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Race for naval dominance in the Pacific between US and China to intensify as both to expand weapons

November 02, 2020 | 13:51

US Navy is reported to equip more modern destroyers with hypersonic missiles amid the race for naval dominance in the Pacific with China.

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The US's move to install the highly advanced weapons

According to South China Morning Post, the race between China and the United States to develop a more capable navy is expected to further intensify, with Washington planning to equip its destroyers with hypersonic missiles, outpacing China’s supersonic anti-ship missiles, analysts said.

The move to install the highly advanced weapons came after US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said in early October that the US Navy would need more than 500 ships in its fleet to ensure maritime superiority over China in coming decades.

According to military news website Defense News, which quoted US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the US will equip its attack submarines and its destroyers with hypersonic missiles in a bid to stave off the mounting threat posed by China in the Pacific.

Race for naval dominance in the Pacific between US and Chine to intensify as both to expand weapons
Photo: AP.

The race between China and the United States to develop a more capable navy is expected to further intensify, with Washington planning to equip its destroyers with hypersonic missiles, outpacing China’s supersonic anti-ship missiles, analysts said.

The move to install the highly advanced weapons came after US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said in early October that the US Navy would need more than 500 ships in its fleet to ensure maritime superiority over China in coming decades.

According to military news website Defense News, which quoted US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the US will equip its attack submarines and its destroyers with hypersonic missiles in a bid to stave off the mounting threat posed by China in the Pacific.

More than 60 destroyers will be outfitted with the weapons that are capable of traveling at more than five times the speed of sound, the report said.

Race for naval dominance in the Pacific between US and Chine to intensify as both to expand weapons
The US is planning to fit its destroyers with hypersonic missiles. Photo: US Navy

“The Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike program will provide hypersonic missile capability to hold targets at risk from longer ranges,” O’Brien said at an event at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire.

China continues to modernize the navy force that acquired a wide array of platforms and weapon

In the meantime, China is modernizing its navy, which has acquired a wide array of platforms and weapons such as anti-ship ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, Times of India reported.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military expert, said the Chinese navy would face a big threat once the US navy deployed hypersonic weapons on its destroyers and that would certainly push China to follow up.

“China has already taken measures like equipping the Type 730 close-in weapon systems and supersonic variants of YJ-18 cruise missiles to various naval vessels, improving surface-to-air missiles to intercept incoming targets,” he said.

Race for naval dominance in the Pacific between US and Chine to intensify as both to expand weapons
Chinese dredging vessels are seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.(Reuters/US Navy)

China also has a hypersonic missile, the DF-17, a type of ballistic missile designed to carry a hypersonic glide vehicle that was unveiled at China‘s National Day military parade on October 1, 2019. It is China’s first operational hypersonic weapon system and one of the world’s first to be put into full initial operation. But it cannot be launched from warships.

A report from the US Congressional Research Service released last month said the Chinese navy had already turned into “a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region” and was “the first such challenge the US Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War”.

What do the experts say?

US Security expert Timothy Heath has opined that the current anti-ship missiles launched from US Navy destroyers can reach perhaps 300km to 560km, Republic World reported.

The hypersonic missile would dramatically increase the range to hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles and it would also be extremely difficult to shoot down with anti-missile systems, due to the speed of the warhead, security experts have contended.

Race for naval dominance in the Pacific between US and Chine to intensify as both to expand weapons
An F/A-18E Super Hornet takes off from the flight deck of a US navy aircraft carrier in the South China Sea. Photo: EPA

Heath said that currently if the US ships tried to get close enough to China, they could be sunk by Chinese land-based anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles. But with the deployment of hypersonic missiles, the US ships if engaged in a battle with China, would be able to target Chinese ships that operate close to China's coast under the protection of its counter-intervention capabilities.

Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping also seconded Heath by saying that Chinese ships would face a big threat if the US Navy gets equipped with hypersonic weapons. To counter the threat, he said China has already taken measures like equipping the Type 730 close-in weapon systems and supersonic variants of YJ-18 cruise missiles to various naval vessels, improving surface-to-air missiles to intercept incoming targets.

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