The Chinese DF-21D ASBM: Much Ado About Nothing

There has been much hand-wringing in the press of late regarding the DF-21D ASBM.  Pundits from across the media spectrum are decrying this new Chinese capability and positing it as a “game-changer” and the “end of the Aircraft carrier”, yadda yadda yadda.  AW1 Tim is not impressed, and neither should you.

The Chinese are to be commended for this potential advance in weaponry, but unless and until they actually demonstrate this capability, it is all theoretical propaganda, with a bark worse than it’s bite.

This weapon system has more than one target. First and foremost, it’s main target isn’t a US Carrier at sea, or anywhere else. It’s main target is the US Economy. The Chinese have taken a few pages from the playbook these United States used to take down the Soviet Union. They are building and displaying all sorts of interesting weapons systems because they know it will cost a lot of money and resources to develop a counter-measure to each of them. Why is this important? Because China holds a significant part of US Debt. China intends to replace these United States as the primary political force in Asia and to take dominance over the Pacific Ocean. By further weakening the US Economy, it makes China’s rise to prominance that much easier.  Why go to actual war when you can bankrupt your enemy into submission?

Having said all of this, we still don’t need all the whining and posturing that’s going on. First and foremost, the United States Navy has a demonstrated capability of intercepting and destroying both missiles and warheads in flight.  We will need to expand that capability through construction of both new Aegis vessels, and other, purpose-designed platforms to provide sufficient Anti-ASBM protection for Carried Battle Groups, as well as other important facilities.

A simple solution, however, would be to change our nuclear response policy in regards to the DF-21D and other such systems.  The problem with an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile is that it is indistinguishable from any other ICBM.  It has virtually identical signatures from launch through impact.  In that regard, it is impossible to know whether the warhead(s) onboard are nuclear or conventional. Even if the Chinese were to sign a treaty that these missiles would ONLY be armed with conventional warheads, we could never be certain that they were, and even then, whether it was an actual DF-21 or some other ICBM being launched.

Thus, this nation should, at once, make it known that ANY Ballistic Missile launched against ANY United States vessel, station, territory or any other possession, will be judged to be a nuclear attack and responded to in a similar manner at the time and place of our choosing.

Commander Salamander, a GREAT blogger has a good article up today regarding this situation. You should read his piece. Actually, you all should read his stuff every day. I do.  He’s responding to this, and this which are good, but miss the point.

Money quote from the good CDR:

There is an evolution and survival of the fittest in warfare. It is only a problem if ignored. It is only a reason to panic if you lack a historical perspective and a lack of confidence in your military to effectively meet a new threat … at threat that is yet to be fully formed.

The only thing needed here is to ask the CNO – what is your plan to address this possible threat? Are your priorities aligned with preserving your nation’s ability to project power into the future?

He is absolutely correct.

DF-21 system here.

More herehere,  and here.

Update: I meant to add a Hat Tip to my good friend and fellow AW, Scott for bringing this to my attention last week. Thanks Shipmate!


47 Responses to “The Chinese DF-21D ASBM: Much Ado About Nothing”

  1. August 9, 2010 at 15:51

    I vividly recall the scare/ fear of the “Exocet” missiles during Desert Shield/ Storm. They were never used. We did “stumble” across a few underwater mines….. Is this something being used to enhance the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us of??

  2. August 9, 2010 at 16:59

    Hmm – I will state for the record that there is, in fact, cause for concern. I can personally attest to the dedicated efforts of many fine minds across the military/govt/industry domain to boxing this challenge as we (mostly) boxed the Soviet air- and sub-launched ASCM threats by the mid-80s. Attitude is one of “OK, roger the threat — now what are we oing to do about it in the near- and mid-term?”

    w/r, SJS

    • August 9, 2010 at 18:06

      I agree with you. My main concern is that this system muddles the response to ICBM launches, because we won’t know what type of warhead is being lofted. If concern over this causes us to delay a response, then that gives a decided advantage to a potential adversary.

      As I posited, making a statement that any such launch against any US target will be considered a nuclear attack would be a good short-term solution.

      But, yeah…. exactly what our counter to this will be is something that more than a few would like to know.


    • 4 Byron
      August 9, 2010 at 21:22

      If SJS says it, take it to the bank.

