China's Real Threat to U.S. Advances

by Robert Wall at 12/29/2010
The potential first flight still this year of China’s J-20 fighter may go down as one of the main military highlights for the country in 2010, but it is the seeming advance made with the DF-21D ballistic missile that has greater strategic military importance.China has been developing the DF-21D ballistic missile, which is coupled with advanced guidance, to be able to threaten U.S. aircraft carrier battlegroups in a way more traditional systems, such as anti-ship cruise missiles, can’t. It is a cornerstone of the country’s anti-access efforts and aims to overwhelm U.S. defenses. 



Now, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command says the missile system has reached initial operational status.

In an interview with the Japanese Asahi newspaper, Adm. Robert Willard had this to say about the DF21:


The anti-ship ballistic missile system in China has undergone extensive testing. An analogy using a Western term would be “initial operational capability,” whereby it has–I think China would perceive that it has–an operational capability now, but they continue to develop it. It will continue to undergo testing, I would imagine, for several more years.

This year’s Pentagon report on Chinese military capabilities discusses the weapon (as had prior reports), but does not indicate it had reached the “IOC”-like status. It describes the weapon as CSS-5-derived with a range of more than 1,500 km and featuring a maneuvering warhead.

One reason the system may still be considered merely at the IOC level is a lack of testing and operational experience. But the DF-21D also requires strong intelligence collection and command and control capabilities and it remains uncertain to what extent those vital support elements are in place at this time.


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