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Japan News: China test fires "carrier killer" missiles at moving ship

January 14, 2021 | 16:10

China launched several anti-ship ballistic missiles in the South China Sea last August. However, according to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, the fire did not fall into the sea but hit moving ships.

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DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missiles (Photo: Dan Tri)

The Yomiuri Shimbun on January 13 citing a well-informed source, said that the Chinese military fired an anti-ship ballistic missile at a moving ship during 2020 maneuvers in the Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea). Several months later, sources close to the Chinese military claim that the missiles did not simply fall into the sea but successfully hit a moving target ship, said The Diplomat.

The Japanese newspaper said US military officials had also confirmed the incident. According to the source, two missiles, which are known as "carrier killers", hit the ship. If this information is correct, it is seen as a threat to the US military.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the shot took place on August 26 in the waters between Hainan province and the Hoang Sa archipelago under Vietnam's sovereignty. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) first reported that DF-21D and DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched from separate sites on August 26 and traveled thousands of kilometers before splashing down in the South China Sea somewhere between the Paracel Islands and Hainan Island. The Pentagon later confirmed that China tested ballistic missiles that landed near the Paracel Islands during exercises that week but offered no details about the launch.

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Japan News: China test-fires "carrier killer" missiles at moving ship (Photo: Military Times)

The DF-21D is believed to have a range of about 1,500 kilometers and the U.S. Department of Defense reported that the anti-ship variant reached an early capability in 2010. The missile was dubbed the “carrier killer” for possibly being able to hit U.S. aircraft carriers far out to sea. The DF-26B has a much longer range of around 4,000 kilometers, leading some to call it the “Guam Express” because it could theoretically target U.S. military bases on the island of Guam. Now the SCMP says that those missiles successfully struck a maneuvering vessel at sea according to remarks made by a former senior Chinese officer, Wang Xiangsui, who now works as a professor in Beijing.

Over the summer the launches were interpreted as a message to the United States after a U.S. spy plane overflew Chinese naval exercises in the Bohai Sea the day before. Chinese officials complained that the flight disrupted its naval drills.

Official Chinese outlets have not confirmed whether the missiles did in fact hit a moving target. Given how high-profile the weapons are and their importance to the PLA’s ability to deter the U.S. Navy from operating close to China’s shores, if the tests were successful it would be unusual to keep their results secret.

The Pentagon estimates that China has more than 150 medium-range ballistic missiles like the DF-21 and more than 200 intermediate-range ballistic missiles like the DF-26. It is not reported how many of these missiles are variants that can hit moving naval targets. China is known to be improving satellite and long-range radar systems to boost its ability to target ships at sea, but it is unclear how effectively or at what ranges the DF-21 and DF-26 can reliably hit a moving vessel.

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Valerie Mai