  3. 5 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 18:02

    Both the US and China signed the non first use of nuclear weapon. The use of non nuclear warhead is legal. If the US misstakenly assumes the Chinese used the nuclear warhead and retailiate then it would be the US who broke the treaty and both the Chinese and Russian would respond in kind with WW3 and 20,000 nukes aimed at the US. It would be wise to be certain whether nukes were used first. If a single nutron bomb expoded in the US, the US would be uninhabitable for the next thousand years.

    China would never attack any US carriers unless they feel threatened. If the US carriers stayed away from the region then everyone would be happy. Considering the Chinese have 50 long range nukes in operation targeted at the US with multiple warheads it would be best if nuclear powers never used nukes. The Russian would never stay out of the conflict if the US used a nuke on China so nobody wins.

    • August 9, 2010 at 18:12

      We have an absolute right to navigate any international waters. Your attitude is, charitably, naive. China can, and would, attack any US vessel or position if it felt that doing so would have a higher reward than risk. China is currently engaged in a massive Cold War against these United States. The PLAN is actively working on ways to destabilize US Fleet assets, and this system is one of them.

      China intends to be the sole superpower, and also has every intention of controlling Asian affairs, in a similar manner to what Japan attempted with it’s “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” that led to WWII.

      This is just another step in China’s long war against us. We haven’t started shooting yer, but those who believe that a hot war will never come are deluding themselves. those signs are plain as day, just as the signs of an imperialist, expansionist Japan were there for all to see, but ignored by the same sort of naive. myopic political chattering class that we have today.


    • August 9, 2010 at 19:20

      Minor nit, I suppose, is your fundamental misunderstanding of what a neutron bomb is all about. The whole idea behind an ERW (enhanced radiation weapon, aka “neutron bomb”) is to kill troops on the field with minimal blast/radiation effects to territory such that follow-on forces can readily occupy the same.

      Another minor nit would be your understanding of freedom of navigation and what consitutes international waters.

      w/r, SJS

      • 8 SKUNK
        August 9, 2010 at 20:20

        The Chinese last nuclear test was a neutron bomb before they signed the non testing of nuclear weapons. Its the radiation that would make the US uninhabitable for 1000 years.

        “the increased radiation released by ERWs is meant to be a major source of casualties, able to penetrate buildings and armored vehicles to kill personnel that would otherwise be protected from the explosion.”

        My mistake 12 years.”A neutron bomb requires considerable amounts of tritium, which has a half-life of approximately 12.32 years,[13] compounding the difficulties of extended storage. For a weapon to remain effective over time, tritium components would have to be periodically replaced”

      • 9 SKUNK
        August 9, 2010 at 20:36

        If the Russian operated a war game with their navy just beyond the coast of the US in international waters, how would you respond? If the Russian put nukes aimed at the US in Cuba how would you respond?

        If we cant all live together we all die together. What dont you understand about nuclear deterence?

  4. 10 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 18:09

    The Aegis system cannot reload fast enough for a second round even if it can theoretically stop a Mach 10 direction changing DF21. Check your sources. It only takes 10 minutes to reach 2000 km. The Australians reported this years ago so the missiles are fully operational. The Chinese subs hold 12 DF21 each.

    • August 9, 2010 at 18:21

      My good friend, The Chinese Jin-class SSBN’s do not carry the DF-21 or any model. they are armed with the DF-31 SLBM, with either single or MIRV thermonuclear warheads. There are no ships or submarines in the PLAN fleet that can, at present, carry the DF-21 series missiles. All of the DF-21’s are either silo or mobile-launcher based.


    • August 9, 2010 at 19:37

      “The Aegis system cannot reload fast enough for a second round even if it can theoretically stop a Mach 10 direction changing DF21.”

      If you are referring to the Mk 26 lancher – your information is well out of date. All BMD configured ships (in fact, all the Aegis-equipped CG and DDGs) utilize the Mk 41 VLS which was purposefully chosen to support multiple/volley launches.

      w/r, SJS

      • 13 SKUNK
        August 9, 2010 at 20:28

        It was an article whose quoted source was an anonymous…an Admiral of the USA? The second round will be unstopable according to him the system cant reload fast enough before the second volley hit even if the first could be stopped. I doubt it at Mach 10. The Chinese are actually developing rocket engines 5 times the boost. The DF 21 was designed to evade your Aegis system in mid fight.It would be interesting to see whether the Aegis system could stop the S300 Mach 2. The Iranians have 3.

  5. 14 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 19:00

    “One such weapon demonstrated at Qingadao was the Dongfeng 21 fired from a submarine with a range of 2,000 kilometres and cruise missile accuracy that can destroy an aircraft carrier. This nullifies its weakness at sea. ”


    Its the DF 35 multiple nuke warhead thats in testing stage.

