All posts in “ASBM”

Tit-for-Tat Weapons Procurement: You’re Doing it Wrong


Pershing II battlefield support missile_16

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va) has delivered a letter to the Army Chief of Staff outlining the need for Army to develop and deploy long-range anti-ship missiles.  Because China has:

Randy Forbes letter to Gen. Ray Odierno — 2014-10-10 by BreakingDefense

So much shallow analysis here and accompanying articles – one wonders where to start…

1. Be careful about discussing either re-opening the INF Treaty or abrogating it all together. The Russians are spoiling for the least little pretext to walk away from it and are likely poised for a breakout in MRBM/IRBM fielding – which would be a bad thing overall but especially for Europe (cf. l’affaire de SS-20). Oh and “breakout” – one of those Cold War terms, where another country suddenly fields a system (usually nuclear) in capabilities and quantity that leave a gap in terms of years before it can be adequately countered. Years which constitute a window of opportunity for mischief (at best) by the guy fielding the system to play the field. Precisely where we were in 1979 as Jimmy Carter fumbled around to find a workable deterrent to the SS-20 acceptable by Europe.  Which begat the GLCM and more importantly the Pershing II deployments as part of the Two Track approach that was executed under Reagan. But times were different then because:

2. In 1979 we had a fairly robust industry (not as robust as the Soviets) insofar as battlefield BMs went – the Pershing II was already well under way for development and deployment. Today? Because of INF and a general stagnation in terms of long-range, sub-ICBM development as a result, we have…nada. But that might be moot because:

3. Where are you going to put these missiles? Guam? Japan? China has strategic depth and interior LOC’s to support and conceal a land-based *ground-mobile* ASBM which complicates counter-targeting. ‘Just kill the launchers’ you say? Given our (not so) stellar record in that very endeavor reaching all the way back to Operation CROSSBOW in WWII, plus the fact you’d be directly attacking a nuclear near peer — well, that requires some cogitation. Oh – and by concentrating a force like that on an island you are painting a nice big sign that says “strike me first.” But even that is somewhat irrelevant because:

4. What is your target? The Chinese ASBM is quite clearly meant to exercise control over the broad ocean areas in/around the 1st island chain and inside – as are their ASCM forces which are more numerous and dispersed. Also, clearly, it is meant for capitol ships. Just saying we will build a system to take out PLAN ships beggars the reality of real-time OTH-T and something the armed forces have had to deal with for sometime now – what will the ROE be to permit their use? Anyone remember OUTLAW SHARK? Bueller? Bueller?

So how about this. let’s set aside this silly talk of tit-for-tat ballistic missiles and instead focus on putting long-range (500km+), supersonic (Mach 2+), over-the-horizon ASCMs on our surface combatants and subs. All of them. Expand the target set. Sell them to our allies (if they haven’t already begun work). Make them capable of being launched from all variants of the F-35 such that F-35Bs off an America-class LHA can provide another layer of complexity to PLA leadership. Make the P-8 and B-1/B-52 compatible for carriage so that they can hangout outside of PLAAF/PLANAF fighter range and salvo missles at PLAN ships. heck, why not even give it a LACM capability too. Too much you say? Can’t be done you say?  I know a few overseas firms that would argue otherwise.



Re-enter The DF-21D ASBM

A Reminder – Pandas May Be Cute, But They Have Sharp Teeth and Claws…

The DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) is in play again in the press and implicitly linked in comments by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Staff that cancellation of at least one of the Ford-class carriers and retirement of some number of others is being considered by DoD ( would note, however, that to draw a straight line between the two is a little simplistic).  Surfacing this discussion was the publication of an article in the Taipei Times (14 July edition)  last week that led to a good bit of churn on this side of the Pacific:

“People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde confirmed earlier this week that China was developing the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the first Chinese official to publicly state that the missile is in development. His comments came as the English-language China Daily reported that the DF-21D had a range of 2,700km (ed. or about 1460 nm -SJS), well beyond assessments by the Office of Naval Intelligence last year, which put it at about 1,500km. The missile, which is capable of hitting moving targets at sea and is seen as a potential threat to aircraft carrier battle groups, would represent a powerful deterrent to the US Navy in the Pacific.”

One of the arguments about the very existence of the DF-21D was that while there is a surprising amount of information in scientific and technical journals hinting broadly at such a capability for the PLA, publicly, at least until now, there hadn’t been anything forthcoming from the PLA officially recognizing the existence of the program or stating a requirement.  In fact, one of my erstwhile colleagues in my day job claims it is all maskirovka, in no small part, I am sure just to aggravate me, I think.

