Is China’s ‘Guam killer’ ICBM really all that Beijing makes it out to be? U.S. Navy says ‘Probably not’

China has been developing its DF-26 intermediate-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for years now, hyping it alternately as a “carrier killer” or, more recently, the “Guam killer,” the latter a reference to the U.S.-managed base on the small island in the South Pacific.

Recently, Chinese military experts quoted by an official English-language website managed by the People’s Liberation Army claimed that a recent test of the missile by its rocket forces proved its ability to adjust its trajectory during flight and strike a moving warship.

The experts said the demonstrated capability was aimed at putting to rest any doubts in the U.S. and the West about the DF-26’s ability to hit a moving aircraft carrier or other warship.

As noted by the Asia Times, the missile has ostensibly been designed to cause unacceptable damage to U.S. Navy capital warships like carriers and other vessels operating in the Western Pacific. However, that capability has increasingly come under scrutiny by military analysts who know that developing a capability to target and sink a U.S. aircraft carrier is an extremely difficult task, even for advancing Chinese A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) weapons systems.

Asia Times notes:

With a maximum range of 4,000 kilometers, the DF-26 would have the capability to strike US naval facilities and assets on the Pacific island of Guam. It is said that it can carry conventional and nuclear payloads, as well as strike targets on land and at sea.

According to Chinese media reports, the test of a DF-26 missile has been conducted “somewhere” in northwestern China. Using imageries from a China Central Television (CCTV) program aired on January 8, Hans M Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, has geolocated a convoy of seven DF-26 launchers to a highway in Inner Mongolia province, where the PLA Rocket Force has a missile training area. 




Kristensen told Asia Times that it was difficult to assess whether Chinese claims about the DF-26’s anti-ship capabilities were credible, given that it is actually unknown what factors go into a Chinese hit-test of such a missile, and how realistic it is, as well as what capacities the US military has to disturb a DF-26 strike.

He said he remains skeptical about China’s public claims regarding the missile’s capabilities.

“A successful DF-26 strike against a moving ship depends on a lot of vulnerable links, some of which can probably be disturbed by US countermeasures or faced with unpredictable atmospheric conditions in a realistic battle,” he told the news site.

U.S. Navy experts have their own take on China’s anti-ship capabilities. For instance, former Navy Secretary John F. Lehman told the news site last fall that current Chinese systems may be able to cripple a carrier but not sink it. And that’s even if a missile can strike a carrier.

“If the DF-26 could hit, there is no doubt a conventional warhead could inflict considerable damage on an aircraft carrier,” Kristensen said. “But aircraft carriers are extraordinarily hard to sink, a fact demonstrated by their performance during World War II and numerous serious accidents over the years.”

“The accuracy of the DF-26 is uncertain, with speculators estimating the [circular error probability] at intermediate range between 150 to 450 meters,” or around 500 to 1,500 feet, said the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in an analysis.

Even so, Kristensen added, taking out a U.S. carrier wouldn’t stop the Pentagon’s ability to reach out and destroy Chinese military assets throughout the South China Sea and on the mainland.

As for the DF-26, while U.S. military experts continue to question its accuracy, the Defense Department isn’t taking any changes. The National Interest reports that additional missile defenses have been deployed to Guam and aboard warships to intercept incoming enemy missiles. Also, new technologies such as directed-energy (laser) weapons are also being developed.



For instance, U.S. destroyers and cruisers are equipped with SM-6 missiles, which have a range of about 130 miles and theoretically could intercept a DF-26 in its boost phase. Meantime, the Missile Defense Agency is preparing to test the SM-3 Block IIA in action against an ICBM-type target in 2020 in conjunction with a $230 million effort to build new anti-missile capabilities. Analysts say if the Block IIA can hit its ICBM-type target, it can destroy an incoming DF-26.

One way the DF-26 is able to maneuver is via built-in radar, but the missile also receives targeting data possibly from satellites but also from ground- and naval-based radar, Chinese experts told the PLA-run Global Times. But the Pentagon is stepping up its electronic warfare capabilities which would presumably disrupt communications the DF-26 relies on to receive targeting information.

Whether the missile is as accurate as China claims or whether it’s hype, Pentagon leaders say they are both aware of the threat and well-positioned to meet and defeat it.


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U.S. Navy chief won’t rule out sending American aircraft carriers through Taiwan Strait

The U.S. Navy’s top admiral said Friday that he has not ruled out sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait despite increased riskS due to advanced Chinese military capabilities that now pose greater threats than ever before to American warships.

Adm. John Richardson said there are “no limits” on the types of warships the U.S. Navy could potentially operate in the region, despite China’s growing military capabilities.

The Navy has sent warships through the strategic waterway that divides China and Tawain three times in 2018 as part of its increased operational tempo in the region. However, the Navy hasn’t sent a carrier through the straits in a decade, Reuters reported.

In the ensuing years, China has substantially improved its anti-ship ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, as well as its own naval and air forces.




Nevertheless, Richardson said the U.S. Navy would not be deterred from operating in what are international waters.

“We don’t really see any kind of limitation on whatever type of ship could pass through those waters,” Admiral John Richardson told reporters in Tokyo, when asked if more advanced Chinese weapons posed a risk that was too great.

“We see the Taiwan Strait as another [stretch of] international waters, so that’s why we do the transits,” he added.

U.S. carriers are the pride of the Navy. With onboard compliments of about 80 aircraft and 5,000 sailors and Marines, they are the primary means of Washington’s power projection. That said, in recent years, some defense analysts have begun questioning the future of carriers as improvements in ballistic and hypersonic missiles by near-peer competitor nations evolve.

Richardson’s comments come after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed earlier this month to use force to reunify the mainland and Taiwan if necessary — even if the U.S. were to intervene.

In October he ordered the military region responsible for monitoriing Taiwan and the South China Sea to “prepare for war.”

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, meanwhile, has called on the international community to defend the island democracy against Chinese aggression.


China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier finishes sea trials and could be ready for combat within months

China’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, has finished its fourth rotation of sea trials and could now be ready for its first combat deployment within months.

The South China Morning Post reported the ship could be ready for fleet review by April following 13 days of trials in the Yellow Sea before returning to its home port in Dalian.

The ship, which has not yet been named, is actually China’s second carrier. The first, Liaoning, was actually a Soviet hull but had not been completed by the end of the Cold War. China purchased the hull and completed the vessel, though it has largely been used as a training carrier.




The Type 001A, by comparison, will be the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first operational carrier.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told the SCMP sea trials and testing of the ship was nearly finished.

“The vessel has probably completed 80 to 90 percent of the necessary tests,” Li said. “I think it’s possible it can be delivered by the Chinese Navy Day on April 23.”

He added that the ship could be able to take part in the PLA Navy’s fleet review to be held on that date off Qingdao, in Shandong province.

Photos of the ship returning to port circulated online and appeared to show a J-15 multi-role fighter and a helicopter on its deck, the paper reported.

When the ship left port last month, it carried three warplanes and three blast shields that protect flight crews from jet exhaust during take-off.

The ship was launched in April 2017. It will carry 32 J-15 fighter jets – more than the Liaoning’s 26. The 315-meter-long (1,033 feet) Type 001A is steam-turbine powered and has a ski-jump deck, which means that fighters have to carry lighter loads than they normally would if they were launched like fighters from U.S. carriers.

At 70,000 tons displaced, the Type 001A is smaller than the USS Ford-class carriers (100,000 tons), and carry only about half as many aircraft than U.S. carriers (75-plus).

China is building two more carriers and could have as many as five or six by 2030.