February 15, 2016

DF-21D "Carrier Killer" and AirSea Battle Targets

As far as I can see - the US defense forces AirSea Battle doctrine began in 2009-10. The wiki entry explains:

"AirSea Battle officially became part of US grand strategy, when, in February 2010, the US Department of Defense's [long PDF! 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review] stated [on pages 32 and 33]:

"The Air Force and Navy together are developing a new joint air-sea battle concept for defeating adversaries across the range of military operations, including adversaries equipped with sophisticated anti-access and area denial capabilities. The concept will address how air and naval forces will integrate capabilities across all operational domains—air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace—to counter growing challenges to US freedom of action. As it matures, the concept will also help guide the development of future capabilities needed for effective power projection operations."

By 2012 increasing interest in China's DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile provided focus on an actual Chinese "wonder weapon" nicknamed "Carrier Killer".

In an AirSea battle, assuming it is US/Japan/maybe Australia versus China (hopefully not Russia as well) the red dotted line ........ represents the likely range of the DF-21D. See description and assumptions on the map of a battle. (Map courtesy WashPost, August 2012)

Locating ships (eg. carriers) in favourable conditions then cueing the sensors, including Chinese subs, to accurately fir the missile. The wiki entry contains many good points.

As indicated in the Youtube (above of March 2012) the US or Japan could counter the DF-21D by:

-  Frigates, destroyers or cruisers using SM-3 missiles to shoot DF-21Ds down

-  Electronic warfare aircraft (eg. "Growlers"), ships and maybe LEO satellites to jam DF-21D guidance/sensors

-  use of decoys or electronic lures (from the above platforms) to make the DF-21D "think" the target is where the target is not.

The bigger picture of Chinese ballistic missile ranges - from short range (SRBMs) to hit Taiwan to the longest range ICBM launched in central China to hit the US (US Government CSBA via China Mike

In the DF-21D China has an effective asymmetric weapon to face the superiority of combined US, Japanese and Taiwanese surface ships. China would probably justify its use against major warships in "defence" of China, including "defending China's province of Taiwan".

DF-26 "Guam Killer"

To solve the DF-21D’s inability, from the Chinese mainland, to hit the US air and naval base at Guam, China, in 2015, began to field the DF-26 “Guam Killer”. The DF-26 with a 3,000 - 4,000 km range is reportedly capable of hitting land, large and medium sized ships. Like the DF-21D it is conventional or nuclear capable and it can be partly cued by Chinese remote sensing satellites like the Yaogan satellites.


As the DF-21D (equally relevant to the DF-26) is a ballistic missile (with some cruise missile maneuvre characteristics) the DF-21D suffers from nuclear ambiguity. While cruise missile, like the Tomahawk, are assumed to be conventional high explosive, deserving a conventional response, using a ballistic missile against a nuclear power might receive a mistaken nuclear response.

The risk that the DF-21D's use may be seen as a nuclear attack may be one reason why the US has not developed a similar weapon. Perhaps the US sees the Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (TASMs) and upgrades) or LRASMs as avoiding the nuclear ambiguity risk and being cheaper for lower, more common, conflict.

Also China's use of a DF-21D, merely costing several $million, may not be seen by the US as a legitimate weapon against a US aircraft carrier cost several $billion and potentially 1,000s of sailors lives.


Against submarines, the DF-21D may also have a large depth-bomb (conventional or nuclear) or lightweight torpedo capability. The DF-21D could also hit submarines in their mooring at the joint US and Japanese naval base at Yokosuka Japan and Japanese submarines at Kure naval base, Japan. 

The US Submarine Squadron 15 of SSNs at Guam naval base would also be high on the list of Chinese targets.

On left is a DF-21 (not necessarily a 21D) and on right a DF-31 ICBM (Courtesy Armscontrolwonk, Feb 5, 2016)

DF-21D in a container perhaps used mainly for parade? Or no actual DF-21D in it? Or its fair dinkum. (Source)

Since 2012 China would have improved the accuracy, reliability and surprise-value of the DF-21D. China's smaller anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles have also become more effective. The cruise missiles also don't suffer from ambiguity. 

A good desciption of DF-21D functioning is in the second half of Strategy Page article Artillery: The Long Reach Of China, February 18, 2016.

Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC)

The US strategic concept "AirSea Battle" underwent a name change to "Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC)" in January 2015. See the National Interest's useful November 25, 2015 article on JAM-GC. JAM-GC seems to be an as yet not fully formulated attempt to avoid AirSea Battle's over specificity to the China-Western Pacific theatre - hence more global - including the recently rising Russian tensions. 

However, lets hope China and the US (and allies) never come to blows.



Anonymous said...

