China Shows Off World’s First Anti-Carrier Ballistic Missile

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DF-21 missle launcher

DF-21 missle launcher

It seems like a page out of a Tom Clancy military thriller novel. The U.S. dispatches the super carrier George Washington to discourage a Chinese attack against Taiwan or a North Korean strike. But the Chinese responds with three salvos of the exotic new DF 21D ballistic anti-ship missile. It looks like an old submarine launched ballistic missile that’s been around for 20 years. But instead of a nuclear warhead aimed at a fixed point in the ground, China now has Jianbing-6 and YaoGan-2 satellites with real time imaging and radar to track the location of a giant carrier task force 2000 miles away. The warhead has its own cameras or sensors to see which target is the carrier and steer to it at ten times the speed of sound.

The first just pierces the armored hull, but it starts fires and shuts down flight operations. The second hit knocks out its nuclear propulsion system, by which time there are air attacks by Chinese bombers with still more missiles. The third and final wave sends the multi-billion dollar George Washington to the bottom of the ocean. That scenario, carried by a Popular Science article first appeared in a pseudonymous article posted on Xinhuanet, website of China’s official news agency.

The last time there was a navy that could seriously challenge the US was Imperial Japan which pretty much as free to roam at will after Pearl Harbor. But after the gamble of Midway paid off, it was only a matter of time before the industrial might of the US covered the Pacific with so many ships that the Japanese Navy ceased to be an effective force after Leyte Gulf.

Now after two decades of double-digit defense increases, the Chinese navy is the largest in Asia and is flexing its muscles to push its sphere of influence deep into the Pacific. Supposedly it’s just protecting its vital maritime trade routes, but even Vietnam is complaining, and it obviously poses a threat in what has become an American pond after WWII.

China is still known for making some pretty shoddy stuff. If you’ve seen how their economy cars do in crash tests, the dummy head actually hits the barrier after the front of the car disintegrates. China has certainly built things worthy of 1st rate powers (albeit on a second rate time frame) like nuclear bombs and manned spacecraft. But they’ve got a Boeing 737 rival on the drawing boards. Their fighters at least LOOK like the F-16s and F-18s we’re still cranking out, and their ships have stealth lines like our Burke class destroyers, and they’re thinking about carriers.

The DF-21 missile itself is comparable to our old 1961 version 2.0 Polaris A-2. Been there, done that. But this is a Chinese first when no other power has claimed to have perfected putting an anti-ship homing warhead onto a ballistic missile, the type of rocket pioneered by Hitler’s V-2 which goes up to the edge of space and back again that is next to impossible to shoot down. Even the Russians who made terrific weapons systems if not consumer goods tried and gave up on a similar project years ago.

Not everybody thinks the Chinese can back it up with the beyond the state-of-the-art guidance systems needed. It might take China a decade or so to perfect this thing. But Adm.Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command told Japan’s Asahi newspaper that it was ready for “initial operational capability”. Hopefully that means that they’ve just wheeled it out and hope that it scares the bejeezus out of the Americans even if all the bugs haven’t been worked out.

The Nov 1 New Yorker also had a related story that after the Chinese got their hands on the EP-3 Orion spy plane that was damaged after bumping into one of their fighters, the NSA figured that nobody would be able to reverse engineer US codes from the equipment they left on board. But in 2008, Americans caught intercepts detailing American naval movements indicating that maybe that’s just what they did. The N.S.A. asked one official “Can the Chinese be that good” and the response was “they only invented gunpowder in the tenth century and built the bomb in 1965. Nobody in the NSA even knows the pictograph for ‘Happy hour.” I don’t think any Americans have any doubt as to how smart OUR chinese scientists and engineers are. Now that we have video games smart enough to recognize and track your face, arms and legs in real time being manufactured in China, how much harder is it to pick out an aircraft carrier at Mach 10?

I don’t think it’s time for Asian Americans to go back to rooting for the Boxers like in the movie “Sand Pebbles” where the drive the American imperialists out to sea. Americans have underestimated the military effectiveness of “masses of screaming Chinamen” to their misfortune in Korea or angry little guys in pajamas in Vietnam, never mind what America thought of Japanese capabilities before they were shocked by the Zero which ran rings around American planes. Still, in the end America prevailed against Japan, beat the communists back to the starting point in Korea, and walked away from South Vietnam to let them lose their own war.

Now that Shanghai is the team to beat in academics, those of us on the American side where we send children to elite colleges that taught people to admire Mao, Marx, Ho Chi Minh and China’s one-child policy need to know which side are the good guys, and that even good guys need to do bad things once in a while to defend freedom. We need to move beyond either racism or multiculturalism and be prepared against threats from every possible location and culture rather that simply categorizing all people, Chinese, Muslim, or whatever either as “friendly” and unjustifiably excluded from scrutiny out of political correctness or “enemy” and unjustifiably hated simply on the basis of where they came from.

update: China’s military tries out Segways

Members of China’s armed police demonstrate a rapid deployment during an anti-terrorist drill held in Jinan, capital of east China’s Shandong Province July 2, 2008, roughly one month ahead of the Beijing Olympics.(Xinhua/Fan Changguo Photo)

update: The Chinese have leaked a F-22/F-23 look-alike stealth fighter too, but nobody has any idea if it’s better (more range since it’s bigger) or just a big movie prop. The US military has observed that it at least taxies, which is a lot better than a movie prop or a computer graphics effect.

Chinese J-20 stealth fighter

China F-22-alike J-20 stealth fighter

About the Author

MIT electrical engineering computer science graduate has written conservative columns on politics, race / culture, science and education since the 70s in MIT The Tech and various publications in including New Republic and National Review.