China Sends a Message with Its New ‘Carrier Killer’ Missile
Policy + Politics

China Sends a Message with Its New ‘Carrier Killer’ Missile

© Stringer China / Reuters

China just held a massive military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Organizers spared no expense. The Beijing display reportedly featured 12,000 troops, about 200 planes and helicopters and around 500 troop carriers, rocket launchers, missiles and tanks.

President Xi Jinping also made a surprise announcement during the parade that the size of the Chinese military would be reduced by around 300,000 soldiers, but those cuts are a sign of transition more than one of weakness.

Related: China’s Military Budget Rises as Pentagon’s Retreats

By 2020, China will have doubled its defense spending to $260 billion from $134 billion in 2010, according to analysts at research firm IHS. Only the U.S. leads China in global defense spending. And much as the U.S. is doing, China is shifting away from ground troops and toward high-tech naval and air assets.

All of which is why military analysts were keen to see the technological firepower on display in the parade; 84 percent of the weaponry China showed off was new or never before shown in public, including a missile known as an “assassin’s mace” that has generated heavy interest in military circles over the past five years. The Chinese defense ministry has been silent about the missile up until today, other than to confirm in 2011 that the weapon was in development.

The missile, formally known as the Dongfeng 21D (DF-21D) but also known as the “carrier-killer,” is rumored to have a range of up to 1,000 miles and may be able to travel up to 10 times the speed of sound, making it virtually impossible to intercept once launched, according to the Financial Times (registration required). The ballistic missile would be launched into orbit but can be maneuvered to a target once it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Since China can manufacture 1,200 of the DF-21D for the price of one aircraft carrier, the missile could pose a threat to U.S. aircraft carriers in the event of a conflict. Even if the U.S. was able to shoot down or neutralize most of the missiles China fired at a carrier, one strike could alter the result of a battle.

Even though the U.S. indisputably has the largest and most powerful navy in the world, the capabilities of the missile threaten to limit the effectiveness of aircraft carriers, which form the bedrock of U.S. naval strategy.

Another frightening missile that been speculated about but never seen was the Dongfeng 26, nicknamed the “Guam Killer,” according to Popular Mechanics.

The DF-26 has the potential to reach U.S military bases on Guam with its range of 1,800 to 2,500 miles. The missile could also be a threat to U.S. carriers if equipped with an anti-ship ballistic missile warhead, due to its targeting capability.

Related: If U.S. Interferes in China’s Land Grab, ‘War Is Inevitable’

The parade took place just days before the Chinese President Xi is set to visit Washington, D.C. to meet with President Obama. China may have been putting on a patriotic show, but it was also sending a message.