Aircraft carriers at the core of China’s naval ambitions?

by Chris Zappone

Carrier strike groups sit at the core of China’s naval ambitions.”

That’s the wording of this Reuters piece on the recent tests of the Liaoning aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.

Carrier strike groups sit at the core of China’s naval ambitions and successfully operating the 60,000-tonne Liaoning is the first step in what state media and some military experts believe will be the deployment of locally built carriers by 2020.

But if carriers are at the core, where do the DF-21D aircraft carrier-killer missiles sit?

Wouldn’t a whole new missile technological capable of keeping the enemy’s carriers 1000s of miles away potentially change the balance of power in the Pacific? If that’s the case, wouldn’t China’s rivals work on their own carrier-killer missiles to neutralize China’s fleet of carriers and ships? (I make the assumption that China’s rivals seek parity with China’s capabilities and arsenal.)

Surely China is prioritizing either carriers or missiles – but not both -as part of a comprehensive strategy. Or it is wastefully pursuing both simultaneously – oblivious to the natural response they would spark from rivals?

If that’s the case, then why would China pursue the status-quo ship and the paradigm-shifting carrier-killer missile? Is it because China can’t decide? Or is it because the PLA or the CCP or CMC don’t have full control over which programs get the greenlight? Or is China is giving the world a huge example of disordered internal decision-making – the kind of strategic contradiction or even mistake hat gets lost in the reporting of the news?