China’s aircraft carrier/carrier-killer missile riddle

by Chris Zappone

Quite a lot has been made of the game-changing potential for China’s carrier-killer missile. For example, Ghost Fleet, a techno-thriller novel by Peter W. Singer and August Cole, about a US-China war portrays China using DF-21D missiles to sink the US Pacific fleet.

So for me, each time I read about China’s indigenous aircraft carrier building programs, I have to ask: how do China’s carrier aspirations sit with a technology that makes aircraft carriers redundant?

Do these two contradictory weapons programs make sense together?

As I’ve argued before: I’m not so sure that they do.

After all, if carrier-killer missiles made US carriers strategically obsolete, wouldn’t it follow that the US (and other carrier sailing nations) would pursue the same technology to render China’s carriers similarly useless?

Or is the idea that China pursues both carriers and missiles to force the US to over-invest in military technology?

Or are China’s carriers more about domestic naval nationalism designed to show local audiences the PLA Navy’s prowess?

Or does it come down to a misalignment between the PLA and the PLA Navy?

Whatever the case, it seems a great contradiction to me. And rarely do outside analyses of China’s carrier ambitions take into account China’s carrier killer ambitions.