Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Sparks Speculation, Concern

By Stew Magnuson
The April 2011 issue of the Navy’s Proceedings magazine showed an image of a U.S aircraft carrier aflame in the aftermath of being struck by a Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile.

The alarming cover painting and the emergence of this new weapon has given naval planners pause.

Designed to be launched from land and strike a moving ship at sea by employing a maneuverable reentry vehicle during a regional conflict, it has been called a “game changing weapon.”

“The U.S. Navy has not previously faced a threat from highly accurate ballistic missiles capable of hitting moving ships at sea,” wrote Ronald O’Rourke, specialist in naval affairs at the Congressional Research Service, in a February report to lawmakers focusing on China’s naval modernization.

The DF-21D, as it is known, uses a combination of radar and optical sensors to make last second guidance updates. High explosives in the reentry vehicle knock out its target.

“Due to their ability to change course, the [reentry vehicle] on an ASBM would be more difficult to intercept than non-maneuvering ballistic missile reentry vehicles,” O’Rourke stated.

It could strike vessels some 810 nautical miles from China’s shore, the report said.

Jan van Tol, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the flight time is short, so ships would have to get out of the way quickly, if the missile can’t be intercepted.

However, it is not clear that it works yet. The missile has never been tested against mobile targets or those in a cluttered environment, he said.

The CRS report said that China tested the missile on a mock aircraft carrier located in the Gobi Desert in January 2013. That, of course, was a stationary target.

The U.S. Navy will have to figure out a way to break the ASBM’s kill chain, Van Tol said.

Topics: Ballistics, International, Missile Defense

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