    Cant seem to be able to reply to your reply?

    • August 9, 2010 at 19:19

      The author of the article is mistaken. The DF-21 was the basis for development of the JuLang-1 (CSS-N-3) an SLBM that provided the Xia-class SSBN’s armament. It does NOT have the guidance system of the DF-21D, and carries single or Multiple Thermonuclear warheads. That entire system was updgraded to the JuLang-1a, but is installed on only one boat of the Xia class, which is currently listed as “non-operational” and has not left Chinese territorial waters for years.

      Currently, the only operational SSBN’s that China has are the Jin-Class and only two are in commission. Both are equipped with the JL-2 missile, though no test firings from a submarine have yet to take place.


      “The Type 094 has the capacity to carry 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The JuLang 2 SLBM designed and developed by CASIC 4th Academy is a three-stage, solid-propellant strategic ballistic missile. It is a derivation of the land-based DongFeng 31 (DF-31) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The maximum range of the JuLang 2 was estimated to be 7,000~8,000km, three times that of the first-generation JuLang 1 SLBM used by the Type 092.

      Each JuLang 2 can carry a single thermalnuclear warhead of 25~1,000kt yield. Alternatively, the missile was said to be able to carry three or more 90kT multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV), though this cannot be confirmed.”

      I’d say your source was confused in translating what was demonstrated.


  6. 16 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 19:13

    China already has a plan called Assasin mace that could counter all US power projection that the US can not counter. The US is developing a plan called Air Sea that doesnt exist yet.

    “We have an absolute right to navigate any international waters. Your attitude is, charitably, naive.” Not with a nuclear carrier you dont. Its a declaration of war. Same as the Cuban missile crisis.

    China is not in a cold war with the US. They developed a system to counter your carriers after the last time they were bullied. No they have the means to ensure national security.

    If Nixon didnt seek an alliance with China against the USSR threat, the US would be under communist rule by now. If Russia and China allied do you really think you stand a chance? Do you realize if it wasnt for China’s cheap goods you wouldnt be able to enjoy the standard of living you do now considering how much your dollar has dropped. If they didnt buy your T bills your dollar wouldnt exist.

    China does not have any ambition outside of their region. They do not have carriers to reach the US. I dont know why you think China is in a cold war with you. Your decline is due to your own corrupt politicians that refuses to raise taxes to pay down your debt.

  7. August 9, 2010 at 19:23

    Um…. sadly, no. China has it’s own views of power projection, and it is very seriously engaged in a Cold War with these United States, and also with the Russian Government. Just because China hasn’t any carriers, yet, that fact shouldn’t be seen as not having global ambitions. China is already massively engaged in oil and mining extraction in Africa, and has a virtual monopoly on Copper rights in Afghanistan. She is expanding her interests worldwide, and she will use whatever means she feels is best in order to reach her goals.


    • 18 Axeon
      January 21, 2011 at 13:57

      I have to agree with Skunk. The USA seems to think any country that is able to match it in some way is a threat. Everything is a zero sum game it seems. It seems also to think that it has some special right that no other country in the world has.

      I don’t understand why the US thinks that they can swagger into somebody else’s neighbourhood like John Wayne, shoot up the place and leave without so much as a bloodied nose.

      Or why the US thinks it has the right to move into somebody else’s neighbourhood and export wars to other nations. Force projection across the other side of the world or over the horizon to someone else’s place is nothing but aggression and arrogance, ignorance and intolerance. No nation has the right to dominate over others.

  8. 19 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 19:38

    Your article is dated March 13, 2009 a little behind the times. The DF 21 carrier killer is fitted on the JL-1 not the 094 Jin class. Mind you I know s about subs.

    You have been brainwashed. The only thing the Chinese care about is to raise the level of poverty for its citizens. They make this DF 21 only to protect their trade route which the US plan to disrupt( You could say this is an act of war ).

    Up till 6 months ago all(relatively) military arsenal was reported to the US so that no one would be surprised. Your country is having a nervous breakdown over nothing.

    • August 9, 2010 at 21:11

      yeah… whatever. I also know for subs. You want to critisise these United States, do it on someone else’s blog. Better yet, try writing to the US Embassy wherever you live. I’m sure they’ll be all ears.

      In England and these United States, people with your mindset were also telling folks not to worry at all about Germany or Japan. Yup… that worked out real well now, didn’t it?

