM and it was reported that the missile had a range of 2700 kilometres which would give it the coverage shown on this map:


You will note that the DF-21D would be capable of striking as far away as Indonesia and completely covers the South China Sea, the area where China has been particularly active in recent years.  The missile is capable of hitting moving target at sea and travelling at Mach 10 or ten times the speed of sound.  This would make it difficult if not impossible for the U.S. to defend its fleet or to retaliate.  Two options for retaliation are available; 

1.) Raytheon's Tomahawk missile which is not particularly designed for mobile or floating targets and would require a significant upgrade before they are a match for the Chinese Navy.  They are also relatively low tech meaning that they could easily be shot down using more sophisticated defense systems.

2.) Lockheed Martin's Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) which cost about $2 million each and have a shorter range and smaller payload than the Tomahawk.  The LRASM is not expected to be deployed for another three years.

On top of the DF-21D, the Office of Naval Intelligence has also revealed that China has deployed its new YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile on both Luyang III destroyers, Song/Yuan class diesel submarines and Shang-class nuclear attack submarines, posing a major threat to U.S. and allied vessels.  As well, over the past year, China has begun building or launched more than 60 naval ships and a similar number of warships.  The key focus of the Chinese navy is its anti-surface ship warfare and the development of the YJ-18 with its range of 111 miles could prove to be difficult for U.S. ships to defend against.


With China's recent revelation that it expects that there will ultimately be a conflict with the United States as China seeks to flex its military and naval "muscles", the unveiling and implementation of the Dong Feng 21D will likely prove to be a game changer for both sides.