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Chinese Academic Envisions Missile Strike on U.S. Carriers

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The Dong Feng-26 on display at a military parade in Beijing, 2015 (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-01-02 17:01:00

In comments at a defense conference in Shenzhen last month, prominent Chinese military scholar Luo Yuan raised the prospect of a missile attack on American aircraft carriers as a way to exploit America's preference to avoid combat casualties. 

"Historical experience tells us that the United States is most afraid of the dead," Yuan said. "We now have Dong Feng-21D, Dong Feng-26 missiles. These are aircraft carrier killers. We attack and sink one of their aircraft carriers. Let them suffer 5,000 casualties. Attack and sink two carriers, 10,000 casualties. We’ll see how frightened America is."

Yuan has a long history of hawkish comments about the United States, and though he holds the formal title of rear admiral, his statements do not necessarily correspond to the opinions of military leadership. His threat was part of a broader speech about America's strengths and weaknesses, including the United States' military spending and readiness; its ownership of the world's reserve currency, the dollar; its need for international talent; its democratic system of government; and its perception of China as a threat.  

The anti-ship missiles Yuan referenced pose serious challenges for naval operations in the Western Pacific region. The Dong Feng-21D is a ballistic missile with a velocity of Mach 10 and a range of 800 nm, and is believed to be the first weapon of its kind. The more recently-developed Dong Feng-26 has a much longer range, roughly 2,200 nm, and is believed to be armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle. A glide vehicle can maneuver on a variable, low-altitude terminal trajectory, making it more difficult to track and hit than a conventional ballistic reentry vehicle, which falls on a predetermined path. Its extreme speed, its below-the-radar approach track and its ability to take evasive action are intended to penetrate advanced air defense systems. Notably, the DF-26 has more range than the U.S. Navy's fighters, meaning that a carrier strike group would have to enter within the missile system's sphere of influence in order to launch an attack. 

Yuan's comments followed twelve days after a senior PLA Air Force officer suggested that American FONOPS in the South China Sea should be countered with ramming. Dai Xu, a PLA Air Force Colonel Commandant and the president of China's Institute of Marine Safety and Cooperation, told Global Times that China should not be afraid to respond to American warship patrols with force. "If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it," Xu said. "In our territorial waters, we won't allow U.S. warships to create disturbance."