Did the Chinese test their “carrier killer” missile in the Gobi desert?


From Business Insider’s Military and Defense blog comes a report that they did just that.

China’s PLA “sunk” a U.S. aircraft carrier during a war game in remote China using its DF-21D “Carrier Killer” missile, reports Taiwan paper Want China Times.

The China Times is a 63 year old Taiwanese paper slightly slanted toward unification, but with a solid reputation and accurate reporting.

The Times report originates with a Google Earth image published at SAORBOATS Argentinian internet forum.

The photo shows two big craters on a 600 foot platform deep in China’s Gobi desert that Chinese military testers used to simulate the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

There has been talk of the DF-21 for years with estimates of its range, threat, and theater changing implications, but this could be the first known test of the rocket.

DF-21D Carrier Test

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

The challenges any designer faces making an anti-ship ballistic missile are not trivial. First, you have to find the carrier. That’s not always easy. Eventually, yes, the carrier will likely disclose its position. But the first datum that a carrier is on station is likely to be Tomahawk and SEAD strikes against your homeland.  Second, just finding a carrier isn’t localizing to the point of a firing solution.  That doesn’t even begin to take into account any active countermeasures the carrier group may use. And oh, yeah, carriers move. Quite a bit. So not only must your ASBM maneuver, it will likely need a mid-course guidance update.  Maybe. If not, it has to have a seeker that can detect and discriminate targets from long range so it can begin its terminal maneuvers early.

Then there are the active countermeasures. If the missile uses a radar guidance, sooner or later, we’ll learn to jam that system. If it uses infrared, we can jam that as well.

But the most likely active countermeasure is the accompanying escorts. Today, the Navy already fields a number of Aegis cruisers and destroyers fully capable of detecting, localizing, targeting, engaging and destroying medium range ballistic missiles. In fact, since the missile would be approaching the carrier group, that reduces the crossing angle of the shot, and makes it easier and gives multiple shots at a given target.

Given the already fielded anti-ballistic missile capability of our Navy, we are not terribly concerned with the DF-21D. In fact, one wonders why the Chinese would even pursue such an expensive capability, when there are other approaches far more likely to yield success. The obvious approach is the use of submarines. Our surface based Anti-Submarine Warfare capability and training have been shamefully ignored for years, as the capability of diesel electric subs worldwide has improved. Even more “asymetrical” would be an even more primitive weapon, the humble naval mine. The Chinese could lay defensive minefields in areas around their shores to deny us free use of those waters. And if they were really smart, they could use offensive minefields against the ports and harbors that forward deployed carriers depend on. A carrier may be able to spend months at sea, but it still relies on logistics ships to provide it with jet fuel, ammunition, spare parts, and food. This combat logistics train shuttles from friendly ports to the carrier group and back. Deny the navy its logistics, and you’ve denied the Navy itself. And it would only take a handful of mines in any of a number of important ports to effectively shut down operations in the Western Pacific.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Did the Chinese test their “carrier killer” missile in the Gobi desert?

  1. virgil xenophon

    I’m thinking security is a major concern, XBRAD. Forward deployed submarines and offensive mine-laying capability (often the same wpns system) are subject to detection and destruction in open international waters. This means that they can a) be destroyed before they can do any damage, and b) their destruction would be hard to be used as a casus belli because it would 1) be able to be plausibly denied absent news cameras and, 2) would not have been a direct attack on Chinese soil justifying an automatic response. These facts are the basis for those in the US (ME INCLUDED) who argue that we MUST keep a land-based ICBM deterrent because our enemies will know that any attempt to preemptively take them out would be an automatic act of war. Not so if all our ICMBs are at sea in international waters. In that case, if a way is found to locate and destroy them with conventional weapons, we could be presented with a fait accompli that would destroy our retaliatory capability w.o. necessarily triggering a response because it would be argued that it a( all took place in international waters, b) no nukes were involved, and c) hey, they’re all volunteers anyway and no civilians deaths were involved, so this is NOT a reason to start a nuclear war

    So for the reasons I’ve just outlined, above, I’d opine that the PLAN is following the same logic. A capability based inside China makes it invulnerable to pre-emptive attack ( no one wants to start a nuclear war over a simple “sticky” time of international tension) and also gives little or no warning as to its eminent use–unlike forward deployed capabilities.