Ding Dong, Dong-Feng!

posted at 3:00 pm on August 8, 2010 by J.E. Dyer

Allahpundit laid down the gauntlet with this question on China’s new anti-carrier weapon, the Dong Feng-21D ballistic missile:

Exit question for military (preferably naval) readers: Big trouble here or overblown?

Answer from this naval reader:  both.  Perhaps “overblown” isn’t the right expression, so much as “blown by rogue winds and widely misunderstood.”  Allow me to explain.

The DF-21D isn’t a weapon we have no defenses against.  In fact, the US Navy’s Standard Missile (anti-air missile) program and ballistic missile defense (BMD) upgrade to the Aegis tracking and guidance system are the right defenses to deal with it.

Much is frequently made of how fast the DF-21D would be approaching its target in the terminal phase, but the gee-whiz aspect of that is overblown:  it’s a ballistic missile.  Of course it comes down really fast at the end.  That’s what they do.  The US has been working on ballistic missile defenses, afloat and ashore, for nearly 30 years now; the speed at which they plummet toward the earth is not a surprise.

We have also proven our ability to intercept ballistic missiles coming down at high speeds from extra-atmospheric apogees – although here our success has been slow, and proven mainly in controlled test conditions.  Almost all of the just-above-50% success rate has been achieved in the last decade (looking only at the last decade’s testing, the success rate is more like 80%).

That said, a ballistic missile coming down at a carrier is a different and faster-moving problem than an anti-ship cruise missile coming at a carrier.  Most of the cruise missiles out there (which fly like airplanes) are subsonic, and therefore relatively easy to shoot down.  The supersonic Russian-designed SS-N-22 Sunburn (or MKB Raduga) missile is an exception, and China does have that missile, as a weapon system on Sovremenny-class destroyers purchased from Russia.  (I note that cruise missiles aren’t the best weapon to use against a carrier anyway; they’ll be more likely to be used against escort ships and merchants.)

But the geometry of the ballistic missile problem is in a class of its own.  That’s what makes the DF-21D a potential game-changer:  the fact that the geometry of the problem, and the defensive tactics it would require, impose significant operational constraints.

Let me open that discussion with the observation that the fundamental significance of any of this will depend heavily on how effective the DF-21D’s terminal guidance is.  Unless China wants to just lob warheads out there to plop harmlessly in the ocean, the DF-21D will have to have a form or forms of effective terminal guidance.  Ships are moving targets, and for a ballistic missile, close will mean no cigar.  The DF-21D will reportedly have multiple independent reentry vehicles (MIRVs), unquestionably complicating the defensive picture, but the likelihood of any individual hit will be extremely low without hard-to-evade guidance.  There’s a good discussion on that here; the hardest guidance to evade is infrared (IR) homing, followed by radar homing.

Supposing China can make the DF-21D home on targets  to a level 50% as good as “perfect,” and supposing our own missile defenses function better with each passing year, we have a difficult but bounded problem.  And the big problem is not that we can’t defend our carriers at all, it’s that defending them would levy so many constraints on our operations.  In effect, the DF-21D is a harassment weapon, and a darn good one, if it works as it’s intended to.

Our carriers don’t carry ballistic missile defenses, for starters.  The Aegis ships – cruisers and destroyers – would have to defend them.  To some extent we already operate that way; a carrier is virtually never without an Aegis escort when it’s deployed forward.  But one is generally deemed enough; against enemy attack aircraft or cruise missiles, the carrier’s own defenses are effective and will catch close-in threats that slip through the Aegis net.  The carrier can defend itself from air threats with its fighter aircraft and short-range anti-air missiles – but these aren’t defenses against ballistic missiles.

If China can launch a barrage of MIRVed DF-21Ds, she can bog us down defending the carrier – or simply push us further offshore.  But the further offshore we have to operate, the more vulnerable our carriers’ aircraft are when they are approaching targets on land.  It’s not just the distance over which China has a shot at them, it’s that plus the fact that they will have to refuel in-air to get to the target and then back to “Mom” (the carrier).

The threat of a DF-21D barrage would also be a fouling agent for carrier flight operations.  The most vulnerable time of all is when aircraft are being recovered at the end of a mission cycle.  The Chinese know that.  Naturally, they will time DF-21D salvos to coincide with recovery ops.  When you’re trying to bring down 16 or 20 jet aircraft safely, you can’t keep changing course and speed and turning your electronics on and off.  The carrier has to be a safe recovery platform for her aircraft, otherwise there’s no point – and that’s the highest-payoff vulnerability for an enemy to go after.

If the DF-21D is mainly a nuisance, these issues can be addressed in the medium term with tactics, while we look for longer-term fixes in technology.  But the DF-21D will be only one of the disruptions a naval force faces.  It’s probably not going to be a very effective way to literally “kill” a carrier for some years to come.  A submarine nailing the carrier at the keel is a much better bet:  take out propulsion, you take out the whole weapon system.  Without propulsion, the carrier can’t make the 35 knots of wind over the deck that it needs to recover aircraft.  And China has lots of submarines.

