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US reacts to China's carrier killer

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15 August 2008 15:49

Two recent bits of data indicate that the Pentagon is taking China's emerging anti-ship capability very seriously. China is building numerous capabilities to ensure that, if the US decided to intervene in a Taiwan Strait conflict, its most powerful (non-nuclear) military assets, it's aircraft carriers, would be extremely vulnerable.

Many of the systems entering service with the PLA to destroy enemy ships are state-of-the-art versions of technologies that have been around for generations: torpedoes, guided bombs and sea-skimming missiles. But China is also building a class of weapon that has never been seen before: an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). If you're used to thinking of ballistic missiles as innacurate weapons that are mainly useful for dropping nuclear warheads on big, immobile targets, think again. China's ASBMs will be able to hit ships at sea. So depending on the range of the missile, that would make huge areas of the seas around Taiwan unusable for America's carriers. Unless the US finds a way to defeat these missiles.

The first article indicating that America wants to do just that is from Defense News, and alleges that a big reason for a recent decision to severly truncate a new destroyer program was that the new design had no answer to the ASBM threat. Second, Ares reports that the US Navy is developing new missile options to deal with China's ASBMs. It will be interesting to see if Australia jumps onboard this second program, as the new missiles will likely be compatible with our yet-to-be-built Air Warfare Destroyers.

China's capability is still immature. You have to find a carrier before you can fire a missile at it, and despite the size of a carrier battlegroup, that's still a hard job in open oceans, and will require a satellite surveillance network that China doesn't yet have. But ASBMs are not the only threat: they are part of a portfolio of systems that together could make the seas around Taiwan very dangerous.

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