The original entry has received quite a bit of fanfare, so I thought I would push some additional thoughts across + look at some of the questions being posed. Thanks to the everyone who helped me with this. I do apologize for not getting to this earlier, because I have been quite busy recently.
The first thing I want to look at are the related parts from the DoD report. Page 21 has a section on ASBM. Page 26 has a section on recon/navigational satellites. It recognizes that China is working on this system and that it is also launching many reconnaissance satellites to help improve with identify, track and engage military target deep in the Pacific Ocean. We will explore C4ISR later on it this entry, but it’s important to note that Pentagon is taking this threat seriously. Whether or not PLAN really does have something deployed currently or in 5 years, USN will have to prepare with having to face ASBM as one of the possibility. This could lead to changes in procurement (more ships with SM-3), refitting existing ships with SM-3 and maneuvers/path taken by a carrier group into the zone of conflict.
One of the questions I was asked was whether or not this has been tested. This really is not a question that I would have answer to. Generally speaking, we do not see important weapon systems until years after they are deployed. For missiles, they have specific testing sites that they go to for testing and target ships (basically 022 with a huge radar deflector as shown below) that they use for anti-ship missiles.
However, we normally don’t get pictures or videos of testing from these tests. In some cases, we read about the tests later on, but there are no news releases like the ones we see out of China Lake. According to the original blog writer (I can’t confirm this), the person in charge of researching ASBM guidance wrote a paper in 2000 called “Research into MaRV attacking slow-moving targets”. And according to a recent interview with naval base designer, China has acquired the ability to strike moving targets with ballistic missile. In my opinion, they would not make this kind of statement unless they have test-fired the missile.
I also noticed numerous people wondering about why China does not just continue to develop supersonic cruise missiles. I think the issue is many people have bought into the fallacy that supersonic missiles like Yakhont, Sunburn and Club are carrier-killers. Without going into the extremely deep discussion over the pros and cons of supersonic missile, I think it’s quite clear that PLAN does not think these supersonic missiles alone can defeat the air defense umbrella of a USN CVBG. They did not seem overly pleased with the technical problems endured in the deployment of Club missile. It has been named as impossible to stop by many reports out there, but China did not even do live firing of the missile on its new kilo submarines until 2008. In fact, PLAN has such high regard for the “Sizzler” that it is not using it on any other platforms. In the same regard, the development of 3M80MBE (improved Sunburn) also took longer than expected. The increased range on it compared to 3M80E was more due to the cruising altitude than motor/fuel improvement. Even though they purchased about 500 Sunburn missiles, they have only equipped it on the Sovs. In conclusion, the much hyped supersonic missiles by themselves are not carrier killers. The primary weapon used by PLAN right now is YJ-83 (which is subsonic with supersonic terminal phase). It is basically equipped on all of the modern large surface ships, fighter-bombers and 022 FACs. In order to defeat the Aegis umbrella, PLAN would have to carry out a well planned multi-axis attack from different platforms.
As shown in the INS Hanit hit, the best way to penetrate a modern AD is to catch it off-guard. I don’t think PLAN could ever hope to catch a USN Carrier Group in that scenario with Anti-ship cruise missiles, because the entire system will be turned on by the time the ships enters the engagement area of YJ-83. If C4ISR network needed for ASBM is developed (this will be discussed later), then this would increase the engagement envelope for PLAN. It would either force the US Carrier group to turn its air defense system on earlier (which would basically expose its positioning) or it could catch the carrier group completely off guard. If this ASBM system works as we talked about, USN would be forced to change its tactics in coming into the warzone. The other part that is special about ASBM is that it’s just a lot harder to score hard kills than cruise missiles. I know that SM-3 has many successful tests, but it has never really tested against something with the flight characteristics of ASBM variant of DF-21. I’m not saying that it can’t intercept it, but we don’t know what it’s success rate would be. I’m sure a salvo of DF-21 coming would pose more threats than a salvo of modern Anti-ship cruise missile. I have looked at the much talked Kilo/Club and Sov/Sunburn systems as over-hyped, but I do believe this ASBM system could be worth the attention given to it.
Another major question that came up was the process of searching for, finding and getting accurate enough data for targeting purpose. It is quite clear that OTH radar would not be able to do all of that by itself. Therefore, other parts of the C4ISR would have to do the identification after given a general area to look into. When it comes to identification, the possibilities include satellites, UAV/MPAs and SURTASS ships. There are pros and cons to each identification tool.