It’s the combination of weapons China can increasingly bring to bear that the US Navy is worried about.  If we’ve got one big, honking set of tactical constraints imposed by the Chinese submarine threat, another posed by the Chinese attack aircraft threat, and another posed by supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, adding the DF-21D as a flight-ops harassment problem makes it that much harder for our forces to keep their heads above water:  to use our weapons to actually attack the enemy, rather than just to defend ourselves.

(And yes, George and Meredith Friedman, authors of The Future of War, called this prospect for our carriers “senility,” and predicted it in theory, if not because of the particular threat posed by the DF-21D, back in the mid-1990s.)

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Comment pages: 1 2

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 8:09 PM

The US is also the only world power to actually stage an end to end nuclear test of a submarine launched ICBM carrying a live nuclear warhead.

Oldnuke on August 8, 2010 at 8:30 PM

We hope the weapons will perform as advertised but they rarely do. Some exceed expectations as well, but we won’t know which is which until the test comes in combat.
sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 8:03 PM

Que?
The Patriot is an “anti-aircraft” missile (SAM), not an “anti- missile” missile (ABM).
That’s how it was “advertised”.

Full-scale development of the system began in 1976 and it was deployed in 1984. Patriot was used initially as an anti-aircraft system, but during 1988 it was upgraded to provide limited capability against tactical ballistic missiles (TBM) as PAC-1 (Patriot Advanced Capability-1).
The press wrote it up as an “anti- missile” missile.

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 8:32 PM

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 8:32 PM

Raytheon now advertises it as an air and missile defense system. They’ve upgraded it’s capabilities based a lot on it’s performance and problems in the first Gulf war.

Oldnuke on August 8, 2010 at 8:38 PM

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 8:32 PM

The Standard was also fielded as a SAM system. That isn’t relevant. The Patriot didn’t live up to what was expected of it, and that is the point. Weapon systems in wartime tend not to perform as well as expected during peacetime.

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 8:46 PM

I suspect Admiral Kimmel thought the same thing on Dec 6th, 1941.
sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 4:17 PM

On Dec 7th, 1941the entire concept of a modern navy changed.
On Dec 6th, 1941 the US Navy and all Navies centered around “Battleships”. Battleships were the Capital ships of the day. Aircraft Carriers, Submarines, and fast attack PT boats were “novelties”

On Dec 7th, 1941, that changed, primarily cuz our Battleships were sunk and all we really had left were Aircraft Carriers, Submarines, and fast attack PT boats.

Adapt, improvise and overcome. Apparently you didn’t learn that little fact in school.

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 8:53 PM

Maybe it is time to include a boomer in the batttlegroup. An attack on a carrier results in the release of a counterstrike from close range. If they want to play poker, just up the ante.

Zelsdorf Ragshaft on August 8, 2010 at 8:54 PM

Maybe it is time to include a boomer in the batttlegroup. An attack on a carrier results in the release of a counterstrike from close range. If they want to play poker, just up the ante.

Zelsdorf Ragshaft on August 8, 2010 at 8:54 PM

No, that would negate the whole purpose of a boomer. As it stands now there are only something like three or four people in the world that know where any given boomer is at any given time. They are all on that boomer!

Oldnuke on August 8, 2010 at 8:57 PM

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 8:03 PM

You didn’t understand. The incidents you mentioned were cases where ships had no missile defenses or those defenses were turned off. And none of those instances had ships defended by something such as Aegis or a true carrier.

The Stark’s Close In Weapon System was on stand-by mode, the INS Hanit is a similar story. The HMS Sheffield did not have adequate missile defenses. The INS Eliat and PNS Khaibar and others is a similar story as they were WWII era ships or civilian cargo ships.

Holger on August 8, 2010 at 9:00 PM

On Dec 7th, 1941, that changed, primarily cuz our Battleships were sunk and all we really had left were Aircraft Carriers, Submarines, and fast attack PT boats.

Adapt, improvise and overcome. Apparently you didn’t learn that little fact in school.

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 8:53 PM

What the hell does any of that have to do with what I said?

Admiral Kimmel should have been a little more of a ‘nervous nellie’ with the reports that he received regarding the Japanese.

Are you claiming that the attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t an unplanned naval disaster?

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:03 PM

Holger on August 8, 2010 at 9:00 PM

You correctly say there are no super weapons, yet you want to believe there are super defenses.

There aren’t.

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:07 PM

Oldnuke on August 8, 2010 at 8:38 PM

True, but as of 1991 it was a very fast SAM system, not an ABM system that sharrukin thinks it was “advertised” as.

A similar thing happened just before WW2 with the B-17.
The press called it a “Flying Fortress”, it had so many gun that a fighter escort was not required.

The name stuck, as did reality, which bit.

Sharrukin apparently doesn’t know how to separate “fact” from “hype” and where the “hype” comes from.

Even today the press is calling “UCAV Reaper” strikes as “UAV Predator” strikes.
A major misconception is in the works today.

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 9:08 PM

True, but as of 1991 it was a very fast SAM system, not an ABM system that sharrukin thinks it was “advertised” as.

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 9:08 PM

No idiot, I said that the weapon did not perform as well as advertised and that is the opinion of the military. If you want to take it up with them go ahead. I did not say it was an ABM system.

You are arguing with your own bizarre conjectures, not with me.

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:14 PM

DSchoen on August 8, 2010 at 9:08 PM

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:14 PM

You guys need to get a room.

Oldnuke on August 8, 2010 at 9:20 PM

Two things about the Chinese:

1. if someone else has not done it, they cannot copy it.
2. even if they have something superior, they are not thinkers.
3. even if they make it, they’ll cut corners and wind up with a piece of crap.

That’s three, but the last one is a freebie.

SilentWatcher on August 8, 2010 at 9:22 PM

You guys need to get a room.

Oldnuke on August 8, 2010 at 9:20 PM

You are probably right. I am done!

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:22 PM

sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:07 PM

I never said there are super defenses, but Aegis is well capable of dealing with this threat. It was designed for fleet defense against a heavy Soviet attack. It has successfully shot down ballistic missiles in testing and a satellite. Yes, every weapon system is not going to operate 100 percent as predicted but that does not mean the system is going to fail.

This is a far cry from We Are Doomed pessimism.

Holger on August 8, 2010 at 9:22 PM

Shouldn’t have given them the balistic warhead secrets in the ’90′s just to get elected with red army money.

moyeti on August 8, 2010 at 10:06 PM

“… You are arguing with your own bizarre conjectures, not with me…”
sharrukin on August 8, 2010 at 9:14 PM

How ironic. sharrukin complains about what he has been doing to others on this thread repeatedly. Another case of projection.

JimP on August 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM

I should think that China knows the consequences of sinking one of our carriers by whatever means. Do you think they’ll trade their country for one carrier?

LarryG on August 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM

Do you think they’ll trade their country for one carrier?

LarryG on August 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM

The unstated assumption is that the US President, after hearing about a very public missile launch from China that sinks a US carrier (killing 4,000 + sailors), will break out the codes from the Football and nuke China into oblivion using the SIOP.

This doesn’t sound like PBHO to me. He’d want a tea summit with Chinese leaders to assuage the hurt Chinese feelings.

The Chinese leaders have assessed PBHO, and dismissed him at the Copenhagen Global Warming summit. Obama acted like a out-of-his-depth fool, being played big-time by other leaders.

NaCly dog on August 8, 2010 at 10:57 PM

By the way, Sharrukin, you can stop with the slander of Admiral Kimmel.

BillH on August 8, 2010 at 11:03 PM

The task forces would just deploy with Tico class Aegis cruiser with one or more Arleigh Burke’s. They can handle the problem and will get better. As I stated in an earlier thread, never assume we are standing still, even in the Obama era.

The Opinionator on August 8, 2010 at 11:23 PM

LarryG on August 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM

And you expect who to order a counterattack? The guy with aides quoting Mao and photos of Che hanging in offices?

Forty ROK sailors just died recently…rest their brave souls.

If anything starts, it will not be set in simple terms for The One.

God help Him and us if it ever comes to that.

IlikedAUH2O on August 8, 2010 at 11:33 PM

The Opinionator on August 8, 2010 at 11:23 PM

The only question is of staying power. Can they reload the VLS at sea or do they need port facilities and how long does it take?

If they can pound us with missile barrages longer than we can defend, who wins?

Holger on August 8, 2010 at 11:35 PM

I should think that China knows the consequences of sinking one of our carriers by whatever means. Do you think they’ll trade their country for one carrier LarryG on August 8, 2010 at 10:10 PM

The response from this president would be a strongly worded memo, a speech about not rushing to judgment, and then he would remind us how we need to have openly gay military members. When’s the next White House party?

Mojave Mark on August 9, 2010 at 12:17 AM

The larger threat is the fact that our economic plight is allowing China to out-pace us in growth and %GDP of capital spent on defense.

We borrow untold tons of money from China, and then dole it out to be spent on consumer goods manufactured in … China.

A double economic whammy. We go further in debt; the Chinese are enriched by interest payments and manufacturing jobs.

Now Captain KickAss SmartPower wants to increase the cost of energy domestically in service of some mythical Green benefit; this would only lower our standard of living, lessen our ability to compete economically on a global scale, and allow China, among others to keep using cheap coal, thus marginalizing any potential Green benefit and exacerbating our trade deficit and the dearth of good, steady, secure jobs.

This would eventually cause our government’s revenues to lessen to the point that competing militarily with countries in a better economic position will be next to impossible on a sustained basis.

If we want to stay strong militarily over the long haul, we’ve got to have economic policies that make sense.

hillbillyjim on August 9, 2010 at 2:06 AM

China will not be standing still.

