Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), said something in testimony to House Armed Services Committee last week that, uh, sort of set off people who have been watching Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) development. Here’s the key bit of Admiral Willard’s testimony (PDF):
China is also developing and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 MRBM designed specifically to target aircraft carriers. (p. 14)
The part that was so provocative to China ASBM-watchers was the use of the word “testing.” Dr. Andrew S. Erickson, Associate Professor in the Strategic Research Department at the U.S. Naval War College and a founding member of the department’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), had this to say about the use that particular word in official testimony:
While mounting evidence from Chinese doctrinal, service, technical, trade, and netizen publications suggests that China has been developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) since the 1990s, this is the first official confirmation that it has advanced to the stage of actual testing. This data point should dispel notions previously held by some that Beijing could not, or would not, develop an ASBM. (emphasis in original)
If Chinese ASBM capabilities interest you, you should do yourself a favor and check out Dr. Erickson’s related post in its entirety. He includes at the bottom of the post a useful list of relevant recent literature, some of which I was already familiar with, but that also contains some new items that I had not seen before. The motherlode!
I think that China’s rapid military modernization, particularly as focused on so-called asymmetric capabilities (sometimes also called anti-access weapons) like ASBMs, computer network operations (CNO; so-called “cyber” or computer hacking capabilities), and anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) could indeed be “game changers” in the Taiwan Strait. In fact, it is likely that I will focus on some aspect related to this in my master’s thesis.
During my first semester in graduate school in Taiwan, I wrote a short term paper that started off some lines of thinking on these asymmetric capabilities and their effect on Taiwan Strait security. A copy of the paper is here: