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Chinese War Game Simulating Massive Losses for U.S. Aren’t Just Propaganda, Experts Say

Experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation that publishing the game has propaganda value in showing that China is capable of seriously threatening the U.S. fleet, and some suggested that the simulation may not be far from reality.
(Photo by HAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by HAKON MOSVOLD LARSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation

In a rare move, Chinese scientists published a combat simulation in which Beijing’s forces annihilated a U.S. aircraft carrier and supporting ships with hypersonic strikes, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday. The war game may be intended to send a confident message of Chinese capabilities, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation, but some suggested it might have real-world relevance.

Over the course of 20 simulated battles, China sank the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier fleet with multiple successive volleys of hypersonic missiles that could suggest serious problems for the U.S. military in a real-world conflict, SCMP reported. The war game showed what might occur when China defends against U.S. surface naval assets nearing a China-claimed island — a warning that Beijing is militarily prepared in the event of a confrontation to inflict devastating losses on the U.S., according to the military and security experts who spoke to the DCNF.

“[The] Chinese would publish such war games as a signal to their people that they have effective military forces against the U.S.,” Brent Sadler, a senior research fellow for naval warfare at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.

The Chinese-language Journal of Test and Measurement Technology published an article detailing the war game in May, according to SCMP. While the Chinese military occasionally reveals results of such simulations, this is the first time a game showing the results of a simulated hypersonic strike on a U.S. carrier group has been made public.

“We are reading about this simulation because it reinforces the psychological message that sending combatants through the Taiwan Strait or on freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea puts even the U.S. Navy’s newest combatants at enormous risk,” Hudson Institute Asia-Pacific Security Chair Patrick Cronin explained to the DCNF.

Researchers said the strikes could be “catastrophic” and that the U.S. carrier group, with its cornerstone aircraft carrier thought to be virtually unsinkable, could be “destroyed with certainty,” according to SCMP.

“Beijing has invested heavily in recent years to field long-range, precision, fast, and maneuverable missiles to prevent the United States from projecting power in a future Taiwan or South China Sea scenario. Missiles are expensive but relatively cost-effective if they can take out a multi-billion-dollar capital ship,” Cronin told the DCNF.

According to the article, the scientists deliberately weighted the simulation in the U.S.’ favor, launching strikes against surface vessels considered the U.S.’ most superior — the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS San Jacinto, and four DDG-103 Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA guided missile destroyers.

The group carried a total number of 264 air defense missiles, including the RIM-161E SM-3 that is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles and may be able to counter incoming hypersonics, according to SCMP.

The Chinese side was constrained by lack of access to advanced satellites to track the carrier group in real time and a limited number of missiles.

Access to the satellites would be crucial for launching long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles at a U.S. vessel, Sadler explained to the DCNF. Disabling reconnaissance elements would go a long way to defending the carrier group, he added.

“Bottom line, lots more ways to confound targeting of a aircraft carrier,” said Sadler.

He warned that the strikes described have yet to be demonstrated against a moving naval target.

“But political leaders in Beijing should be skeptical about the results of highly contrived simulations” and avoid assuming that “the PLA will always sink every carrier,” Cronin added.

Still, the Chinese war game is not alone in generating massive U.S. losses. A January war game conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, considered the preeminent U.S. defense think tank, found that the U.S. could lose “nearly all” large surface ships — like carriers and destroyers — deployed to the Western Pacific while fending off a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“As far as the reality of the simulation I think it’s more true than not,” Lyle Goldstein, director of the Asia Engagement program at Defense Priorities, told the DCNF. “The U.S. will take devastating losses in a war over Taiwan, so I don’t think we can dismiss it as pure propaganda.”

The Chinese military showed “unusual prowess in their sophisticated launch strategy” in a three-wave attack of 24 hypersonic missiles, a strategy meant to deceive the strike group and overcome its powerful defenses, SCMP reported, quoting the researchers. Two different missiles with vastly differing specifications were used, but the article did not specify which types.

Based on the specifications described in the article, one of the varieties could be the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile, which is equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle, Goldstein surmised. The DF-17’s unique shape gives it a highly unpredictable trajectory, and the Department of Defense (DOD) said it will “transform” the Chinese missile force in a 2022 report.

“Most ballistic missiles as I understand it, are flying in at a hypersonic velocity, it’s just that they have a predictable trajectory. It’s really the shape of the trajectory when it’s closer to the target that make these weapons potentially much more difficult to deal with,” Goldstein said.

After 20 different iterations of the game, the scientists found that the three-wave assault could destroy 5.6 out of 6 surface vessels on average, according to SCMP.

“Twenty-four missiles if launched in a concerted saturation attack with adequate targeting would be a challenge. But sinking the carrier and all its escorts seems unlikely given how dispersed such ships would be and their organic defenses,” Salder said.

But China’s People’s Liberation Army might not need to sink a surface vessel to disarm the threat from the carrier group, Goldstein explained. All it must do is accomplish a “mission kill,” such as a strike on the large, exposed deck of an aircraft carrier that prevents aircraft from launching, rendering the vessel not only useless but highly vulnerable.

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