The country is bristling with German technology, Western European and American manufacturing and any sane young hotshot from the US, Europe or the Asia Pacific rim is heading there to pan for gold.

The Chinese are gleaning the riches of Western technological minds.

It will pay off in spades within the next two decades…and yes, Taiwan will be back in fold..peacefully or by force.

No one will be able to do a damned thing about it.

rickyricardo on August 9, 2010 at 2:25 AM

Isn’t France selling NATO warships with AEGIS defenses to the Soviet Union (sorry Russia) with Obama’s blessing? So won’t China and Russia in a few years have offensive capabilities to counteract our defensive capabilities together with knowledge as to how to counter our warships’ communications abilities?

eaglewingz08 on August 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM

Two things about the Chinese:

1. if someone else has not done it, they cannot copy it.
2. even if they have something superior, they are not thinkers.
3. even if they make it, they’ll cut corners and wind up with a piece of crap.

That’s three, but the last one is a freebie.

SilentWatcher on August 8, 2010 at 9:22 PM

#2 “they are not thinkers”

I understand the statement. But we should be careful not to undercut their potential based on our own sense of superiority, founded or not.

How many “thinkers” does our current American system tolerate in politics/military? “Thinkers” are considered trouble makers and boat rockers by the establishment.

For the most part, uniformity does not tolerate originality, particularly when original thought threatens the hierarchy, particularly when that hierarchy is contaminated with career PC mindset and ruled by Marxists.

maverick muse on August 9, 2010 at 7:34 AM

So What

maverick muse on August 9, 2010 at 7:43 AM

Isn’t France selling NATO warships with AEGIS defenses to the Soviet Union Russia with Obama’s blessing?

eaglewingz08 on August 9, 2010 at 7:28 AM

The French ship is a Mistral class amphibious assault ship, with no Aegis radars.

Phased array radars are not a secret to Russia, they just have no money or competent ship-builders to launch new surface combatants.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 8:10 AM

This all sounds like the battleship/carrier arguments before the start of WW2. The battleship although still useful was not the primary component of naval power although many people still believed it was. Now it is the carriers turn. While still very valuable for “brush fire” operations the carrier is becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack by a sophisticated enemy. This would be particularly true if there was an unexpected start of hostilities. For example, during the cold war, missile equipped Russian submarines could have taken out our “at sea” carriers before we knew that the war had gone “hot”.

duff65 on August 9, 2010 at 8:41 AM

and any sane young hotshot from the US, Europe or the Asia Pacific rim is heading there to pan for gold.

That’s “sanity” only for those without allegiance, those without a homeland.

China is hardly the wild west, where enough whites evicted the natives in order to pan for gold.

Being used, using, without an ultimate end beyond making a fortune, is short sighted to say the least.

2:25 Wish you were there.

maverick muse on August 9, 2010 at 8:45 AM

duff65 on August 9, 2010 at 8:41 AM

My fears, as well. Reality is further compounded with a potus who won’t grant permission for self defense under assault. His “Mother May I” national defense game is for our military as his open borders amnesty for criminal illegal aliens are for our citizenry.

maverick muse on August 9, 2010 at 8:49 AM

*But OMG did you see that outfit that Lindsay Lohan had on at the jailhouse?

*Bristol is so swag for hoookin’ up with that Levi Hollywood guy…..AHHHHHGEN.

*Snooki…..we love you.

(**What America is worried most about, not some silly ChiCom boat thingy).

PappyD61 on August 9, 2010 at 8:56 AM

duff65 on August 9, 2010 at 8:41 AM

The Carrier and other surface warships are not obsolete. The Anti-Tank Guided missile did not render the tank obsolete and surface to air missiles did not render the jet fighter obsolete.

It is merely the merger of two threats into one threat, and this new threat is capable of being dealt with via currently existing battle group assets such as the SM-2ER and the SM-3 missiles on Aegis equipped ships as well as Airborne Lasers and perhaps space-based weapons.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:11 AM

I never said there are super defenses, but Aegis is well capable of dealing with this threat. It was designed for fleet defense against a heavy Soviet attack. It has successfully shot down ballistic missiles in testing and a satellite.

Holger on August 8, 2010 at 9:22 PM

I can’t say much about the specific costs of adapting a ballistic missile (ICBM type?) to the role of carrier-killer, but it seems to me that the development and advertisement of this weapon may be a rather expensive proposition for a still-middling Asian military power possessed of concerns besides the US Navy (for example, maintaining a politically loyal but also physically healthy garrison force in Tibet and on the Indian border is something of a nuisance and has been since Tibet’s absorption).

Given the questions surrounding the potential accuracy of the DF-21, China’s other priorities, and the reported successes of US (and Israeli, and possibly French) ABM and AM experimentation, the project seems… Odd.

