Throughout history, in the development of both military tactics and associated weapons systems, one measure leads to a counter-measure, which in turn leads to a counter-counter measure, which is where it gets confusing and we start afresh with a new measure.
So it comes as no real surprise to learn that Navy, having been apprised of China developing an access denial weapons system in the form of the Dong Feng 21D “carrier killer” missile – which I continue to believe is over-rated, from the safety of my Carmel Valley office – is working on a counter-measure of its own:
The U.S. is developing aircraft carrier-based drones that could provide a crucial edge as it tries to counter China’s military rise.
American officials have been tightlipped about where the unmanned armed planes might be used, but a top Navy officer has told The Associated Press that some would likely be deployed in Asia.
“They will play an integral role in our future operations in this region,” predicted Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which covers most of the Pacific and Indian oceans…
“Chinese military modernization is the major long-term threat that the U.S. must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles – aerial and subsurface – are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat,” said Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security…
“Introducing a new aircraft that promises to let the strike group do its work from beyond the maximum effective firing range of the anti-ship ballistic missile – or beyond its range entirely – represents a considerable boost in defensive potential for the carrier strike group,” said James Holmes of the U.S. Naval War College.
With due respect to VADM Van Buskirk – who used to holler at me when I was a plebe, by the way – the linkage of the X-47B technology demonstrator, and the UCLASS system that will eventually follow it to deployment with the DF21D is a bit of a stretch. In fairness to Scott – do you mind if I call you “Scott”? – the linkage was probably made by the AP stringer who relied upon a series of defense analysts for select quotes rather than the 18th Company, class of ’79er (LCWB) hisself.
The problem is two-fold: First, China is a big country, yuge even, and has sufficient shoreline to proliferate land-based systems until the cows come home. Aircraft carrier real estate is definitionally limited, and you could never launch sufficient UASs to destroy all the land-based Dong Fengs before they in turn were counter-fired at the carrier(s) themselves.
Given accurate targeting data, of course.
Second, even if you had sufficient UAS resources to simultaneously pre-strike every DF21D site before active hostilities commenced – it’d be too late to do it afterward, and serial strikes would invite retaliation – that would only serve to escalate what had obviously been a bad situation into something almost inestimably worse.There would be blood all over the floor, and you’d have thrown the first punch.
A low-observable UAS is clearly designed to go where manned aircraft fear to tread, and would be useful therefore to target centralized command and control nodes and highly capable air defense systems. The former can be distributed and hardened however, while in the latter case you still have the issue of finding and destroying quite a number of often mobile SAM systems, or else satisfy yourself with punching a local hole and then broadening it over time. Which again, given China’s geography, could take some little while.
No, the counter-measure array required for the DF21D, should it ever reach technical maturity, will be a layered defense-in-depth plan to 1) minimize the carrier’s sensible footprint, 2) blind the sensor used to target the weapon, 3) disrupt the communications pipes used to transport that data and, 4) develop a kinetic counter-capability to the weapon once in flight.
So get cracking.