China's new “aircraft carrier killer” missile could add teeth to Pakistan navy - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 27 December 2018

China's new “aircraft carrier killer” missile could add teeth to Pakistan navy

The Dong Feng-21D "aircraft carrier killer" missile on parade at Tianenmen Square

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Dec 18

To counter the US Navy’s aircraft carriers projecting power into the South China Sea, Beijing developed a formidable, “carrier killer” weapon: the Dong Feng-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), which can accurately strike warships 1,500 kilometres away. An improved version, the Dong Feng-26, targets aircraft carriers 3,000-4,000 kilometres away.

Beijing could not export these ASBMs to allies like Pakistan. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which China has committed to, prohibits the export of missiles with ranges over 300 kilometres.

However, at the recent Zhuhai Air Show in China, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), the country’s leading producer of rockets, offered international customers a new M-20B ASBM. This is an export version of the “warship killer” ASBM, with its range conveniently restricted to 280 kilometres to adhere to the MTCR. 

The CM-401 anti-ship ballistic missile at the Zhuhai Air Show

With China already building warships and submarines for Pakistan, the Indian Navy is anticipating the introduction of short-range ASBMs in Pakistan’s arsenal. This could upset India’s clear naval advantage over Pakistan.

China’s military needs the 1,500-kilometre range of the DF-21D, since it is preparing to take on the US Navy’s aircraft carrier battle groups at long ranges in the Western Pacific battle space. Pakistan, which would be content with preventing Indian warships from approaching coastal targets like Karachi or Gwadar, would be content with a range under 300 kilometres.

M-20B missiles arrayed along the Pakistani coast could achieve that cheaply and effectively. ASBMs, which cost barely Rs 100 crore each, are cost-effective counters to frigates and destroyers that cost over Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) apiece, or a Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion) aircraft carrier.

“If these missiles enter the Pakistani arsenal, it would certainly complicate our operational calculations. The Indian Navy is observing whether China supplies these missiles to Pakistan,” said Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (Retired), director of the National Maritime Foundation, the navy’s official think tank. 

Requested for comments, the Indian Navy spokesperson stated: “Though it is a matter of concern, the navy is seized of the issue and fully prepared to address the threat posed by ASBMs.”

China has a long record of supplying Pakistan ballistic missiles. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a respected weapons monitoring group, records that in 1987, Beijing delivered M-11 ballistic missiles to help Islamabad create a nuclear deterrent. In 1991, Washington sanctioned Beijing for supplying Pakistan the longer-range M-9 missile, in violation of MTCR norms.

According to the CALVT, the M-20B’s payload – a 480-kilogramme package that could be a small nuclear weapon or a conventional high-explosive payload -- travels at high supersonic speeds and has a manoeuvrable trajectory, making it difficult for a warship’s air defence systems to shoot down. It is ideal for “rapid, precision attacks on frigates and destroyers”, say the makers.

“We are assessing the ASBM’s capabilities. Manufacturers routinely overstate the capability of weaponry they are selling. It is fantastically difficult to strike a moving warship with a ballistic missile. But we are developing air defence systems that could shoot down ASBMs,” says Chauhan. 

The Zhuhai Air Show showcased another option for Pakistan to keep Indian warships at bay: the CM-401 missile, which its manufacturer, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), described as the world’s first “ultrafast ASBM.”

According to CASIC, the CM-401 uses a “near space trajectory”, flying 20-100 kilometres above the earth and manoeuvring at hypersonic speeds throughout its flight, making it extremely difficult to intercept.

CASIC said the missile travels at 4,900 kilometres per hour – or about four times the speed of sound. As it dives to kill the target, it accelerates to six times the speed of sound. It is extremely difficult to intercept a missile travelling at these hypersonic velocities.

CASIC claims the CM-401’s 290-kilogramme warhead will strike a warship target nine times out of ten.

In contrast to China’s reliance on ASBMs, India’s anti-ship missile arsenal consists primarily of the BrahMos. This is a cruise missile that skims the surface of the ocean towards its target, without leaving the atmosphere like a ballistic missile. A cruise missile is more accurate than a ballistic missile, but easier to shoot down.

The official Chinese Military website quoted Beijing-based expert, Wu Peixin, who said existing radars and ship-borne weapons cannot intercept the CM-401 due to its unique trajectory and hypersonic speed. “Users will be able to effectively deter an enemy's vessels, especially aircraft carriers, from approaching their coast,” said Wu.