The first one to look at is reconnaissance satellites. In the original blog, the author stated that carrier groups can be identified, because it is likely to maneuver in completely different pattern than normal shipping groups. That actually is not true from my discussion with Jonesy, who explained to me that USN carrier group will make deceptive maneuvers so that it will not be easily identified at the sea. After all, a large group of ships moving straight toward battle zone at 30 knots would not only be spotted by satellites but also by a ship equipped with a modern navigational radar. Therefore, in order to identify the target, China would need satellites that have 10 m resolution and also have data relay set up to receive all the imaging data from the satellites. In a way, this would almost eliminate the possibility of using micro-EO satellites, because of the resolution requirements of the imager and the power requirements associated with focusing in on certain altitudes, storing that information and transmitting it back to ground station for data-processing. Going through Sinodefence, you will notice that Ziyuan 2 satellites and Yaogan satellites both have the resolution needed to identify a carrier from up top. The problem is that a large portion of these satellites are on sun-synchronous orbits, meaning that they pass by a spot once a day. Considering that these 2 series only have 9 satellites, it could only guarantee that satellite passes by one spot every 2 to 3 hours. According to SDF, the field of view for SAR radar of Yaogan satellite is 40 km at high resolution mode. This means, if the ship moves 20 km after the initial detection by OTH radar, it could be outside the FOV of satellite’s radar. I’m assuming here that USN knows the orbital patterns of Chinese satellites and would take a path that would minimize the chance of detection by those satellites. Of course, the solution to this problem is to simply launch more reconnaissance satellites capable of achieving high resolution. I think that satellites is a reasonable solution for IDing carrier groups, but it is vulnerable to anti-satellite weapons like SM-3.
The second one to look at is aerial assets like UAVs and MPAs. For the latter, we are talking about Y-8 special missions planes. Unfortunately, China has very small number of these type of planes (in single digits) and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Even though the shipbuilding industry has been able to crank out ships at rapid speed, the aerospace industry can barely assemble a few Y-8 platforms every year. In any war scenario, the MPAs are unlikely to play a major role in identifying carrier groups that are still 1500 km+ away from the coast. UAVs are also currently small in numbers for China, but this will likely change in the next few years. As discussed in the previous blog entry, we are seeing both HALE and MALE UAVs getting developed by CAC. I don’t know what the production rate for these UAVs will be in the future, but they should be sufficient for mass usage in war time. UAVs can be used to identify a carrier group in two ways:
- By actually using its sensors to visually identify ships in the carrier group
- Identify a carrier group indirectly if it is shot down by an asset from the carrier group
The first one is quite obvious and is the preferred way of identifying the carrier group. It will be able to get the targeting data of the carrier itself and be able to provide mid-course correction after the ASBM is launched. If most of the systems on the carrier group are not fully active, then the carrier group might not even know that it has been found and targeted. A carrier group is at most danger in this scenario. In the second scenario, the identification part would be achieved, but PLA still would not know the exact location of the carrier. Once the carrier group knows that it has been detected, it will turn its system to active, so that an attacking missile would have to face a prepared air defense. Once this happens, it will be a lot easier for other recon UAVs and assets to identify the coordinate of the carrier. Clearly, UAVs would be an extremely good way of identifying the carrier group, but many UAVs are needed to maintain patrol over the area scanned by the OTH radar. It is also imperative for the UAV to have low signature, which would make it hard to detect by a carrier group with air defense not fully active.
The final one I did not even realize in the first post. Jonesy brought up the idea of using SURTASS to detect a rapidly moving carrier group. A ship equipped with SURTASS can detect ships from hundreds of nm away. The range and power of a SURTASS ship would allow it to operate outside the coverage of the carrier group. The problem is that I don’t think China has anything like SURTASS right now. And I don’t think anything like it is going to be on the horizon either, so I’m not sure how plausible this solution it is. So, the pro is that a SURTASS ship would be able to provide accurate targeting data while staying out of harm’s way. The con is that it might not be a poassibility for the near future. However, China has surprised me many times with new ship types.
And finally, I think that some people fail to understand the implication of this system. As mentioned above, this system would either force USN to turn on its system fully-on at an earlier point or leave itself really vulnerable to a long range attack. Even with its system fully-on, a salvo of ASBM would pose far more danger than a salvo of ASCM. As mentioned above, this would change the way that USN would plan the way that it comes into the Taiwan conflict. It could also possibly force the carrier to operate much further out, which would reduce the effectiveness of a carrier group. However, the biggest implication would be that China has actually managed to develop ASBM. For the longest time, the biggest objection I heard regarding to an ASBM system is how can it possibly have the accuracy of finding and hitting a moving target. I think that if this system is put in service, then they must have developed the seeker and the maneuver technology needed for this task. And if these technical problems with ASBM itself are solved, we can look forward to other types of ASBM like ones launched from strike aircraft, ships or even submarines. There are many possibilities. It is also possible that future versions of ASBM would contain not only a warhead but also decoys. The important part to remember is that this system either have not been deployed yet or is at the very early stage of its existence. The system will likely improve and also evolve into other forms in the future. As a result of this, BMD on ships against ASBM will also have to continuously improve in the future.
These are some of my additional thoughts on this topic. One of my goals is to get others to also think about the implications of this system. I’d like to again thank everyone who has helped me with this topic.