Well, no more. The PLA CoS’ very explicit comment, coming on the heels of  ADM Mullen’s visit, ripped that bandage off, confirming that indeed, China was working to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile and that it was aimed primarily at deterring the use of US aircraft carriers in the Pacific. The joker in the deck, however, was the mention of the 2700 km range – well beyond the previous estimates of “in excess of 1500 km” in open sources such as the annual DoD report to Congress on China’s Military Power.  As recent as late last year, ADM Willard, current CDRPACOM likewise indicated such when declaring his thought that the DF-21D had reached initial operational capability (IOC). In turn, this has left a number of Western analysts scratching their heads.

Figure 1. Comparative ranges of a 1500km DF-21D vs 2700km DF-21D

From a notional GEOLOC in the Guangdong province, the implications of Figure 1 ought to be pretty clear – a 2700km range would force carriers to operate outside not only the first island chain, but at or outside the second chain and thereby effectively nullify any operational employment in the contested area until the ASBM threat is neutralized. By extending that virtual umbrella of protective fire against the most versatile, flexible operational unit for wide area sea control, the aircraft carrier, the PLAN and PLA-AF would gain a greater degree of freedom to operate in critical areas such as the South and East China Seas with the greatest threat coming from US and allied subs – no mean threat, but more manageable without having to deal with carrier-based air.  Presumably land-based air forces would be dissuaded or suppressed by the very large conventional ballistic missile striking force the Chinese are acquiring and deploying.  One interesting possibility stemming from this condition is that China also gains a greater margin to operate its embryonic carrier force in a more effective manner against regional actors.

But few capabilities, if any, are ever so neatly packaged, and on closer examination there are some flies in the ointment. Further in the same article, Chen notes:

“…the DF-21D, which can be fired from mobile land-based launchers, was still in the research, development and testing stage, adding that such high-tech devices were difficult to bring to maturity.  ‘The missile is still undergoing experimental testing and it will be used as a defensive weapon when it is successfully developed, not an offensive one,’ Chen told reporters. Its development ‘requires funding inputs, advanced technology and high-quality talented personnel … these are all fundamental factors constraining its development’ Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as saying, in comments that were ostensibly intended for a domestic audience.” (emphasis added)

There is a considerable level of effort to translate plans and parts associated with the now decommissioned Pershing II, ostensibly the basis of the DF-15 and land attack variants of the DF-21 family (see Fig. 2), into a system that marries sensors, C2 and “shooter” (aka missile) designed to take out a mobile platform in the broad ocean area. Recall that the Pershing II added a MaRV that married a 5-80kt warhead (with an earth penetrating option) with terrain-scene matching radar to give this relatively low yield weapon a remarkable hard-kill capability owing to a CEP inside of 30 meters. From bases in West Germany, the flight time of the Pershing II to Moscow was on the order 10-14 minutes – and drove the Soviets to the brink as they considered it a first strike weapon in a larger strategic exchange with the US. The fact that its deployment was a reaction to their own deployment of the game-changing road-mobile SS-20 and in all likelihood, was targeted against the operational and support elements for that missile system was conveniently overlooked. It is, however, instructive for our purposes here to note that the manner in which the Pershing II’s range and payload were upgraded and enhanced – through a lighter structure, enhanced propellants and advanced onboard flight and terminal guidance, would likewise be applicable to the DF-21 family. It is altogether conceivable and in keeping with the Chinese design, development and deployment of a range of missile families and capabilities that a similar process was followed to reach the DF-21D.

Figure 2.  (l to r) Pershing II, DF-15/CSS-6 with MaRV, DF-21/CSS-5

However, color me skeptical about the 2700 km claim. Time and again more than one nation – ours included, has learned that you just can’t keep scaling up on a “Tim Allen” design basis (“more power”) and expect everything to work. As range increases, the loads (aerodynamic heating, gravity, etc) on the reentry vehicle correspondingly grow, but not at a 1:1 pace. For example, at 200,000 ft (the point at which re-entry begins) thermal loading on an ICBM-class RV will cause the tip to experience temperatures in excess of 3,500 deg.F – the most minute differentiation in the rate of ablation near the tip will cause the RV to at best, modify its ballistic flight profile, affecting accuracy or at worse, adjust so dramatically that airframe body breakup is incurred. To avoid this occurrence, RVs are spin stabilized before re-entry to ensure uniform ablation, but that incurs another series of events to be dealt with, and so on. This, in large part, is one reason why the leap from a space launch vehicle (SLV) to IR/ICBM class weapon is not as clear or fast as the reverse (IR/ICBM → SLV), and should give pause to assessments over the alleged development of ICBM capabilities by some countries.