Grunchy Cranola on August 9, 2010 at 11:13 AM

The Carrier and other surface warships are not obsolete.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:11 AM

I never said they were obsolete. I said that they were increasing vulnerable.

duff65 on August 9, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Grunchy Cranola on August 9, 2010 at 11:13 AM

I suspect this DF-21D is not meant for Carrier Battle Groups but to project power as far out as Guam. It does pose a threat to Carriers and Surface Ships but it doesn’t render traditional blue water ships obsolete as the defenses to deal with it are already in place. Where it would be very useful is attacking maritime shipping and convoys in the event of wartime.

The Chinese only have 50-60 versions of their Tu-16 (the Xian H-6) and its combat radius is 2000 miles. Furthermore the Tu-16 is only capable of carrying one to two missiles anti-shipping missiles (one each AS-2 Kipper or AS-6 Kingfish). And all aircraft are vulnerable when on the ground.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:28 AM

I never said they were obsolete. I said that they were increasing vulnerable.

duff65 on August 9, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Surface ships have always been vulnerable to submarines. The Japanese lost a couple to US Submarines during the war and vice-versa. And there for a while, Submarines were nearly useless against our carriers, the sub-launched ASM allowed the sub to continue being a threat to a Carrier Battle Group.

As for SSGNs such as the Oscar. Yes, they were a threat. But they would have to have a position and course fix on the carrier in order to fire which is hard to do for a Submarine since they cannot see beyond the horizon, it would have to come from Maritime Search Aircraft like a Bear or satellites. Suffice to say a Carrier Battle Group can see threats at ranges beyond 400 nautical miles with its own organic assets such as the E-2 Hawkeye.

It really requires someone have either a large number of weapons and delivery systems or very sophisticated weapons and delivery systems to have a hope of defeating a Carrier Battle Group.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:28 AM

Cheers, the note on logistical targets is particularly helpful in contextualizing so much of the discussion on this. As Australian defence planners have said for some time now, Chinese naval expansion will likely be a major consideration for Australian defence budget allocations over the next few decades.

Grunchy Cranola on August 9, 2010 at 12:05 PM

let us not forget that with the AEGIS battle management system significantly increasing the number of available missiles can be relatively cheep.

The Patriot missile destroys its target with shrapnel, that was not enough to detonate the warhead on the scuds, so hitting them did not render the notoriously inaccurate missile harmless. Assuming that the DF-21D is armed with a conventional warhead, HE, incendiary, or kinetic energy simply removing its ability to guide renders it effectively harmless.

Also hitting the warhead with a solid 5-inch projectile at altitudes of only a few thousand feet would destroy it, leaving only relatively harmless shrapnel.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

To the commenters who contributed useful information: thanks.

To the rest: please try to think in more than one dimension. The issue isn’t that the DF-21D could reliably hit one of our carriers. The issue is that its potential use would constrain our operations. Which is what I already said.

As indicated in the piece, the assumption that the DF-21D will be 50% as effective as it could be is a crucial waypoint. It may not be. Reader kaltes has offered useful discussion of countervailing factors. (Note: DF-21D is not an ICBM but an IRBM. Apogee is about half that of the baseline modern ICBM, or 300 miles versus 600. Terminal velocity is greater than a Scud but substantially less than that of an ICBM. On the order of 3-4 Mach.)

But if the DF-21D is tested and shows promise, no Navy admiral would blithely operate carrier battle groups within DF-21D range of China, without taking tactical precautions for defense. A DF-21D isn’t likely to hit a particular carrier under any circumstances (given the foreseeable state of technology), but as I’ve already said, that’s not the point.

A near miss would still mess with aircraft recovery ops, as would the mere necessity of maneuvering as part of the formation evasion tactics. Such tactics will be necessary particularly when salvos are launched. Add that problem to the strike groups’ other defensive problems — submarines, waves of attack aircraft, anti-ship cruise missiles — and the defensive precautions loom larger and larger.

None of this means we’d be helpless against China. What it means is that we couldn’t establish battlespace superiority (let alone dominance) quickly or easily, and it would take a greater force size and level of effort on our part with each threat dimension added by China. It would also mean higher losses for us in any shooting scenario (e.g., defense of Taiwan).

Naturally, as some have pointed out, the Air Force can perform much of the TACAIR role the carrier air wings would be assigned. But that’s great for China. If the carriers can be neutralized, a lot of China’s problem is knocked out. It’s not a “quick fix” for us to simply decide not to put the carriers in harm’s way. Nor is it unthinkable for China to attack Andersen AFB in Guam. There are a lot of ways to do that. It makes China’s overall problem easier if we self-deter in terms of using some of our major weapon systems.

Last tactical note: yes, the carriers do have to operate within DF-21D range of China to defend Taiwan. I know how far our Superhornets can go now. But to literally get outside of DF-21D range off China, the carriers would have to park further away than even a 5-wet F/A-18F can go round-trip unrefueled. (And a 5-wet F ain’t much use for anything but a sightseeing trip.)

