A study in China’s Journal of Test and Measurement Technology concluded, citing a series of software simulations, that the communist nation’s hypersonic missile technology could destroy the formidable USS Gerald R. Ford carrier fleet by evading the ships’ defense systems, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
The war games add to mounting anxiety in the United States about communist China’s hypersonic capabilities, exacerbated by an alleged 2021 missile test that an American intelligence source admitted Washington had “no idea how” Beijing pulled off without detection. More recently, the trove of alleged Defense Department documents surfacing on the video game chat platform Discord included an alleged top-secret Pentagon report describing a Chinese hypersonic missile that had “a high probability of penetrating” American ballistic missile defenses. The missile in question, according to the alleged leak, could potentially bomb Guam.
The South China Morning Post, translating the Journal of Test and Measurement Technology study, relayed that the research team responsible used war game software to play out 20 different scenarios in which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) bombed the Gerald R. Ford fleet, which in the simulations was located in the South China Sea. The war game depicted the fleet approaching a “China-claimed island” in the region, according to the newspaper, and refusing to turn away when harassed by Chinese military vessels.
China claims nearly the entirety of the South China Sea, illegally asserting sovereignty over the territory of five nations: Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. The U.S. Navy regularly conducts Freedom of Navigation exercises, or FONOPs, in the South China Sea as a public rejection of China’s claims, which an international court ruled illegitimate in 2016.
In the war game, the Chinese scientists — a team led by professor Cao Hongsong of the North University of China — essentially overwhelmed the Americans’ missile defense systems so that the hypersonic missiles could cut through them.
“Over 20 intense battles, Chinese forces sank the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier fleet with a volley of 24 hypersonic anti-ship missiles, in a simulation run on a mainstream war game software platform used by China’s military,” the Morning Post relayed, later adding, “Cao’s team determined the three-wave attack is capable of eliminating an average 5.6 out of six surface vessels – resulting in ‘total destruction’ of the carrier group.”
The Hong Kong newspaper noted that the test is the first of its kind made public, and China’s reasons for allowing the results of such a sensitive military study to be public “remain unknown.” It also warned that software simulations could be helpful, but were not as reliable as real-world testing in providing trustworthy data on the effectiveness of any given military strategy.
China’s hypersonic missile capabilities have become an increasingly visible cause for concern among America’s defense experts. In 2018, Gen. John Hyten, the then-head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told the U.S. Senate that the American military did not have sufficient defense capabilities to thwart a hypersonic missile attack.
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a [hypersonic] weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat,” Hyden told lawmakers, recommending the armed forces “pursue improved sensor capabilities to be able to track, characterize and attribute the threats, wherever they come from.”
The reported 2021 hypersonic missile test prompted shock and outrage among defense observers in the United States, as reports surfaced that America’s intelligence agencies did not have information on the test before it actually happened. The test was significant, sources told the Financial Times, as the hypersonic missile flew around the Earth in low orbit, at a speed and height intended to avoid missile defense systems.
“[W]e need to understand that it’s worse than Sputnik. Because we’re farther behind than we were on Sputnik, where we were only six months away from our first Atlas ICBM launch in 1957,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) warned of the Chinese missile test at the time. ” Today, we’re not going to be able to get hypersonics in the field until late ’22 or early ’23. The Raytheon CEO just said we’re lagging behind China in hypersonics for years.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the Financial Times report of a hypersonic missile test, claiming China was instead testing “spacecraft reusability.”
A year later, the Chinese government published a video of an alleged DF-17 hypersonic missile, which the state-run Global Times propaganda outlet dubbed an “aircraft carrier killer.” The state newspaper linked the debut of the video to then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visiting the sovereign nation of Taiwan, which China illegally claims as a rogue province of the People’s Republic.
“The DF-17 will play a vital role in safeguarding China’s territorial integrity, as regions including the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and Northeast Asia are all within its striking range,” the Global Times quoted a regime-approved expert as saying in 2019 when Chinese officials first unveiled the missile.
The alleged Pentagon documents in this year’s Discord leaks discussed another missile model identified as the DF-27.
“The DF-27 is designed to enhance [China’s] ability to hold targets at risk beyond the Second Island Chain and possesses a high probability of penetrating U.S.” ballistic missile defense, according to the documents.