Pacific News Minute: China Deploys “Carrier Killer” Missiles

Jan 16, 2019

DF-26 missile
Credit IceUnshattered / Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Chief of Naval Operations has been in Beijing this week for meetings with his Chinese counterpart. After a near collision between U.S. and Chinese warships in the South China Sea last September, a Navy release said that Admiral John Richardson and Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong discussed ways to reduce the risks of interactions at sea. China has also deployed a new missile – known as the “carrier killer.”

When the U.S. sailed an aircraft carrier strike group through the Taiwan Strait during a crisis in 1995, China had no credible military response. 

It does now. 

China’s developed weapons designed to overwhelm the layered defenses around American aircraft carriers, including high speed cruise missiles that fly at low altitude, and ballistic missiles that plunge down from outer space. China deployed the first of these so-called “carrier killers” in 2009 – the short range DF 21 D.

Earlier this month, Chinese television showed pictures of its new big brother, the DF 26, deployed on a mobile launcher in China’s remote northwestern plateau. The DF 26 can fly up to 2,500 miles – a range that led Chinese media to give it another nickname, the Guam Express. China’s Global Times cited a military expert who said that a missile fired from deep in the country’s interior would be difficult to target in its vulnerable boost phase, while its speed on re-entry is so high, that it’s difficult to intercept.

U.S. warships do carry interceptors, like the new SM-6, but nobody knows how well they would actually work. For that matter, nobody really knows how well the DF 26 works either. But late last year, Chinese Rear Admiral Luo Yuan suggested that, in a new crisis, China could sink two U.S. aircraft carriers.

Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told Australia’s ABC, “They’re putting real capabilities in play to back up their threats.”