Further to this post,
the USN is taking this counter-measure:
From the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the US military is getting more and more worried about the threat from various missiles. But all incoming missiles are not the same, which makes missile defense much harder. That’s the problem Raytheon’s SM-6 interceptor tackled in a recent test that has important tactical implications.
If you command a warship or a land base, your missile nightmares come in two flavors: ballistic and cruise. Ballistic missiles launch straight up and soar to the upper atmosphere — into outer space, for the longest-ranged weapons — before falling on their target like a hammer from heaven. Once their rocket boosters fall away, ballistic missiles follow a predictable trajectory like a cannonball (a ballistic trajectory, hence the name), but they descend so fast they’re very hard to hit.
Cruise missiles, by contrast, fly low over land and sea like an unmanned jet airplane — which they essentially are. Cruise missiles are much slower than ballistic missiles, but they can maneuver throughout their flight (again, like a plane) and they can use mountains or the horizon to mask their approach from radar, making them a different kind of hard target.
Because the two kinds of missiles are so different, defending against them has historically required different interceptors (essentially, anti-missile missiles). On July 28th, that changed.
In a series of tests announced yesterday, the Aegis destroyer USS John Paul Jones fired three of the latest variants of Raytheon’s Standard Missile, the SM-6 Dual I. The SM-6 is an agile, long-range weapon that uses the same seeker as the AMRAAM air-to-air missile to engage enemy cruise missiles and aircraft. But the Dual I upgrade adds a new, more powerful processor that runs more sophisticated targeting software. That software lets the SM-6 identify, track, and kill something descending from the upper atmosphere at extreme speed — specifically, a ballistic missile warhead.
So on July 28th, the Missile Defense Agency launched “a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) target” over the Pacific. The John Paul Jones launched an SM-6 Dual I and destroyed the target. Then, in two subsequent tests on July 31st and August 1st, SM-6 Dual Is also shot down two different kinds of cruise missile…
Then there’s the really big question of actual conflict with the Dragon:
The Real Problem with Strikes on Mainland China
Here’s the nightmare for any U.S. war plan that requires conventional strikes on mainland China: The president will balk. Even in the midst of a full-scale war, he or she would reject mainland strikes for fear of precipitating a nuclear exchange. American fears of a nuclear war would then provide China with what one analyst has called a “heckuva sanctuary” from which to attack U.S. forces. That’s why examining military history to understand the likelihood of this scenario is worthwhile. More on that shortly.
A U.S. war plan entailing strikes on mainland China, a plan originally dubbed “Air-Sea Battle” by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has gained traction among top military thinkers in the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Many analysts previously believed that the U.S. military could have soundly defeated Chinese aggression without resorting to mainland strikes. Now, however, some strategists worry that the Chinese military will put up a tougher fight, and the U.S. military will have to target the missile launchers, radars, and command centers on which Chinese attacks depend.
And this is where the problem begins. China is a nuclear-armed state capable of launching nuclear-tipped missiles at the United States or U.S. forces in Asia. The Chinese nuclear missiles and the radars and command centers that support these missiles are all currently located on the Chinese mainland, which explains why the president might be reluctant to authorize mainland strikes.
Furthermore, because the Chinese Second Artillery Corps controls both the conventional and the nuclear missile forces, the two types of missiles are sometimes co-located. This could lead the president to fear accidentally targeting a nuclear site, putting Chinese leaders in a use-it-or-lose-it situation. The president could also believe that China has rational incentives to turn the conflict nuclear.
Others have publicly debated whether the president would authorize conventional strikes against the homeland of a nuclear-armed China…
John Speed Meyers will begin the PhD program in policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School this fall. He earned an M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and previously worked as a research assistant at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This essay is a condensed version of a longer article in Infinity Journal entitled, “Will a President Approve Air-Sea Battle? Learning from the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis.”
How the US Should Fight a War With China
[note further links]
The Dragon, The US Navy and the South China Sea
[ripe for a, er, “incident”]