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Red China’s Drones And Missiles Threaten Our Aircraft Carrier Deterrent

America’s 11 aircraft carriers are the core of our quick reaction and deterrent forces, especially in the Western Pacific where Communist China threatens allies, such as the Philippines and the Republic of China on Taiwan.


In order to compete with and confront the United States Red China is building its own carrier force and currently has three aircraft carriers: Liaoning, Shandong, and Fujian. Liaoning began life as a Soviet navy carrier, but the USSR collapsed before it could be finished, and Communist China acquired the partially completed hull. All three are conventionally powered non-nuclear vessels.


The Red Chinese are years behind the United States in carrier technology, and most importantly in carrier pilot training and flight operations, and American Navy leaders often have dismissed Communist Chinese ambitions to compete with the United States Navy in the Western Pacific.

 

However, as our friend Maya Carlin of the Center for Security Policy observed in an article for the National Interest, “Despite owning 11 of the world’s most advanced carriers, the U.S. faces challenges from China’s development of “carrier-killing” weapons, including the DF-21 missile which can target ships up to 1,000 miles offshore.”



While it will take Beijing many years to catch up to Washington in terms of carrier numbers, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is prioritizing the development of carrier-killing weaponry. With our advanced carrier battle groups vulnerable to new technologies, hypersonic weapons, drone swarms, and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities threaten to end the carrier’s deterrence value in the Western Pacific.

 

As Ms. Carlin explained:


In recent years, both China and Russia have developed initial versions of hypersonic weapons that are capable of traveling faster than Mach 5.0. These missiles are also designed to make unexpected changes in flight after they are launched, potentially putting U.S. carriers at risk. Russia’s Kinzhal ballistic missile has an estimated range of at least 300 miles and a reported maximum speed of Mach 10.

 

The Zircon missile also being developed in Russia is reportedly capable of striking both ground and naval targets. China’s own hypersonic missile arsenal includes the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile, which is paired with a hypersonic glide vehicle that has a range of roughly 1,600 kilometers. The DF-14 intercontinental ballistic missile also carries a hypersonic glide vehicle. If a war breaks out in the South China Sea, the PLA could use hypersonic missiles to more than double its range, posing a severe threat to U.S. carriers.

 

There are also cheaper options that could take out a carrier. Swarm drones threaten all warships at sea, even the most advanced ones.


Communist China’s leaders have vowed to take control of Taiwan in the near future. If Red China goes to war to conquer Free China’s island bastion the Navy’s carrier-based fighters – the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning II – have limited ranges. A U.S. carrier positioned more than 1,000 miles offshore in order to avoid being put at risk by “carrier killer” missiles would be able to render very little support to a besieged Taiwan. Practically speaking a single small Red Chinese ship equipped with carrier killer missiles could neutralize America’s ability to defend Taiwan.

 

Twenty years ago during a briefing at CINCPAC headquarters in Hawaii I was told the Chinese are not blue-water sailors and the Russian fleet, rusting away in Vladivostok harbor, was no threat to America’s Pacific dominance.


However, a 2020 Congressional Research Service report cited by Ms. Carlin detailed the increasing threat these ballistic missiles present to U.S. interests in the South China Sea, warning that “China’s navy is viewed as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific – the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War.”


As Ms. Carlin concluded, it is highly improbable that a few dozen or even 100-plus lethal drones could evade a Nimitz-class or Ford-class carrier’s ample missile defense systems. However, new technologies might change the equation down the line. American carrier warfare doctrine, developed during World War II and updated during the Cold War, has not faced a serious surface warfare threat in over 50-years and is now in need of a serious reevaluation.


And what’s even worse, the Navy is years behind in deploying the next generation of Ford-class aircraft carriers.


USNI News reports the future aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-80) will deliver a year and a half later than prior projections, according to the Navy. The Ford-class carrier, which is currently under construction at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, will deliver in September of 2029, 18 months later than its previous scheduled delivery date in March of 2028, according to the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget documents.


And the Biden administration is now mulling the decision to delay the purchase of CVN-82 and CVN-83, pushing deployment of those advanced systems well into the 2030s.


We think it is past time for the Biden administration and Congress to recognize and act upon the existential threat Red Chinese naval ambitions pose to the United States and our allies in the Western Pacific.  And that means to train and build like war is imminent, not because we want it, but because the Communist Chinese want it and are preparing for it.

George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ.com and is a veteran of over 300 political campaigns. A member of American MENSA, he served on the staff of Vice President Dan Quayle, as Director of Policy and Communication for former Congressman Adam Putnam (FL-12) then Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and as spokesman for retired Rep. Mac Thornberry, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.



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We went into WW II with outdated weapon systems, equipment and outdated tactics. Our unpreparedness largely eminated from a lack of adequate funding. We appear to be approaching, if not already in, a similar situation leading up to our next encounter. The defense budget for the coming year included an increase well under half of the inflation rate. If we keep this up, we'll be dead in the water as we were on December 7, 1941, except with the opposition we face today, we won't have the time we had to build up before we hit back.

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