  1. While the introduction of these missiles may make 1971 type attack on Karachi harbour difficult, however the same objective can now still be achieved by using long range Brahmos, which will be difficult to intercept. Also the Indian navy will be primarily focused on sea denial and enforcing economic blockades, which can still be achieved from a radius of 300 kms away from the Paki coast. There is no need to put capital ships at harms length.

  2. High time India gave China a choice between continuing to prop up Pakistan as a client state and being able to enjoy normal relations with India. Can't have normal relations even as they continue to arm Pakistan and perpetuate its hold over PoK. If they continue to do so, then deny them access to the Indian market, tell them that we will formally recognize the Tibetan Government in Exile as the legitimate Government of Free Tibet, and consider formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. If you do not strong arm them now, then be prepared for Pakistan to become another province of China (it is already a satellite state) and so also most of our other neighbors.

  3. How much China charge for it ? How much can Pakistan afford ?
    Will Pakistan also get sufficient radars , drones etc to detect the position of enemy ships ?

  4. Perfect timing for the article. Considering the steel cutting of the second Type 52AP frigate for PN. It is 2 of 4. These will be armed with their 500km Harba ASCM. They have also ordered 8 subs from china too. Further 4 corvettes from Turkey. In the next few years PN capabilites are going to take a leap. The ability to choke Pakistan was already very tricky but with these new capabilities it becomes much much harder. They have spent the most lately on their weakest arm. Wait till their economy picks up.


    1. CHINESE WILL PARK THEIR SUBS AND AIRCRAFT CARRIERS IN KARACHI SOON. CLIENT STATE IN THE MAKING.Gwadar Port will provide china a link to oil from Saudi Arabia and they will project their naval strenth till cape of good hope.


  5. There are many images on the internet with the Pakistan JF-17 carrying the CM-401.

  6. Very good article by Broadsword, Indian Aircraft carriers are a vanity project. Indian carriers are equivalent to dozens of statutes of Vallabhbhai Patel - a colossal extravagance, money wasted.
    India can fly Aircraft from the Indian mainland for all its defence needs. Each air base on the Indian cost is an aircraft carrier.
    India needing carriers (I have often said given this example) is like England needing a carrier to bomb France or Germany during WW2. Why do we feel it’s necessary to have a carrier as a platform to fly jets to attack our close neighbour Pakistan?
    The truth is India’s carriers since Independence have taken up resources which could be spent more effectively on our defence elsewhere.
    If we need to project Indian power we could have spend the money fortifying the A & N Islands - stationing a huge fleet of aircraft and rockets dominating and acting as the gatekeeper to the straits - another Gibraltar.
    An Aircraft carrier for India is there for our Admirals self importance and for our nationalistic pride only.
    A blockade on Pakistani ports can be planned & attempted more effectively from Indian Air bases on land and investing in our submarine fleet.
    AND Broadsword is right in asking these questions and reporting here - our carrier and ships are vulnerable.
    Every Pacific American carrier battle group is being tracked by Chinese submarines and satellites, which relay the exact position of all American warships to Chinese ASBMs for precision targeting. The Chinese have cracked the problem of monitoring the ever changing locations of American warships.
    Pakistan subs constantly follow our aircraft carrier if Pakistan obtains Chinese ASBMs along with real time precision targeting, then the very expensive Indian carriers will be sitting ducks.
    Be prepared for massive Indian spending to buy useless counter measure weapons from abroad to protect our white elephant carrier force.

  7. "Every Pacific American carrier battle group is being tracked by Chinese submarines and satellites, which relay the exact position of all American warships to Chinese ASBMs for precision targeting. The Chinese have cracked the problem of monitoring the ever changing locations of American warships."

    You might be overstating Chinese capability there a little bit....

    The US carrier's are significantly faster and better provisioned than the Chinese nuclear submarines, who have almost no chance of finding US carriers in the open ocean.
    There is a lengthy kill chain for even a SRBM, starting with identifying the correct target, locating it, transmitting that data back home, that data being received in a timely manner, acted upon in a timely manner, the attack order generated, a fueled missile being available for launch and being launched without some sort of in flight failure.

    There's a lot of ifs there.

    Can Pakistan identify ships 300km off shore? It doesn't appear to have much of an airborne surveillance fleet and they will be key targets for the Indian airforce, a ship to ship identification will result in a ship to ship conflict and a submarine, although capable of locating, will struggle to send that information home without being found itself.

    The history of long range attacks is fairly sparse.


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