China's New Destroyer, The U.S. Navy's Anti-Ship Missile Failure, And Preemption
Anders Corr , CONTRIBUTOR
I cover international politics, security and political risk.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
1. China’s military development cooperation with Russia, and fielding of the 055 destroyer, will fuel already-existing incentives for conventional first strike options, political tension and an arms race with the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and India.
2. The U.S. is not the only country that needs to wake up. China is taking catastrophic risk with its growing militarism.
3. China unveiled its Type 055 naval destroyer on June 28, the latest step in its decade and a half of military buildup. The new Chinese destroyer outcompetes U.S. destroyers and cruisers, highlighting a major failure in U.S. Navy planning that stretches back to the 1990s.
4. Given the 055’s long-range supersonic YJ-18 and YJ-12 over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), the Chinese destroyer currently outcompetes U.S. Arleigh Burke class destroyers and bigger Ticonderoga class cruisers. Both ships rely on fewer and shorter-range Harpoon anti-ship missiles (ASMs) and aircraft carriers that are themselves vulnerable to China’s ballistic missiles. The U.S. Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), under development since 2009, would right the balance, but not for years to come, and meanwhile we must assume China will continue improving its capabilities. Reaction times to the latest supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship weapons can be as short as 15-30 seconds. The YJ-18 and YJ-12 are inspired by Russian design, and the threat environment is complicated by unconventional technologies such as Russian-made anti-ship missiles camouflaged as commercial shipping containers. The U.S. Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) ASCM variant, which may be deployed before 2020, has less range than its Chinese counterparts. China’s military development cooperation with Russia, and fielding of the 055 destroyer, will fuel already-existing incentives for conventional first strike options, political tension and an arms race with the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and India. The arms race and tensions will hurt each country’s economic growth and international trade, as well as increase the risk of military conflict.
5. As military technology gets more sophisticated, a naval arms race in Asia will lead to military systems on hair-trigger alerts. The danger is that, as in World War II with Japan, China could one day calculate a military advantage to striking first with an array of air, sea, and rocket-delivered conventional weapons that could debilitate U.S. Navy vessels in the Pacific, as well as other regional U.S. bases. China is prepared to do so, at least in the South China Sea.
6. According to Captain James Fanell (USN ret), former Director of Intelligence for U.S. Pacific Fleet, China has since 2015 adopted a man-to-man, rather than zonal, defense against U.S. Navy ships that traverse those international waters. China’s trend towards shadowing U.S. ships in the East China Sea is the same, according to Fanell, so we should assume that U.S. destroyers and cruisers there have been highly vulnerable over the past two years, and until at least 2021 when a subsonic U.S. ship-based ASCM will be fielded.
7. A Chinese conventional first strike against U.S. military forces in Asia is now technically plausible, and backed by China’s consistently preemptive naval, missile and cyber doctrines. This gives an incentive to the U.S. to itself strike first, especially if Chinese nuclear retaliation is calculated as unlikely. Such preemptive strikes, by either side, would lead to major power military conflict that would start with multiple nuclear powers, rather than end with one nuclear power as did World War II. It would be the most destructive war in world history, and so military technologies such as China’s 055 destroyer armed with YJ-18 ASCM that upset the balance of power in Asia are profoundly destabilizing and contrary to what one should expect from a status quo power. Such technologies are therefore ultimately counter to China’s broader commercial and security interests.
8. According to Fanell, U.S. Navy warship anti-ship cruise missile programs are just now being developed. Fanell said, "And how long will [it be before] LRASM or SM-6 numbers reach the numbers the PRC already has with the YJ-18? We appear to be behind the power curve for what could be a rather long time just as the PRC begins to consolidate its territorial claims in the maritime domain of the South and East China Seas over the next decade." Fanell has long argued for increased U.S. naval spending.
9. China’s 055 destroyer is for the first time among Chinese surface combatants capable of land attack missions. Just as U.S. and Russian destroyers have attacked land targets in Syria, we will likely see the advent of a more territorially aggressive Chinese navy in the next decade. Last month, China’s state-run media, the Global Times, quoted military expert Song Zhongping as saying, "The 052D, a 7,000-ton-destroyer with 64 launch units, is designed for tasks including anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and anti-warship defense, while it does not and should not be required to have ground attack capability, which should be carried out by bigger destroyers, the coming 055." The 055 modular weapons system includes the capability to launch the nuclear capable CJ-10 land-attack cruise missile.
10. The 055 is a 10,000-ton destroyer, but under a full load it displaces 12,000 to 14,000 tons of water. It could as easily be classed as a cruiser. There are 3 more under construction, and 4 on order, for a total of 8 “Renhai” 055 destroyers. The 055 has stealth features and up to 128 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes for missiles capable of hitting air, land, and sea targets. The VLS can also launch anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missiles currently under development by China. The stern of the ship has a hangar to accommodate two Z-18 anti-submarine warfare helicopters and vertical-launch unmanned aerial vehicles. The sophisticated 055 bow-mounted and variable depth sonars and dual x- and s-band radar systems can see hostile air, surface, and underwater objects up to 600 km away, as well as track smaller nearby projectiles. The 055 fuses this data with other Chinese ship, air, and satellite sensors for a global view of the battlespace.
11. The 052 destroyers can also launch nuclear-capable missiles, and each has 64 VLS tubes. There are 4 operational 052-class destroyers, and 8 more under construction. This makes 20 total 052 and 055 Chinese destroyers capable of blue water operations far from shore. The relative lack of Chinese rearmament ships will not heavily affect Chinese destroyer operations in the South and East China seas, on which China appears to be focusing its maritime territorial growth.