According to Pentagon’s annual report China is adopting anti-access/area denial strategy which represents growing asymmetric threats the U.S. Navy is facing. The report on China’ military strength from 2019 describes the A2/AD strategy as a means to “dissuade, deter, or, if required, defeat third-party intervention against a large-scale, theater-wide campaign” mounted by China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. In short, it appears Beijing’s aim is to prevent non-friendly military forces from operating freely in the A2/AD airspace and maritime “bubble” around China’s coastline. China has in recent years worked to extend the range of this bubble beyond the so-called first island chain and into the Western Pacific. The key to this effort is not just longer-range missiles, but also a growing number of space-based sensors.
The U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists reported that as of 2016, China had 192 satellites in orbit, a number that has since increased, with nearly all of these belonging to organizations or companies with close ties to the government and having dual roles to for civilian and military use.
Some of China’s satellites include several payloads that are almost certainly for military purposes, such as electro-optical sensors, synthetic aperture radar and electronic intelligence technology. The country also uses a constellation of Naval Ocean Surveillance System satellites providing persistent coverage of water surrounding China. These capabilities can also support targeting for China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles, and with sufficient numbers and integration, they could provide real-time target triangulation data to build up a robust picture of a target’s location to ultimately generate a targeting approach. The long-range, conventionally armed ballistic missile DF-21D is meant for attacking moving ships at sea, most notably the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The theory behind its creation is that a missile speeding down to sea level on a ballistic trajectory at speeds of Mach 5 or higher would prove extremely difficult to counter.
The road-mobile anti-ship ballistic missile system is mounted on a wheeled transporter/ erector launcher to improve survivability against enemy counter-strikes. Said to have a range of about 780 nautical miles, the DF-21D is a version of the DF-21 family of two-stage, solid-fueled, single-warhead conventional or nuclear medium-range ballistic missiles in use by the PLA Rocket Force.