In addition to the DF-21D, there is this new Guam killer DF-26 which may also exist in an ASM variant according to Jane's. The DF-26 was shown at the October 2015 parade.
I believe, from open sources on the web, DF-21Ds are based at bases in Northern China near the North Korean border as well as in Southern China at bases south of Kunming. The cruise missiles CJ-10 are based at a base in the North West corner of Guangxi. Those bases in Southern China clearly cover almost the entire SCS and SE Asia while the Norther ones cover Okinawa and the Sea of Japan.

Peter Coates said...


Thanks for the DF-26 "Guam Killer" tip.

Useful Sep 3, 2015 report http://nationalinterest.org/feature/showtime-china-reveals-two-carrier-killer-missiles-13769 :

"Official commentary elaborated that the DF-26 is “capable of targeting large- and medium-sized targets on water”. This “Guam Killer” missile is credited with 3,000-4,000-km (1,800-2,500 mile) range, sufficient to strike U.S. bases on Guam.
The set of sixteen DF-26 missiles [on parade] was further described as the “Conventional-/Nuclear-capable formation. The DF-26 can perform medium-to-long-range precision attack on both land and large-to-medium-sized maritime targets. A new weapon for strategic deterrence”.

Report continues http://nationalinterest.org/feature/showtime-china-reveals-two-carrier-killer-missiles-13769?page=3 :
"None of this tells us how China’s ASBMs would perform in the unfortunate event of conflict. First, it remains unclear how well China would be able to target the DF-26, particularly towards the far end of its range. By parading the DF-21D and DF-26, Beijing is indicating that the missiles themselves have been tested carefully and accepted into military service as operational hardware. The reconnaissance strike complex that supports them, by contrast, remains a work in progress. But it is clearly being developed rapidly, with new satellites of multiple types devoted to remote sensing and other relevant missions being launched frequently.

On August 27, for instance, China launched the Yaogan-27 remote sensing satellite. In fact, well over twenty-seven Yaogan satellites have been lofted, with some number of designators covering three-satellite triplets apparently optimized for triangulating surface ship location in a manner akin to that of the U.S. Naval Ocean Surveillance System. Open-source analysts are still waiting for evidence of China testing an ASBM comprehensively against a noncooperative moving maritime target.

Second, even if China’s ASBMs are completely functional at all stages of their “kill chain,” they could still be defeated completely by foreign countermeasures."

US counter measures may be met by Chinese couner-counter measures.

Anonymous said...

I believe the weakness of the DF-21D and DF-26 ASBM is that no one can tell after a launch is detected, if this is a nuclear BM or a conventional ASBM one. The moment space based IR sensors detect one or more xRBM launch(es), can anyone afford to wait before responding? I suspect no one can.
And in the scenario of a post nuclear winter, ASM and aircraft cariers are not very relevant to whatever is left of the human species.

Josh said...

Its worth noting that one of the complications of testing something like the DF-21 is that it would have to be used against a target inside the first island chain. That creates political complications, in terms of escalating tensions, but more practically also means that any test to be easily observed by USN ships, boats, and aircraft and any active emissions or telemetry potentially compromised. The PLAN has a 'back yard' advantage when it comes to deploying short range or land based systems in the region, but it doesn't have a 'home field' advantage in that it can't train or test in its own back yard without potentially providing a trove of information to its primary strategic competitor. This is likely the reason the DF-21D has, to my knowledge, only been tested against a static target in the Gobi desert not particularly representative of an actual engagement. It is highly likely this will continue to be the case, as the ambiguity over what its capabilities are is probably preferred to having the US watch it tested and having an understanding of its capability, limitations, and devise potential counter measures.


Josh said...

Regarding the US developing a similar weapon to DF-21:

The USN had until recently absolute confidence in destroying high value naval targets from the air. The deployment of advanced escorts and fighters by China has recently lead to the desire to produce a new offensive AShM program and procure a small number of LRASM missiles as an immediate stop gap.

The USN also is generally very confident of the ability to sink opponent naval vessels with its submarines. That likely hasn't changed - if Yuan is a threat to a US surface ship, then a Virginia class SSN is practically a death sentence to PLAN units.

There also is no geographic place to deploy such a weapon except allied territory or Guam.

There's also sparingly little high value targets to shoot at - outside of Lianoing, the next 'capital' ship would likely be a destroyer.

So there's nothing to recommend such a system to US employment.

Autumn Leaf said...

I wouldn't be surprised half of what China has displayed or leaked are fake. China is more than likely to employ many tactics found in the Art of War. The Art of War discusses many deceptive tactics including creating fictional or fictitious units and abilities.

I trust that ADF and US DoD are discerning enough and not over-exaggerate or under-estimate China's ability. The Chinese likes to copy everything the Americans do, so they are employing the same tactics US used on the Soviets right back at the US themselves.