Again, it’s the combination of problems that the DF-21D has the potential to complicate. The big problem for a carrier actually being hit, disabled, or sunk is the submarine. But every problem requires defensive precautions, and when you start adding them together, you have both a higher probability of taking casualties and a need for more forces to do the same job. Both of those factors end up changing the calculus for the political decision.

J.E. Dyer on August 9, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Also hitting the warhead with a solid 5-inch projectile at altitudes of only a few thousand feet would destroy it, leaving only relatively harmless shrapnel.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

I don’t believe the 5 inch gun is that accurate.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM

But you know what might be accurate enough and has the range? RIM-116 RAM.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

I don’t believe the 5 inch gun is that accurate.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM

The current generation navy gun, I do not know, but the 120mm (4.7-inch) tank gun is easily accurate enough.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:34 PM

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:15 PM

But you know what might be accurate enough and has the range? RIM-116 RAM.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:29 PM

The blast fragmentation warhead may be ineffective especially against the kinetic energy variant. But again guidance failure may be all that is needed.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:45 PM

Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
That would really probably make them sit up & think, now wouldn’t it?
But that’s sooo un-PC.
We need to ‘peacefully’[ resolve our differences.
I, BTW, don’t think China wants to go to war with us.
But they are clearly all for protecting themselves.
Wasn’t it nice of Gore & Clinton to make it possible for them to have cool defensive technologies in the 1st place?

Badger40 on August 9, 2010 at 1:01 PM

The current generation navy gun, I do not know, but the 120mm (4.7-inch) tank gun is easily accurate enough.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:34 PM

There are a lot of variables involved there. A better solution would instead of a unitary round the round breaks up and the warhead flies through a cloud of buckshot. The warheads own velocity would turn such a small impact into a potential warhead killer.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 1:02 PM

The blast fragmentation warhead may be ineffective especially against the kinetic energy variant. But again guidance failure may be all that is needed.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:45 PM

I was envisioning an impact kill.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 1:04 PM

But you know what might be accurate enough and has the range? RIM-116 RAM.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 12:29 PM

If a Navy ship has to use the RAM, the missile is too close. Given the speed inbound, and max range of the RAM, the fragments are inside the ballistic envelope. Those fragments can pepper the ship, which has only a bit of Kevlar armor, or an armored flight deck. A Ticonderoga class cruiser may be more vulnerable than a Burke destroyer, for some reasons I won’t go into. If the carrier is the RAM missile launcher, some damage to aircraft on the flight deck may be the result.

It’s all still better than having an intact missile hit.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Hmmm. I get it, now.
If we are talking a proliferation of anti-carrier threats that will reduce the effectiveness of our carriers, then the next push, I think, would be to develop and shift toward deploying super-sonic VTOL craft like the F-35c on smaller naval craft. It will probably be an expensive shift, but better than having our carriers cringing around in ‘safe’ zones.

Count to 10 on August 9, 2010 at 1:12 PM

Hey sharrukin, since you told me I was full of it on the pervious thread on this “wonder” weapon, I just wondered if you noticed this:

When you’re trying to bring down 16 or 20 jet aircraft safely, you can’t keep changing course and speed and turning your electronics on and off.

That’s right, flight ops means 16 – 20 jets airborne at ALL times, just like I said, not the 2 you kept claiming. Plus, pretty much everything else I said was verified by this post.

Apology forthcoming, right?

P.S. As to the whole “terminal guidance” issue. Without it, there is no way a BALLISTIC missle can hit a moving carrier. IF they use infrared, we simply decoy it with hotter decoys (flares, burning magnesium, etc) while decreasing all IR radiation from the carrier.

IF they use active radar guidance, they have even bigger problems since we can easily jam or deceive any kind of active radar (the “how” is highly technical and highly classified).

IF they use passive radar guidance (probably their best bet), its still easy to decoy, you just drop some floating high-level emitters away from the carrier and have the carrier go emcon.

IMHO – still not a major threat, and if intercepted prior to MIRV’ing (our main area of concentration), not even much of a harassment weapon. Still, shipborne laser defenses (to go along with the rail-guns) would go a long way to helping preserve our assets. Too bad under a D administration, we are canceling the most promising programs left and right!

Fatal on August 9, 2010 at 1:17 PM

But every problem requires defensive precautions, and when you start adding them together, you have both a higher probability of taking casualties and a need for more forces to do the same job. Both of those factors end up changing the calculus for the political decision.

J.E. Dyer on August 9, 2010 at 12:11 PM

And all of those defensive precautions have an economic cost. The more money you spend on defending the carrier, the less you can spend on its fighters.

Count to 10 on August 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Also hitting the warhead with a solid 5-inch projectile at altitudes of only a few thousand feet would destroy it, leaving only relatively harmless shrapnel.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Not true. Shrapnel traveling at Mach 5 is not harmless. I invite you to review the record of the Patriot as used in Israel and Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. While the actual hit rate is debatable, its quite clear that hitting an incoming ballistic object may destroy it’s effectiveness and accuracy, but it does not eliminate damage. The warhead is still inbound. If it’s been designed correctly, it has an impact fuze. So even if you disrupt the guidance or control system, it is still coming right at you.

