In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • CorrespondenceHow Good Are China's Antiaccess/Area-Denial Capabilities?
  • Andrew S. Erickson (bio), Evan Braden Montgomery (bio), Craig Neuman (bio), Stephen Biddle (bio), and Ivan Oelrich (bio)

To the Editors (Andrew S. Erickson writes):

I commend Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich for elucidating a vital topic: China's antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) development and potential U.S. responses.1 Biddle and Oelrich document China's growing ability to threaten Taiwan with a blockade; the high cost and risks of any U.S. planning predicated on finding and kinetically striking mobile mainland targets; and the value in the United States, Taiwan, and regional allies enhancing their own countermeasures. Geography, technology, and physics matter—and interact powerfully, requiring sober consideration. However, mistaken assumptions and oversimplifications in describing these interactions risk underestimating how far China could extend credible combat power offshore. Emerging anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) capabilities aside, China's current sea- and air-launched anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) capability already exceeds the seaward limits asserted by Biddle and Oelrich. Thus, contrary to their article's optimistic projections, the United States and its regional allies already face a more challenging and uncertain military situation.

Part of the problem is conceptual: Biddle and Oelrich conflate A2/AD with outright military control, when it is actually a more easily operationalized concept of sowing doubt through growing risk of denial. Most fundamentally, in categorically dismissing the possibility of China achieving A2/AD beyond 400–600 kilometers seaward by 2040, they not only ignore capabilities that China has already achieved—or is close to achieving, per its Near Seas Active Defense strategy—but, worse, dismiss nearly two and a half decades of potential future Chinese improvement, powered by what is already the world's second-largest economy and defense budget. Few analysts in 1992 imagined [End Page 202] how serious Chinese capabilities could become by 2017; Biddle and Oelrich provide little rationale or evidence that their straight-line projection will hold nearly a quarter-century hence.

Biddle and Oelrich also make more specific errors. Based on limitations they ascribe to targeting radars, they underestimate the distance from shore to which China can target missiles. Over-the-horizon (OTH) radar is not as restricted in detection range and accuracy as they suggest. The Russian Mineral-ME targeting system, or its Chinese counterpart, is fitted to the vast majority of China's major surface combatants. Mineral-ME is a fourth-generation tactical OTH system that reportedly offers up to 250 kilometers active range and 450 kilometers passive range, allowing effective ASCM targeting with multi-ship triangulation, even absent other targeting data.2 Chinese warships, increasingly armed with anti-surface and anti-air defenses, are hardly restricted to operating only 400–600 kilometers from shore. These dedicated targeting systems are designed to exploit the significant electromagnetic signatures of U.S. naval vessels: consider the tremendous energy transmitted by high-powered air-search radars such as the U.S. AN/SPS-49(V) or AN/SPY-1 series, the latter absolutely critical for air-space surveillance and long-range surface-to-air missile guidance. OTH radar need only provide locating information sufficiently accurate for one or more ASCMs' seeker(s) to effectively search a target's area of uncertainty.

Moreover, if China cannot target beyond 600 kilometers now or in the near future, one must question why it has developed both the 1,500-kilometer DF-21D (deployed since 2010) and the 3,000-kilometer DF-26 (close to deployment) ASBMs. These long ranges strongly suggest that China has some confidence that it will be able to develop suitable targeting methods. Moreover, Chinese ASBMs likely have multiple seekers—both active and passive—and sufficient maneuverability to hit a target within a terminal seeker's effective area. Properly designed ballistic missiles can be quite maneuverable.3

Continentalism compounds this oversight. Biddle and Oelrich apparently assume that China could fire ASCMs against U.S. warships only from its mainland. Yet China has rapidly deployed medium-to-long-range ASCMs on surface ships, submarines, aircraft, and South China Sea features well capable of covering the area within the First Island Chain with targeting radars and weapons. Furthermore, China is on...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 202-213
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.