Thursday, 13 February 2020

Can a Carrier Group Defend against China's "Carrier Killer"?

In my Oct 2016 post on Singapore's possible Aircraft Carrier Ambition, I suggested that China just needs to build up the numbers and performance of their "Carrier-killer" missile the DF21.

This video (not mine) explores how the US carrier group might defend against the DF21.

Was this a good analysis of the problem and proposed solution?

I don't think so.

At 2:42, the DoD estimated in 2008 estimated that China had 60 - 80 missiles. And 10 - 11 missiles can be built a year. That was 12 years ago. So their arsenal could now be as many as 200 DF21. And when a carrier group comes along, China will fire just ONE DF21 at the carrier and the (at 9:41) Ticonderogas and Arleigh Burkes can put up 200+ missiles against ONE DF21. Problem solved!

What if China sends TWO DF21? 

Heck, with 200 DF21 and 10 US carriers, China could afford to send 20 DF21s per carrier. If they come. 

But in the initial action, China may well want a quick and certain win to bloody the nose of the US, so why won't they send say 50 DF21 against the first carrier. And the carrier groups can send up 200+ missiles to intercept these 50 DF21? I won't want to bet on those odds. The 200+ missiles could take down 49 of the 50 DF21 - a 98% success rate. 

But just ONE DF21 can destroy a carrier (3:49). Also if the warheads are nuclear and set to detonate in the air, how far away would "success" be measured? 

All this video does is set up a simplistic scenario of China firing just ONE DF21 at the first carrier that comes knocking? How realistic is that? I have great confidence that a carrier group can defend against ONE DF21. Try 6. Or 12. Or 20. Or 50. And if the US loses a carrier or part of a carrier group, what will become of the US will to fight? How would the US citizens react to losing more lives in ONE action than in the entire Afghan war? If this military adventure were in defence of say Taiwan, would the US citizens still back the military action?

This video is concerned only with tech specs - of the US forces. The true challenge for a "carrier killer" is the kill chain - how to target a moving object over the horizon, up to 900 miles away. Disrupt that kill chain and the DF21 becomes bullets fired in the dark. 
The missile components of the DF-21D already are proven through multiple tests, but China’s ability to use the missile against a moving target operating in the open ocean remains unproven. The supporting command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies probably still lag behind the requirement to identify and track a U.S. aircraft carrier in real time under wartime conditions. Improving C4ISR capabilities, however, is a high priority in China’s military modernization program. U.S. countermeasures are another matter entirely: there is every reason to believe that they are already formidable.”
So the battle will not be a missile/anti-missile brute force contest, but the US using countermeasures to disrupt the Chinese kill chain. 

The video assumes China has a robust kill chain and the US is unable to disrupt it. If so, here's the more likely scenario. 

It will come in waves. 

First China sends a small salvo (?) of DF21 - say 5. When the carrier group is still at the extreme range of the missile - 900 miles away. The Ticonderogas and Arleigh Burkes fire their missiles. Say half of them. 100+ missiles. And they successfully intercept ALL 5 of the DF21. The carrier group pushes on. 

Next China sends another salvo of DF21. This time 10. When the carrier group is well within the range of the DF21 - say at 700 miles. Again, let's assume the carrier group is able to intercept ALL 10 DF21s. But they have exhausted their defences. Shot off all their SM6s. The Ticonderogas and Arleigh Burkes have NO more missiles to defend the carrier. They turn around. 

China sends them a goodbye present - 15 more DF21. Before they can get out of the 900 mile range of the DF21.

Here's an alternate scenario.

China waits for the carrier to come close enough for the carrier's warplanes to be deployed. Once most or a significant complement of their air wing is airborne, China fires their second salvo of 20 DF21s. If even ONE of the DF21s get through to the carrier, the US warplanes in the air will have no base to return to.

Here's why that scenario will not happen.

Firstly, if you are a pilot in an aircraft that has just lost your carrier, what would you do? Immediately abort your mission and try to find a friendly airfield to land? Or would that harden your resolve to complete your mission, and its not a do or die mission, but a Do AND Die mission, a chance for you to avenge your mates?

Secondly, if even one DF21 gets through no planes will survive anyway. So why let the carrier deploy their primary weapons?

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