The Chinese antiship ballistic-missile (ASBM) has garnered immense attention from the media and military thinkers in recent months. Most of this punditry has varied only in the level of sheer terror at the thought of these “carrier killers”. In this month’s Proceedings, fellow USNI contributor Craig Hooper and myself argue for a different perspective:

By focusing on the distant question of supercarrier vulnerability, naval analysts forfeited an ideal opportunity to frame the ASBM threat as a shared regional hazard. In Cold War Europe, farsighted strategists wasted no time in portraying Russia’s medium-range RT-21M Pioneer/SS-20 Saber missile as a European-wide threat. But today, despite the domestic uproar over this Asian “game changer,” the U.S. Navy and State Department might do well to exploit the ASBM threat in a similar fashion.

The best counter to China’s ASBM is diplomacy, not fear mongering.

Posted by Christopher Albon in Navy
Tags: , ,

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Wow.

    The Chinese have a weapon designed to destroy the premier ship in the US arsenal and Navy bloggers are wanting more diplomacy instead of screaming at the top of their lungs to develop a countermeasure.

    Please wake me up. This has to be a bad dream. A very bad dream.

  • infocyde

    “the distant question of supercarrier vulnerability” – fail. Yes, by all means frame the issue as a regional problem, but don’t discount a very real threat as “distant”. Also, we have a Navy and a Military BECAUSE diplomacy often fails. Talk is good, but talk is cheap. Having a Navy in the future that is survivable and able to project power is not.

    Yeah, ++ on the above comment, I keep trying to wake up but the nightmare keeps getting worse. At least it is interesting though, who knows what stupidity or horror will happen next.

  • Mark Toomey

    infocyde Says:
    “who knows what stupidity or horror will happen next”
    Well now hear this from NY Times>
    “For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.
    Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and newly designed conventional weapons. ”
    Stand by for heavy rolls!

  • Paul

    I dunno…

    Consider the consequences of us going nuke again. It would give an excuse for all those yahoos out there to go nuke themselves against countries that don’t have a prayer of defense. What would prevent that whack job with the bad hair in NK launching one of his across the DMZ as “punishment for “running yankee imperialist dog crimes of humanity?” Once mushroom clouds start popping, then all bets are off for sanity on the part of the dictatorships of the world, not that their playing with a full deck anyways.

    If some country is stupid enough to try a biological/chemical attack against the US then don’t we have enough conventional weapons in the toolbox to make life miserable for them? I’m thinking of every bridge, airport, powerplant, military installation, government building reduced to smoking rubble in a short amount of time– and every asset we have used in that process. Even though the use of nukes in WWII is, was and will always be justified– there are still those people who think that we shouldn’t have used them. Me? My dad was transitioning to B-32’s at the time Tibbets dropped Little Boy so if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t be typing right now.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    “don’t we have enough conventional weapons in the toolbox to make life miserable for them?”

    No, we don’t. Nor do we have sufficient delivery means without risking more US lives.

    What would prevent KJI from launching his own nuclear strike? The fact that we could strike him, too, as well as the country responsible for the WMD attack. Nothing sobers up dictators like the knowledge that we have the means and the will to destroy them totally.

    And if you are taking the argument that our retaliation for a WMD attack is unwise because it would encourage other WMD attacks, then you are using some rather circuitous logic, popular as it may be at the moment.

  • Mike M.

    We should be concerned about a Chinese ASBM, but the level of terror being seen reminds me of the anti-ship cruise missile scare of the late 1970s and early 1980s. There was a threat, but it could be met.

    The whole ASBM scare has the earmarks of a hidden kill-the-carrier-Navy agenda.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “The whole ASBM scare has the earmarks of a hidden kill-the-carrier-Navy agenda.”

    Interesting comment, Mike M. I have heard that other places. To wit, instead of turning to on countering the threat, the attitude in some circles has been “no way to counter it, must get rid of the carrier Navy!”.

    Interested in hearing how you came to mention that observation…

  • Derrick

    What does diplomacy have to do with China’s ASBM?

  • Chuck Hill

    Seems that if we can counter Ballistic missiles that are aimed at an unknown target, far from the defending DDG, we ought to be able to defend a known target, with the DDG in close proximity.

  • YNSN

    I agree this it is not in the Navy’s purview regarding diplomatic tools being used to deny a enemy a weapon. However, that is the State Department’s job. We need to engage them on that. It is also DoD’s job to strike up this conversation.

    But, the Navy does need to worry and do something kinetic about it.
    ‘War in the context of everything else’ is a real thing. But, we need to remember to each keep our lane towards the same goal.

  • YNSN

    I agree this is not in the Navy’s purview regarding diplomatic tools being used to deny an enemy a weapon. However, that is the State Department’s job. We need to engage them on that. It is also DoD’s job to strike up this conversation.