The Pershing II was classified with a 1,770 km range. A reading of the development of the MaRV for the Pershing II in William Yengst’s monograph, “Lightning Bolts: First Maneuvering Reentry Vehicles” is instructive in the challenges presented by the flight, re-entry and post re-entry aerodynamic loading on the airframe, developing a nose cone that was sufficiently ablative to withstand reentry yet transparent electromagnetically enough for the terrain scene matching radar and developing a guidance and maneuvering system that would survive reentry and be robust enough for terminal maneuvers approaching 8-gs in the target area. No small leap for 1978 and similarly today when looking at an alleged 2700km missile. An alternate explanation would be either a deliberate falsification as part of a larger strategic communications ploy (surprise) or just a simple transpose of a “2” where a “1” for a 1700 km vice 2700 km missile would be much more believable. To be sure, an extra 1,000km range would open up a wide range of possibilities for the PLA, not least of which would be greater strategic depth to afford protection against future counter-ballistic missile threats (either ascent-phase interceptors – still very much the stuff of PPT dreams or VLO/UCAV-Ns, less PPT, but years away from a notional weapons capability) while maintaining coverage out to the first island chain and expanding its fleet of open ocean sensors and platforms feeding the reconnaissance-strike complex supporting the DF-21D.

The simple fact of the matter is that DF-21D is out there and constitutes some quantifiable level of threat to our deployed carrier force.  That in turn has engendered a certain degree of hand-wringing, but simply cancelling programs and cutting force structure on the basis of a weapon itself and its supporting C2ISR infrastructure allegedly still in the throes of development would seem a bit hasty.  To be sure, fiscal prudence demands close scrutiny – of all programs, especially in the  current and near-future fiscal climate.  Yet there is a strategic imperative at play and it goes to what form our forces will take after we have disengaged from protracted conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Increasingly there is talk of “off-shore balancing” and while that is still a somewhat amorphous form, what is clear is that under such a concept, expeditionary forces supported by naval and air forces will be more relevant than those configured for long-term engagement in continental land-wars and nation building.  Prudence, again, dictates a thoughtful examination of the configuration of those naval forces, the flexibility inherent in well designed, time-tested platforms (like the CVN and DDGs) but ensuring there is capacity for growth and adaption to mission changes.  There is a school of thought that is quick to draw parallels between the emergence of the carrier and demise of the battleship as highlighted at Pearl Harbor, but I would point out that was as much to do with the inherent lack of adaptability of the ships on Battleship Row that Sunday morning in December as the added dimension to naval warfare demonstrated by the Kido Butai.  I would also note, that the same capability brought to bear against the BBs was also applied at Coral Sea, Midway and Santa Cruz, but there were no calls for ceasing production of CVs after Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp were lost to air- and submarine attacks.  Indeed the carriers showed their adaptability and flexibility in the utility of their main battery, carrier-based air wings that were composited based on mission, in flexing from sea control to war at sea, to strike support and long-range AAW.  And when a new weapon, the kamikaze appeared later in the war we changed tactics, adapted current and emerging technologies (networked fires, improved C2, long-range CAP, attack operations, airborne- and distant surface radar pickets) and even began looking at the potential of emerging technologies like surface to air missiles as a solution set.  To be sure, we were still taking grievous losses (witness Okinawa and the beating the DDRs and USS Franklin endured), and the emergence of atomic weapons again proved a challenge.  My intent isn’t to rehash the long history of carrier aviation and its adaptability in the face of emerging threats, that has been done much more ably elsewhere.  It is rather, to thoughtfully consider the challenge presented, examine all avenues of countering, realizing that frankly, while the DF-21D presents a very high profile threat, the reality of the tactical scenario is that there are a great many more sub- and supersonic cruise missiles, launched from a variety of platforms that are increasingly proliferating around the world and present a far greater threat to all naval platforms.

And that demands a degree of perspective be employed by force planners and naval leaders.

Required Reading: Naval War College Review Articles on China’s DF-21/ASBM

20070724_06aA few of us  (here and over at Galrahn‘s site) have been banging the drum for the last few years re. the potential threat posed by China’s ASBM (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile) which appears to be a variant of the DF-21 (itself, an apparent derivative of the Pershing II MRBM).  There has been limited releasable (e.g., unclassified) information from DoD agencies, most of it in the annual DoD report on China’s capabilities.  What little else can be gleaned from the open press is primarily Chinese in origin and oft times, in Chinese.  Most of the extensive writings have tended to be more generalistic as a result, focusing at the strategic-political level on the implications and challenges such a weapon would pose in a future Taiwan Straits scenario (or some other that takes place at or inside the first island chain).  Chief focus has been on the aspect of sea denial to US carriers and the attendant impact that would have on providing tactical airpower in the face of land-based PLAAF forces conducting bluewater ASUW and land attack strikes.  The most recent open press article was that found in the May 2009 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings

With the autumn 2009 issue of the Naval War College Review, that body of knowledge has been significantly expanded via two articles.  The first, “Using the Land to Control the Sea?” (link directly downloads a PDF of the article) addresses the larger technical and political challenges, opening with an argument is a familiar to readers of this and the aforementioned blogs:

