China Could Soon Field an Intercontinental Range Carrier Killer Weapon Built to Sink NATO Warships From Space

The China’s People’s Liberation Army may be working to field an intercontinental range ballistic missile with a conventional warhead, according to a new Pentagon report, with an annual Defence Department update to the U.S. Congress on Chinese defence and security developments highlighting the possible challenges this could pose. The report highlighted that China has rapidly expanded its nuclear arsenal, with its estimated size increasing by 25 percent over the past year to reach 500, while an arsenal of 1,500 expected to be fielded by 2035 which would partly bridge the gap with the much larger Russian and American arsenals. The country is also developing a range of advanced new ballistic missile classes, including the silo based DF-5C intercontinental range ballistic missile which is expected to carry multiple large warheads with multi megaton yields. With China having begun to field non nuclear medium and then intermediate range ballistic missiles, a conventionally armed intercontinental range missile would represent a logical progression. The United States has notably also initiated development of an intercontinental range conventionally armed ballistic missile under the Conventional Prompt Strike program, with the missiles expected to serve as strategic weapons and tool for coercion to complement nuclear armed missiles.

China fields by far the most formidable arsenal of anti ship ballistic missile arsenals in the world, and has gradually expanded this from relying on medium range missiles to deploying intermediate range missiles capable of engaging targets well beyond the Western Pacific – most notably the DF-26. It would thus be strongly in line the the trends of the past 15 years for a Chinese conventionally armed intercontinental range ballistic missile to also be fielded as an anti shipping ‘carrier killer’ variant, which would provide the People’s Liberation Army with the ability to engage enemy warships across most if not all of the world’s oceans. This capability could be highly valued should China seek to provide wider protection for its maritime trade routes, with Western warships having been used in the past to seize North Korean, Russian and Iranian merchant ships in international waters while the possibility has increasingly been raised that they could do the same against Chinese ships. It would also allow support to be provided to warships operating as far as the Atlantic and the Persian Gulf with the targeting of key enemy naval assets such as aircraft carriers and destroyers.

With existing air defences in American carrier strike groups considered incapable of intercepting strikes from even medium range ballistic missiles, an intercontinental range ballistic missile could be a game changer for the balance of power in the waters beyond the Western Pacific where China’s naval presence still remains relatively limited. Either the DF-31 or the DF-41 road mobile intercontinental range ballistic missiles, or possible a new road mobile missile class altogether, could see an anti ship variant developed. With American reports consistently highlighting that China is on the verge of a breakthrough in fielding the world’s leading intercontinental range hypersonic glide vehicle, there is also a not insignificant possibility that a future conventionally armed ballistic missile could mount such vehicles for an even greater range, engagement speed and survivability against air defences.