Sea-Skimming Missiles – Australian Experts Call China’s Deadly ASCMs The Biggest Threat To Allied Navies

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a leading Canberra think tank, has released a new paper that underscores the threat that China’s anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) pose to Australia’s and other US allies’ navy in the Indo-Pacific.

Anti-ship weapons, according to author Sam Goldsmith, are an important aspect of China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.

They will very undoubtedly be used as part of China’s “counter-intervention strategy,” which tries to discourage or prevent foreign forces from entering disputed waters in the Western Pacific, such as to support Taiwan in the case of a Chinese invasion. 

The report noted that the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) strategic doctrine advocates for heavy use of deception, surprise strikes, and the employment of assets described in Chinese as an “assassin’s mace,” a term rooted in ancient mythology that alludes to the weaponry used to beat a greater opponent. 

China’s advanced new ASCMs (Anti-Ship Cruise Missile), which also include the bomber-launched YJ-12 and the submarine-launched YJ-18B, are examples of China’s killer weapons.

These types of weapons, according to the study, would most likely be used to eliminate ‘Allied’ military capabilities (Australian, American, Japanese, South Korean, and so on) across the first and second island chains during offensive PLA combat operations. The DF-21, DF-26, and the upcoming DF-27 are also highlighted as critical parts of China’s strike capabilities.

File Image: Chinese DF-21 Missile

PLA deep-strike missions could target important facilities and resources deep within the Allied heartland, as well as ‘beyond the Indo-Pacific region.’

For instance, PLAN nuclear-powered attack submarines equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles and land-attack cruise missiles might put US at-sea replenishment ships, fuel and logistics centers, and naval shipyards in danger.

Concern For Australia & Allies? 

The PLA’s considerable ASCM capabilities are of major concern to Allied naval forces, according to Goldsmith, for four reasons: ASCMs are difficult to detect and difficult to counter but also trigger depth-of-fire and proliferation issues.

Sea-skimming capability, which involves missiles hugging the water’s surface and cruising as low as possible, illustrates why these missiles are difficult to detect. They take advantage of the Earth’s curvature and only display it on the radar of the target surface ship upon crossing the horizon. 

This is a major issue for Australian naval ships like the Hobart-class destroyer and Anzac-class frigate because their phased-array radars spot incoming missiles on a line-of-sight basis. In addition, Swarming technologies, low signatures, and the possibility of using decoys might all complicate identifying and intercepting China’s ASCMs. 

DF-26 – China Daily

However, it is not just the technological characteristics of the missiles that are of concern, but also the large number of missiles that China possesses.

For Allied navies, the sheer number of PLA ASCMs and launchers causes depth-of-fire concerns. That’s because the PLA can utilize dozens or hundreds of ASCMs to launch “saturation attacks” against Allied surface ships.

The anti-air capabilities of the defending ships would be overwhelmed by PLA saturation attacks, or the shipboard VLS missile magazines would be substantially depleted. The report also highlights that a squadron of Chinese bombers, each carrying half a dozen YJ-12 ASCMs, might outgun existing Australian ships.

A Roadmap To Counter China 

The report also included a segment on short-term strategies for retrofitting Australian boats with a variety of medium-range anti-air weapons. It also suggests the ships ramp up their weaponry by expanding their fleet magazines and adopting technology like lasers, rail guns, and radio weapons.

China’s nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine.

The report comes as Australia authorized a plan worth A$3.5 billion ($2.6 billion) to speed up the procurement of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) and Naval Attack Missiles to improve the country’s advanced strike capabilities.

Advances in Chinese missile technology are causing considerable unease in Canberra and Washington. Senior US officials examined a hypersonic scramjet engine developed by Australian 3D printing company Hypersonix in March, and experts predict it might help the US overcome numerous long-standing challenges in creating and testing hypersonic missiles, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times. 

File Image: Hypersonic Missile

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced on Tuesday (April 5) that their trilateral security partnership, AUKUS, would be expanded to include hypersonic weapons.

All three countries have already begun to work together on advanced military technologies such as cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and undersea robotics.

Beijing responded harshly, accusing three countries of building an “Asia-Pacific version of NATO.” Also, Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a daily briefing that the partnership would “undermine peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”