BEIJING, -- If China were to launch its DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile against a US carrier battle group in the Western Pacific, the US could respond with a full nuclear retaliation, according to Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce of University of Kentucky in a recent article written for Washington-based National Interest magazine.
Because it takes at least 15 minutes for an anti-ship ballistic missile to reach its target, an aircraft carrier has enough time to avoid the attack in open sea. Farley said that the missile requires terminal guidance, as it must revise its flight path after reentering the atmosphere. It needs to be adjusted remotely or needs to have the capacity to identify the carrier on its own.
Facing this potential threat against its aircraft carrier, the United States Navy is working very hard to develop ship-borne anti-ballistic missile technology. "The development of the DF-21D may have contributed to the USN's decision to focus on air defense ships such as the Arleigh Burke Flight III capable of ballistic missile interception," said Farley. At the same time, the US Navy is also exploring ways of destroying DF-21D launch sites with cruise and hypersonic missiles in the event of a war.
Farley states that a DF-21D anti-ballistic missile is capable of sinking a US aircraft carrier and killing the 6,000 American personnel on board the ship. Like any other medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-21D is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, however China must count on very cool heads in Washington for the fifteen minutes between launch and impact, he said, as such a move could lead to a degree of escalation that China has not prepared for at all, he said.
In extreme circumstances it could start a decision process that will bring full nuclear retaliation from the United States, according to Farley. Without proper second strike capability against the United States, it makes the situation even less stable for China. The author concluded that the DF-21D cannot prevent the US Navy from destroying Chinese ships, only change the method by which they do so.