Just the story you want to read during a summer filled with reports of Chinese admirals ranting at visiting U.S. defense officials and tensions escalating over where it is and isn’t okay for U.S. ships to operate. Presumably a defense system is already in the works, but with deep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget assured in the years ahead as we inch towards austerity (The One’s deficit commission is already talking about freezing military pay), who knows what will and won’t be funded? But then, that’s actually good news, isn’t it? American military dominance has always, supposedly, been a key problem in international relations. Imagine how much things will improve once Chinese fascists — or whoever they’re willing to sell to — can neutralize U.S. naval power from land and restore the “balance of power.”

Exciting!

While a nuclear bomb could theoretically sink a carrier, assuming its user was willing to raise the stakes to atomic levels, the conventionally-armed Dong Feng 21D’s uniqueness is in its ability to hit a powerfully defended moving target with pin-point precision…

“The Navy has long had to fear carrier-killing capabilities,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the nonpartisan, Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “The emerging Chinese antiship missile capability, and in particular the DF 21D, represents the first post-Cold War capability that is both potentially capable of stopping our naval power projection and deliberately designed for that purpose.”…

“China can reach out and hit the U.S. well before the U.S. can get close enough to the mainland to hit back,” said Toshi Yoshihara, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College. He said U.S. ships have only twice been that vulnerable — against Japan in World War II and against Soviet bombers in the Cold War.

Carrier-killing missiles “could have an enduring psychological effect on U.S. policymakers,” he e-mailed to The AP. “It underscores more broadly that the U.S. Navy no longer rules the waves as it has since the end of World War II. The stark reality is that sea control cannot be taken for granted anymore.”

Verdict from a professor at the Naval War College: This could usher in a “new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerges to displace the United States.” The silver lining here is that pinpoint accuracy at missile speed is obviously a difficult trick, so no one’s quite sure when China will have hammered out all the kinks. The gray cloud is that the AP really isn’t overhyping the threat, as sometimes happens in stories about enemy capabilities. For instance, compare and contrast today’s piece with this one written almost 18 months ago. Exit question for military (preferably naval) readers: Big trouble here or overblown?

Tags: China