Reports of a Chinese “carrier killer” missile have spun around in defense circles recently with commentators worrying about an imminent end to America’s dominance on the high seas. With the carriers in peril, the mightiest and proudest of instruments in American force projection, the whole naval balance, we’re told, could be shifted in China’s favor. Time for some common sense.
At The Scoop Deck, Phil Ewing admits that the scenario may seem frightening.
Suppose the now infamous DF-21 works just as (theoretically) advertised: China has total sensor coverage over every square inch of the Pacific, it launches a ballistic missile into space, which reenters the atmosphere, acquires the carrier George Washington, dances past its escorts; defenses and — kablamo! All that American castration anxiety was justified!
Is it though? As Ewing points out, the missile doomsayers can’t answer one simple question. “China sinks an American capital warship. Why? Then what?” Bombarding an American aircraft carrier doesn’t make any sense where Beijing is concerned. The Chinese have no desire to instigate World War III. Ewing quotes defense analyst Loren Thompson who explains just why that’s so.
The value of a trillion dollars in Chinese currency reserves would evaporate overnight. China’s access to the world’s richest export market would end. Its information networks would largely cease functioning. Its sea-based supply lines to Persian Gulf oil and Australian minerals would be severed. And all that could happen even before American bombs began falling on Chinese territory.
In short, concerns over China’s supposed “carrier killer” are nothing more than the sort of Sinophobia we have witnessed time and again in recent months and years.
As China rises, it will inevitably attempt to assert itself in East Asia. Washington should seek to counterbalance Chinese unilateralism in the region but it must also be realistic and accept that China will, in turn, seek a military balance of power vis-à-vis the United States. This hasn’t to be a threat and American policymakers shouldn’t worry too much about China’s navy. A China that is weak and insecure would be more prone to military adventurism than one that is powerful and confident.
In the Cold War, the Soviets developed the ‘Shipwreck’ missile, which was alledgedly as large as two double-decker busses and did more through kinetic damage than explosives. It too, was designed for the elimination of capitol ships-CVs. It’s not a new technology by any stretch of the imagination. As you point out, Nick, this perhaps makes China feel more secure, and thus less prone to rash action, and furthermore, that in the event of hostilities, China would certainly struggle to achieve victory. However, we must remember that the US Navy would be the principle force in any such conflict, and that the center of gravity for that force is the carrier battle-group and the doctrine around it. In the event that the USN was defeated in some part, or miss-managed, China would be free to act in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean and its supply lines would not be cut. I also dont see why its intelligence networks would be lost.
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