      The fact is that China is the single most important threat, militarily and economically to these United States. That’s fact, and pretending that it isn’t borders on being criminally naive, because such attitudes will get your own folks killed and the survivors enslaved.

      The threat is clear and plain to see, and you ignore it at your own peril.

    • 21 SKUNK
      August 9, 2010 at 21:44

      Tim you are a fool. Both China and the US are so intertwined that a divorce would thow you into the next great depression. If your country get its debt back in line you wouldnt be in decline. As your country become poorer, you will no longer be able to afford your military budget. Good bye…its your Blog after all. Consider I gave you a different point of view that may be of use to you.

  9. 22 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 19:41

    “China is already massively engaged in oil and mining extraction in Africa, and has a virtual monopoly on Copper rights in Afghanistan. She is expanding her interests worldwide, and she will use whatever means she feels is best in order to reach her goals.”

    China needs the raw material to build goods for your consumption. China buys resources world wide to feed your consumption. You the US consume about a third of the worlds resources with five percent of the worlds poputation paying with paper money thats worthless.

    • August 9, 2010 at 21:06

      And your problem is? I don’t understand the socialist mentality that mandates wealth redistribution. The resources belong to those who go and mine them, smelt them, and convert them into goods. The profits from those ventures go into the pockets of those who invest the capital up front.

      I am detecting a great deal of adolescent jealousy on your part.

      Get a job. That gets you money. With money comes power. That’s how the world has worked forever, and will keep working forever. When we use up the resources here, we’ll develop them off world. No big deal.

    • 24 SKUNK
      August 9, 2010 at 21:23

      The irony is that the US cannot pay for the goods. Its not socialism but rather dishonesty that the US prints money to pay for what they could no longer afford. Miners mine copper in Afganistan(doubtful) so that the chinese could build wires for your electronic toys. The payment in USD kept by the central bank devalues everyday so those who hold USD are having their saving taken from them.

      Let me educate you if you are that behind the times. The world IMF and United Nation are demanding the revokation of reserve currency status for the USD. In other words you will no longer be able to buy goods and pay USD for them because the world has had enough of your violation of your printing press. This will happen in 10 years. In other words you will be much poorer and cannot ever afford to consume a third of the world’s resources.

  10. 25 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 20:54

    They are making Jokes about your Aegis system.

    “Equally intriguing has been the depiction of this capability in the Chinese media. A lengthy November 2009 program about anti-ship ballistic missiles (video) broadcast on China Central Television Channel 7 (China’s official military channel) featured an unexplained — and rather badly animated — cartoon sequence. This curious ‘toon features a sailor who falsely assumes that his carrier’s Aegis defense systems can destroy an incoming ASBM as effectively as a cruise missile, with disastrous results.
    The full program is available in three segments (parts 1, 2, and 3) on YouTube. Skip to 7:18 on the second clip to view this strange, and somewhat disturbing, segment.”


    • August 9, 2010 at 21:02

      And??????? I don’t get your point. The Chinese, like all communist nations, have consistently used such propaganda to belittle their enemies as a show of bravado to their own people, especially their lower-rank military folks.

      Ain’t no thing, there.

    • 27 SKUNK
      August 9, 2010 at 21:26

      The main point is an Aegis system was not designed to stop ABM but cruze missiles. Its too fast. It is funny.

      • August 9, 2010 at 22:58

        Ummm… what system do think we used to knock down the ICBM’s these past few years? It was an Aegis platform, specifically the Ticonderoga cruisers. That’s what our entire Ballistic Missile Defense system is based upon. It works. We’ve done it.

        Thank you for playing.

        If you feel the need to carry on, please feel free to open your own blog.


      • 29 SKUNK
        August 9, 2010 at 23:27

        I have to answer you before I sign off. Thats why they call this an evolution in missile technology. We’ll see if the Aegis will stop the S300 at Mach 2 first before you think your old clunker still works. If your wrong…goodbye aircraft carrier. Everyone will be making cartoons.

    • 30 Steeljawscribe
      August 10, 2010 at 02:01

      Oh please, spare me the fanboyism crap.
      Remember this — as a system of systems, dependant *as it must be* on an extensive reconaissance-strike complex for targeting, there are any number of entry points to delay, confuse and defeat the system. We practiced on a daily basis for the better part of fifty years against a world-wide system, developing technologies and TTPs to counter. China’s commensurate experience would be…what? Another highly scripted, limited scenario wargame?
      W/r, SJS

  11. 31 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 21:36

    “Get a job. That gets you money. With money comes power. That’s how the world has worked forever, and will keep working forever. When we use up the resources here, we’ll develop them off world. No big deal.”