    But, the Navy does need to worry and do something kinetic about it.
    ‘War in the context of everything else’ is a real thing. But, we need to remember to each keep our lane towards the same goal.

  • YNSN

    Sorry for the double entry. AFG isn’t exactly known for it’s connectivity.

  • Paul


    Point well taken but from what I read from that piece if a country uses a nuke, then our second strike option still applies. If KJL does launch a strike since he is not part of NPF, and is a nuke power then we retain the right to strike with nukes.

    Getting back to ASBM’s though– no matter what the development of one is troubling to the extreme. There’s only one country with enough carriers to justify the expense of development of that weapon and that’s us.

    President’s don’t worry me as much as Congress. As long as there are lobbyists, big money on the hill and corruption no matter what party is in power, things will get sidetracked, money wasted and time lost. I don’t care what China is saying, it’s what it’s doing that matters and for some reason the leadership of both parties refuses to listen to the few who have a clue about what the future might hold.

  • Just read the piece, ya’ll…

  • Michael Antoniewicz II

    To bring this back to the origins of the thread, I would like to point out that the U.S. Navy Battle Groups already have viable defense against the PLAN’s ASBM. The Aegis BMD system.

    Please note the progression from ‘Center-of-Mass’ body shots to Snipping ‘Head-shots’ as testing progressed and the hard&software was put through it’s fine tuning period.

    One morning we just might wake up to a bland Pentagon Press Release “The U.S. Navy announces the successful conclusion of the first international ASBM/ABM Test.” 😉

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Michael A,

    The US Navy is very pleased with the results of the tests you link to. But I have heard it cautioned that “the ability to kill a bee is little comfort in the swarm”.

    It is right now a numbers game. Far too many ASBMs would be airborne for even the most robust BMD defense currently existing to have an even chance of protecting the CVN.

  • Ao

    @ Michael Antoniewicz II

    Are you all right in the head? Aegis? You mean the system China also has on its 052C destroyers? They’ve studied it throughly enough to conclude that you can’t intercept a Mach 10 AShM with Mach 5< SAM.

    @ Derrick

    Diplmacy means giving China what it wants — Taiwan, in exchange for the complete nullification of the program. Russia did the samething with the Tomahawk in the past.

  • Derrick

    I didn’t know China had its own version of Aegis missile defense system on its ships. That’s pretty advanced for them…

    As for intercepting ASBMs, does the US navy have to rely on Aegis solely for this? Can the air wing on the carrier assist? Also, doesn’t the ASBM rely heavily on satellite for targeting? If so, can it be cheaply defeated by using lasers to disable Chinese satellites?

    Diplomacy may also mean some form of arms control agreement limiting the deployment of ASBMs along with limits on the number of ships allowed in the Pacific…

  • harry


    Chinese are the best in reverse engineering, anything they can get their hands on then they can replicate and upgrad.

    ASBMs dont really rely on heavily satellites as you might think, recently China has constructed long wavelength radar facilities which can be used as guidance system to the DF-21 ASBMs.

  • bubblehead

    Before we get TOO excited, let’s remember that we’re talking abut trying to hit a tiny, moving target from hundreds of miles away with a rather significant delay in data transfer back and forth (compared with the relative speed in the changing overall situation). While I agree China is coming on hard and specifically intends to eventually challenge the US for dominance in the WESTPAC, they’re nowhere near close to being a creadible threat yet.

    HOWEVER, I’n not discounting them and I do think if we intend to win this game we had better take them seriously, believe what they say they intend to do and take counter-measures now, not later! China is a country we MUST always have an obvious prohibitive military advantage over if we want to avoid an actual hot conflict. This is not a time or a place to “hope” diplomacy will work. Diplomacy won’t gain us anything against China unless we also hold a winning military hand.

  • Byron

    Glad to see you here, BH, this place needs some of that “glow in the dark” class 🙂

  • logic

    I see a prevalence from Americans to see world dominance as their birthright. To me China’s attempt to strengthen its military is what any other country in their situation will do – for self defense. It doesn’t help when it is surrounded by nations that it has historically not been in good terms with.

    If you want to find fault in China’s push for a carrier killer then blame it on the US’s meddling in its Taiwan affair. BTW even if this program is successful it will merely put a little dent on US world dominance in the seas around China.

    Every countries have the right to self-defense, and in doing whatever necessary to guard their own backyard. NO country however should have the right to world dominance.

  • infocyde

    “Every country has the right to self defense.”

    No they don’t. Dictatorship’s are illegal regimes. On one party communist China falls into this category.

  • juan green

    hmm… what about all the civilians killed by US forces on non-war zones? etc etc…. US looks like a fascist force (“for good”) to lots of people outside the almighty empire of the bald-corpse-eating eagle