BobMbx on August 9, 2010 at 1:47 PM

It’s all still better than having an intact missile hit.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 1:11 PM

That is the point. What is the minimum range for a safe kill? 8 miles? 10 Miles?

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 1:48 PM

I wonder how the next generation of hypersonic “30-minutes to strike anywhere in the world” missiles will alter the picture?

That is, if they are ever actually built. They seem to be perpetually tomorrow’s weapon.

drunyan8315 on August 9, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Depends on incoming speed, fragment size, bearing drift of the fragments, fragment cone angle, and where it hits. My BOTE calcs say for a dead on trajectory, 4.9 nautical miles away should suffice. Remember, these short range ballistic missiles are coming in at 45°, up to 10,000 mph, vice 20° from strategic ballistic missiles. Assumption is greater that 2 seconds of missile fragment travel will be safe.

Given prompt warning in the boost phase, controllable pitch propellers or water jets can be of great assistance in the terminal phase, like using a crashback, followed by rapid change of heading to be somewhere else. Even nuclear weapons, although daunting, need a certain over-pressure to be effective.

CVNs can change headings quickly, IIRC. Certainly better than your standard merchant hull.

It’s really about C4I.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 3:25 PM

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 3:25 PM

Guns are a on go, they aren’t accurate enough.

Now, ESSM has great potential against this threat but it needs some modification.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 3:58 PM

For once the discussion on this thread has been reasonably intelligent. This must of gotten the interest of a lot of persons who don’t normally comment. There have been some gaps like destroying a ballistic missile with a gun but overall reasonable. In general, offensive weapon system don’t work as well as advertised but defensive systems don’t either.

duff65 on August 9, 2010 at 4:53 PM

Guns are a on no go, they aren’t accurate enough.

Now, ESSM has great potential against this threat but it needs some modification.

Holger on August 9, 201’0 at 3:58 PM

Totally agree that guns will not work. Close-in systems will not work well. We are not even talking fuze issues, and speed gate issues on RAM / CIWS fire control.

Maybe I’m too old-school, but I’d have the Chinese Ambassador over and say “You know your Dong Feng-21D ballistic missile? Here is what will happen if you use it on a US battlegroup.” Then I’d hand over a map of Shanghai with an overlay of damage circles from one Minuteman III missile and it’s three W78 thermonuclear warheads. With a sidebar showing how many millions of Chinese and other nationals are killed in the blast, die from flash exposure, and die from radiation. “We will use one Minuteman III for one Dong Feng-21D. Choose wisely.”

Deterrence. Keeping the world free from Big Power wars since 1945.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 5:20 PM

If the Chinese or anyone else decided to take out one of our carriers, I can’t imagine our response being anything but massive.

SC.Charlie on August 9, 2010 at 5:25 PM

Very intelligent thread with many solid comments. Sadly, the worst news hasn’t been mentioned……. ongoing, drastic cuts in defense courtesy of our p$ssy in chief. Gates made yet one more announcement today of a major shutdown in Virginia of a key military command. We can’t keep up in the race with such devastating cuts much less those made by a street thug community organizer. Get him out of office…

highninside on August 9, 2010 at 5:29 PM

China will not be standing still.

The country is bristling with German technology, Western European and American manufacturing and any sane young hotshot from the US, Europe or the Asia Pacific rim is heading there to pan for gold.

The Chinese are gleaning the riches of Western technological minds.

The Chinese have been attempting to copy the iPhone and they still can’t do it even though it’s made in China. They’re bristling with the technology, but the Chinese mind values profit over quality goods and services and work. That’s the bottom line. They make quality goods when their factories are overseen by those providing the technology.

SilentWatcher on August 9, 2010 at 5:31 PM

I don’t know what you all are worried about, China is no threat to us…Obama will just bown down to their demands!!

why would they shoot us when they own us???

right4life on August 9, 2010 at 6:27 PM

Not to worry, I’m sure all info will eventually reach WikiLeak for world publication. /S

byteshredder on August 9, 2010 at 6:55 PM

Also hitting the warhead with a solid 5-inch projectile at altitudes of only a few thousand feet would destroy it, leaving only relatively harmless shrapnel.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Not true. Shrapnel traveling at Mach 5 is not harmless. I invite you to review the record of the Patriot as used in Israel and Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. While the actual hit rate is debatable, its quite clear that hitting an incoming ballistic object may destroy it’s effectiveness and accuracy, but it does not eliminate damage. The warhead is still inbound. If it’s been designed correctly, it has an impact fuze. So even if you disrupt the guidance or control system, it is still coming right at you.

BobMbx on August 9, 2010 at 1:47 PM

I did not say that there would not be damage. Only that there is a huge difference between a damaged ship, and a sunk ship, thus relatively harmless.

Guns are a on go, they aren’t accurate enough.