    Money means shmuch. If you actually think about it we all work all the days of our lives for money that keeps rolling off the printing press so that we could retire in our old age. Pathetic. Star Trek huh? Try buying more rare metals from anyone other than China who holds 95% of the market. The rare matals make your military hardware work.

    I’ve been doing some research on the net worth of average Americans and to tell you the truth I’m amazed at the average. I’m not impressed.

    Try paying for those resources in Martian dollars. They wont accept USD.

  12. 32 SKUNK
    August 9, 2010 at 23:56

    Latest news before I really sign off, thought you might like to know:

    “A former B-2 stealth bomber engineer has been convicted of helping China develop a cruise missile that can evade heat-seeking, air-to- air missiles. He sold the classified technology to pay for his luxury home in Hawaii.”


    Your Aegis wont even see it coming.

  13. 33 Scott "Scooter Pie" Cochran, AW1 Retired
    August 10, 2010 at 00:27

    Wow…..seems like my bringing up the df21b article to your attention really ended up opening up a can of worms for you. My head is really spinning after reading all these posts! All I can say is that the cold war is still here, it really never went away like most want to believe. And last but not least Tim, if nothing else comes out of this article, it has shown us that the enemy is monitoring your blog. Can you say “COLD WAR”? As for you SKUNK……you were right on one point when you said………”YOUR” Country, refering to the United States Of America. IT IS OUR COUNTRY and I am right when I say it will “NEVER” be “YOUR” Country, also referring to the United States Of America! Even if we have to relive the days of The Alamo, it will never be “YOUR” Country!

    • August 10, 2010 at 00:32


      Eh…. not to worry, it’s all good. Skunk is just showing what the rest of us know: That there are those who willfully blind themselves to the realities of the world.

      Besides, judging from Skunk’s reactions, it’s obvious I hit a nerve. 😉


      • 35 Scott "Scooter Pie" Cochran, AW1 Retired
        August 10, 2010 at 00:46

        Right O Brother! Have been out of town for a couple weeks. Heading back on Wednesday. Appreciate ya!

  14. 36 ewok40k
    August 10, 2010 at 13:55

    What worries me more is combo of subs, ASCMs and ASBMs… think combined operations. Any escorts sunk by subs mean less AEGIS assets to deal with missiles. Every SM-3 missile is SM-2 less for dealing with cruises and TacAir. Every escort sunk by missiles is less threat for the subs…
    I think most sensible way out of this is more SSGNs, possibly creating a class of those on a common hull with Ohio replacement. They are immune to both ASCMs and ASBMs, and are perfectly suited to fight against PLAN subs.

  15. 37 Benjamin
    August 13, 2010 at 17:15

    Ever hear the term “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn?” Well, even something that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn could still hit an aircraft carrier.

    Oh, and those carrier point defenses don’t work if the missile is coming straight down.

    • August 13, 2010 at 21:38

      True. Ain’t arguing that point. What I’m arguing is that it hasn’t been proven to work, and it certainly hasn’t been proven to be able to get past the ABM systems we currently deploy. The ones that HAVE been proven to work.

      There’s also a large question about the trajectory, the mobile launcher being capable of firing between 40 degrees and 90 degrees elevation from horizontal.

      No one would ever consider the PDS as a counter to the DF-21d. That’s not what it was designed to do, nor within it’s operating envelope.


  16. 39 avenger
    November 7, 2010 at 02:04

    What about BrahMos.
    Is this operational missile a bark too?

  17. December 29, 2010 at 02:00

    Thanks for the info on this blog. I found you from the site stats on my blog as a referrer.

  18. January 6, 2011 at 09:08

    Not to enter the discussion since the details are all largely speculative, let me agree with most of the comments whic suggest that the “cold war” never ended, it was just modified the set of participants, without, of course, excluding the United States and Russia (instead of being the USSR.)

  19. 42 Dreddnort
    January 25, 2011 at 11:31

    The basic fact to remember in this discusion, if China launched a missile or two (they have about 60 DF-21D missiles) and sink a carrier, there are 10 more carriers and many hundreds of conventional missiles, a massive airforce (China’s new stealth plane is a joke)that they would have to contend with. Their eastern shore would be a wasteland in about 2 hours, and that’s a conventional retaliation.

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