I didn't really understand it until I noticed the seriousness in the source's eyes. I hadn't given it much thought recently, what with all the other stuff going on around us ... MRAP, Air Force shakeup, body armor, tanker -- you name it.
But when the far-ranging discussion we were having came around to the subject of aircraft carriers, this guy said (and I paraphrase) "you think carriers are irrelevant in a contested environment now, just wait til someone gets an anti-ship ballistic missile capability. That'll be a game-changer."
To me, this seemed implausible. Shooting a ballistic missile at a moving ship?
"Did you see the ASAT test? That was 10-times more difficult," he replied. "And they're a lot closer than anyone thinks."
He wouldn't tell me the country that's so close to getting this capability, but it's not hard to guess which one it is.
From the 2008 Chinese Military Power report:
China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) based on a variant of the CSS-5 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) as a component of its anti-access strategy. The missile has a range in excess of 1,500 km and, when incorporated into a sophisticated command and control system, is a key component of Chinas anti-access strategy to provide the PLA the capability to attack ships at sea, including aircraft carriers, from great distances.
That's subtle -- not a whole lot there. But my guy tells me this country that he would not mention could plausibly demonstrate that capability "very soon."
According to our friends at Globalsecurity.org:
Work is believed to be ongoing to provide this missile with a sophisticated terminal guidance system. According to some reports the Mod 2 version of the CSS-5 will be comparable to the US Pershing II IRBM, employ advanced radar guidance to achieve extremely high accuracy.
Now, here's what it means: carriers must stay at least 1000 miles off this enemy's coast. Think how that affects strike planning, surveillance, rescue...any number of factors that go into naval aviation planning. And how do you defend against such a strike? I'm not sure about all the details, but it seems to me there's a pretty short flight time in which to generate a solution for an anti-ballistic missile interceptor. Maybe ABL could handle this one, but how many can it shoot down at any one time? A salvo of even five or 10 of these could be devistating.
Another source tells me there have been tests of the system but they have so far been unsuccessful. But the source also told me the Russians might have recently delivered a key component to the Chinese to make this system more effective.
We'll have more on this as it develops and I'll be interested to see what DT readers might be able to add on this...