For China, the ability to prevent a U.S. carrier strike group from intervening in the event of a Taiwan Strait crisis is critical. Beijing’s immediate strategic concerns have been defined with a high level of clarity. The Chinese are interested in achieving an antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) capability because it offers them the prospect of limiting the ability of other nations, particularly the United States, to exert military influence on China’s maritime periphery, which contains several disputed zones of core strategic importance to Beijing. ASBMs are regarded as a means by which technologically limited developing countries can overcome by asymmetric means their qualitative inferiority in conventional combat platforms, because the gap between offense and defense is the greatest here.

Today, China may be closer than ever to attaining this capability. In addition to numerous outside reports suggesting Chinese efforts in this area, technical and operationally focused discussions on the topic are appearing in increasing numbers and in a widening array of Chinese sources, some clearly authoritative.  This suggests that China may be close to testing and fielding an ASBM system—a weapon that no other country currently possesses, since the United States relinquished a distantly related capability in 1988. In the view of Chinese and Western analysts, even the mere perception that China might have realized an ASBM capability could represent a paradigm shift, with profound consequences for deterrence, military operations, arms control, and the balance of power in the western Pacific.

Discussion that follows is worth the read, but of particular interest is the end analysis where the authors contemplate the impact a range of US responses would have, spanning from indifference to measured and then major response,and what the implications would be if the Chinese were to go ahead and conduct an operational tes:

Responding to the unprecedented strategic challenge presented by an ASBM capability would require the American military and civilian leadership to face hard truths, and continue to develop innovative new capabilities. The United States has many options here, and it must be prepared to exercise them. The most perilous approach would be to neglect such military innovation while continuing to insist that the United States maintained its ability to keep the peace, when in fact the military capabilities that underpin that ability were diminishing, at least in a relative sense. Such a discrepancy between rhetoric and reality would erode America’s regional credibility and fuel Chinese overconfidence. The prospect of documenting that discrepancy publicly might motivate China to conduct a demonstration of an ASBM; a successful test could create the impression that American power projection capabilities—and the regional credibility that depends on them—had been dramatically diminished. Managing the proper response to this potential “game changer” will demand close scrutiny from scholars, analysts, and policy makers alike, as it will critically influence America’s place in the Pacific for decades to come.

Two events point to the efficacy of such a scenario: one, the operational ASAT test conducted in 2007 and the other (and used by the authors) – the bombing tests off the VACAPES prompted by General Billy Mitchell and carried out by Army and Navy aircraft against stationary capital ship targets.  In the case of the former, it clearly illuminated not only China’s tchnological capabilities, but some have said that it also demonstrated a certain ascendancy of the military and its ability to veto civilian policy makers who were not favoring an operational test.  In the case of the latter – there were major budgetary, policy and even changes in tactics as the nascent Army Air Corps received substantive funding boosts, the Navy began to seriously investigate the use of dive bombers as a means to attack ships and other nations, notably Japan, began to redraw their force structures.

But what of the system itself?  How much of it is real and how much is just vaporware?  Maskirovka designed to confuse and direct US allocation of forces and funding down blind alleys?  The second article, “China’s Antiship Ballistic Missile: Developments and Missing Links” (same warning as above re. the hyperlink) takes a systemic approach to assessing this ‘system of systems’ by an extensive analysis of available open-press Chinese literature.  It is worth noting that when conducting a content analysis, one not only focuses on what is found in the body proper of individual texts, but as that body grows, there are larger trends and directions that can be ascertained and from which,  judgments as to the status and progress of a program may be made – even absent declaratory supporting statements.  As the authors point out, for example, early literature tends to view the problems presented in the complex kill chain of an ASBM with a wider aperture, with wide-ranging, generalist discussions that identify problem areas.  As sub-groups of supporting literature grow in number while parsing ever-finer details, say in developing algorithms used to detect, identify and track large surface vessels using space-based assets, or there is wider discussion of the problems associated with exo-atmospheric maneuvering while maintaining targeting (as is the case in the civilian space program and the problems associated with unmanned docking), the fact that such bodies of literature exist lends credence to assessments of the state of development and deployment of a weapons system.

Beyond the ASBM, the authors see far-reaching impacts on the larger military capabilities and force structure.  Developing, building and deploying an operational ASBM with all of the technical, operational and even political challenges posed along the way would have reverberating effects throughout – from Command and Control, to multi-spectral imaging, rapid re-targeting, battle assessment and more – every bit a modern revolution in military affairs and industry as the US experienced in the late 80’s and 90’s with technology crossovers from the space and micro-computer industries.

Points to ponder while working on a “balanced” approach to forces