The top US commander over the Indo-Pacific region of operation has revealed new intelligence before a Senate panel on Tuesday that China's military test launched an advanced anti-ship ballistic missile into the South China Sea.
The previously undisclosed launch occurred in August last year and was meant to send an "unmistakable message" to Washington, according to Indo-Pacom Commander Admiral Phil Davidson's testimony.
"These mid-range, anti-ship ballistic missiles are capable of attacking aircraft carriers in the western Pacific," Davidson said. He specifically described of the DF-21D missile test that "Their employment during a large-scale PLA exercise demonstrates the PLA’s focus on countering any potential third-party intervention during a regional crisis."
Considered the PLA's foremost "carrier killer" the DF-21D is a mobile ballistic missile that can target warships and aircraft at an estimated range of 1,500km out (or approaching 1,000 miles).
"Notably, the PRC is not merely developing advanced weapons systems but is increasingly employing them in training and exercise scenarios to hone PLA warfighting skills and send an unmistakable message to regional and global audiences," Davidson said further, according to Bloomberg.
As Bloomberg describes of his testimony further, it marks a "turning point" for the PLA Army - the capability of which may have been underestimated in prior Pentagon assessments:
"Notably, the PRC is not merely developing advanced weapons systems but is increasingly employing them in training and exercise scenarios to hone PLA warfighting skills and send an unmistakable message to regional and global audiences,” Davidson said.
The DF-21D is central to China’s strategy of deterring any military action off its eastern coast by threatening to destroy the major sources of U.S. power projection in the region, its carrier battle groups. The then-head of Naval Intelligence Vice Admiral Jack Dorsett told reporters in January 2011 that the Pentagon had underestimated the speed at which China developed and and was fielding the DF-21D.
Also making the ballistic missile a unique and deadly threat is that upon being fired in a general direction its honing systems take over to automatically target enemy ships, carriers, and communications assets while flying at high altitude overhead.
Prior illustrative video of the DF-21D...
Such advanced systems and an uptick in expanding PLA war games in the South China Sea and region were further cited by Adm. Davidson as threatening to "jeopardize freedoms of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea, and compromise regional peace and stability."