Now, ESSM has great potential against this threat but it needs some modification.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Guns are more accurate than you think, and the ammunition is cheep enough to fire dozens of rounds per kill, including several meteorological shots before the target comes into range.

Also artillery projectiles with terminal guidance are cheaper than Missiles. In the 1950s the army developed a self-loading 8 inch AA gun that could reach to better than 40,000 feet of altitude, at a 45 degree slant.

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 10:22 PM

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 10:22 PM

We don’t have 8″ guns in service anymore. I think the biggest Navy shell optimized for air targets was 6″, but don’t have any of those guns in service either.

I wish I had your faith in gun defenses. Navy ships have 127 mm, 76mm, 30 mm, and 20 mm guns linked to fire controls that can possible work. There are some issues with fast inbounds, like the rate of fire for large guns being too slow to have many rounds in the air. Lighter guns have too short a range to be effective, as noted in my earlier posts.

Even given a slower inbound speed of 2,000 mph, that missile travels over a nautical mile a second. Even the newest Mark 45 Mod 4 5″ gun fires at best 20 rounds / minute, or 1 every 3 seconds. You may not assume that you can use the max range, for various reasons, so you do not get 8 shots. Assume 4 chances to hit a inbound missile, hoping the traverse and elevation rate change limits are not exceeded, the fuzes are set for the correct microsecond, and the fire control radar can handle it.
You have to hit the missile, as bursting near the missile will leave the gun shell fragments spreading out behind the inbound missile’s path.
I’ll bet we don’t even practice ballistic missile defense with guns. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Dude, just use a RIM-161 Standard Missile 3. It just works.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 11:26 PM

I’ll bet we don’t even practice ballistic missile defense with guns. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Dude, just use a RIM-161 Standard Missile 3. It just works.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 11:26 PM

Not for a ballistic missile because the threat hasn’t emerged until recently but I believe the 5 inch guns will be used against traditional anti-ship missiles.

As for using large caliber guns against this threat, traditional proximity airburst rounds would be useless. Ever heard of an AHEAD round? That is basically the idea.

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:53 PM

Holger on August 9, 2010 at 11:53 PM

We can perhaps even go further and develop a shell operating similarly to the Starstreak missile developed by Thales.

Holger on August 10, 2010 at 12:13 AM

Slowburn on August 9, 2010 at 10:22 PM

We don’t have 8″ guns in service anymore. I think the biggest Navy shell optimized for air targets was 6″, but don’t have any of those guns in service either.

I wish I had your faith in gun defenses. Navy ships have 127 mm, 76mm, 30 mm, and 20 mm guns linked to fire controls that can possible work. There are some issues with fast inbounds, like the rate of fire for large guns being too slow to have many rounds in the air. Lighter guns have too short a range to be effective, as noted in my earlier posts.

New threats, new (old) weapons.

Even given a slower inbound speed of 2,000 mph, that missile travels over a nautical mile a second. Even the newest Mark 45 Mod 4 5″ gun fires at best 20 rounds / minute, or 1 every 3 seconds.

Per gun.

You may not assume that you can use the max range, for various reasons, so you do not get 8 shots. Assume 4 chances to hit a inbound missile,

I would like the list, but you will have satellite launch warning, you can assume the the incoming missile needs reasonable weather, and fallout concerns can be limited by fleet placement. And you will have multiple guns.

hoping the traverse and elevation rate change limits are not exceeded,

Directly inbound targets require very little traverse and elevation change.

the fuzes are set for the correct microsecond, and the fire control radar can handle it.
You have to hit the missile, as bursting near the missile will leave the gun shell fragments spreading out behind the inbound missile’s path.

Detonate in front of the incoming missile.

I’ll bet we don’t even practice ballistic missile defense with guns. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Not currently. The radius of the fireball from a big nuke exceed the range of the guns.

Dude, just use a RIM-161 Standard Missile 3. It just works.

NaCly dog on August 9, 2010 at 11:26 PM

This is for leakers. I would be ecstatic to pay my portion for the weapons, and not have to use them once because the rim-161 stopped all the DF-21D and the like. The guns would still have all the traditional capabilities.

Slowburn on August 10, 2010 at 4:58 AM

Slowburn on August 10, 2010 at 4:58 AM

In this sort of situation, the guns could not be used to protect other ships. The 5 inch gun has a base max range of about 13-15 nautical miles, I think the new 62 caliber version has a longer base range. It would be part of a ship’s self-defense plan and not part of the fleet’s self defense plan.

Ticonderoga class cruisers have two guns and the Arleigh Burke’s have one. You can’t install any more due to volume constraints. So, a ship will really only be able to use the guns once or twice as an inbound warhead is traveling 1 and a half nautical miles each second.

The idea is a guidance kill and aerodynamic damage that could possibly make the warhead tumble or spin off course. If you can cause the warhead to detonate it is better. You do not want an intact, functioning warhead to hit a ship.

Holger on August 10, 2010 at 11:08 AM

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