Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense, National Security and More

Why China’s Military Is Obsessed with Sinking U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers

Aircraft Carrier
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) steams through the Atlantic Ocean July 16, 2014. The Harry S. Truman was underway conducting an ammunition transfer. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Karl Anderson, U.S. Navy/Released)

Carriers in the Crosshairs? Why China Wants Carrier-Killer Missiles – On Thursday, the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet confirmed that an aircraft carrier and its strike group returned to the South China Sea after a port call visit to Singapore. The deployment comes as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi prepares for a possible visit to Taiwan.

“USS Ronald Reagan and her strike group are underway, operating in the South China Sea following a successful port visit to Singapore,” Commander Hayley Sims said in a statement to Reuters.

The presence of the carrier is likely to irk Beijing, which has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, the relatively narrow strip of ocean between the self-governing island and the Chinese mainland. The Chinese military has frequently sent planes into the area, testing Taiwan’s air defense zone. Tensions remain high, and the deployment of U.S. Navy carriers is why the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sought to develop so-called “carrier-killer” missiles.

While the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) launched its third carrier, the Type 003 Fujian, last month, its leadership knows that can’t go carrier-to-carrier against the U.S. Navy, which operates 11 nuclear-powered flattops along with nine amphibious assault ships (LHDs), which are used to maintain force projection around the world.

Lessons From History

In 1954-55, and again in 1958, the tensions between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan – officially the Republic of China (ROC) – even resulted in armed conflict. It wasn’t a full-blown war, but it was still a serious matter that involved the PRC bombing islands controlled by the ROC.

The situation nearly reached a boiling point again in 1996, during the so-called “Third Taiwan Strait Crisis,” which began with a seemingly insignificant moment nearly a year earlier. In May 1995, then President Bill Clinton granted Lee Teng-hui, the then president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), a visa to visit the United States so that the ROC official could attend a reunion at Cornell University.

Beijing didn’t take the matter lightly, and the situation simmered until the PLA carried out military exercises in March 1996 that included the live fire of missiles, allegedly intended to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate in the run-up to that year’s presidential election.

U.S. Response Remembered

On March 10, 1996, the White House ordered two aircraft carriers to the region: the Forrestal-class USS Independence (CV-62) proceeded from Japan to Taiwan-adjacent waters; while the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) departed the Persian Gulf and sailed for the Philippine Sea. The two flattops were also joined by the Belleau Wood SAG (Surface Air Group), which included the Tawara-class amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

It would be fair to describe the deployment as a late 20th-century version of “gunboat diplomacy” – however, it was one that involved carriers and amphibious assault ships.

While China conducted a fourth and final missile test on March 13 and a joint ground, air, and naval exercise a few days later, tensions soon cooled. As has been noted in the years since Beijing may not have been happy with Washington’s exercise of gunboat diplomacy, but it couldn’t really do much. The PRC’s symbolic gesture – its joint military exercises – was matched with an equal symbolic gesture, the arrival of the U.S. Navy.

Carrier Killers?

It has been more than 26 years since the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, and by some accounts, for the past three years (at least) we’ve been witnessing a de facto Fourth Taiwan Strait Crisis. The difference this time is that Beijing has ensured it has the weapons to counter the U.S. Navy’s carriers.

This includes its DF-21D and DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missiles, and it was just two years ago, in late summer 2020, that China conducted test launches of both platforms into the South China Sea. Those tests came just one day after Beijing accused the United States of sending a U-2 spy plane into a “no-fly zone” during a PLAN live-fire naval drill in the Bohai Sea off China’s north coast.

China first unveiled its road-mobile, two-stage solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic (IRBM) DF-26B (Dong Feng-26) during a military parade in September 2015. It has a reported range of 4,000km (2,485 miles) and it can be used in both conventional and nuclear strikes against ground as well as naval targets.

The mobile launcher can carry a 1,200 to 1,800 kg nuclear or conventional warhead; and as it could directly strike a target such as the U.S. territory of Guam, in the event of war it should be seen as a formidable weapon. Even more ominously, the DF-26B has been described as a “carrier killer” due to how it could be used to target the U.S. Navy’s fleet of Nimitz– and Ford-class nuclear-powered supercarriers.

What is also noteworthy about the DF-26B is that it is a dual-capable missile with intermediate range. Ground-fired intermediate-range missiles are banned by the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. As China was never invited to join the agreement, and apparently would never abide by it, the United States withdrew from the treaty during the Trump administration citing Beijing’s deployment of such weapons as a justification.

The other missile that is currently in Beijing’s arsenal has been seen as just as worrisome. It is the DF-21D, which has been described as the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) or “carrier killer.” The DF-21D first entered service more than 30 years ago in a ground attack format and replaced the obsolete Dong Feng-2 (CSS-1) and has been massively upgraded throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s. It became China’s first solid-fuel road-mobile missile. The missiles have a range of at least 1,000 miles according to most experts. That could make it instrumental in striking a vessel in the open ocean or denying access to a potential opponent in transiting to a conflict zone in waters that Beijing seeks to control, such as the East or South China Seas.

The DF-21D had entered service in the early 1990s, yet, but was not ready to serve as a carrier-killer missile in any sense. Clearly, however, the world avoided a full-blown conflict over what was really a minor row, but Beijing may not be so willing to back down to the next display of gunboat diplomacy now that it has an arsenal of weapons that could remove those pieces from the board.

A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Omega 13

    July 29, 2022 at 10:59 am

    Carriers groups allow the United States to project power. In combination with amphibious assault groups, we can project power, occupy territory, and establish bases.

    The fact that we have ten carrier groups means that we can do that whenever we want. We are the only nation capable of doing this in wartime. Other countries have similar but limited capabilities, but China doesn’t.

  2. Steven

    July 29, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    By the time any ballistic missle hit the water the Carrier would be long gone….

  3. Michael

    July 30, 2022 at 11:49 am

    Df21 can not hit a moving target yet. It goes so fast that when it’s falling towards target it would need a means to adjust its movement to the moving ships. The sub sonic kissile can be shot down by several different defensive systems. The author should know these limits I do not know why he does not mention them. Also they have to find the carrier to begin with. Even if they do the supersonic missliles are designed to hit stationary targets as mentioned and the other missile if it can track a moving target at sub sonic there tracked by anti missiles missiles and there very capable of hitting sub sonic missiles.

  4. merryinfidel

    July 30, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    You do know that aircraft carriers can’t really fly, right?

  5. truthalwayswinsout

    July 30, 2022 at 6:15 pm

    Here is a small but vital idea.

    Taiwan was dragged kicking and screaming bloody murder to get a 2% GDP defense spending.

    If they increase their spending to 4% they can purchase enough advanced weapons to so damage the Communists they risk losing control of the mainland.

    Why are we defending them when they won’t defend themselves?

  6. Barefoot Cavalry

    July 30, 2022 at 10:24 pm

    just how many can these sneaky dirtbags sling?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Advertisement