Over the past few weeks, images of China’s new supersonic-capable, unarmed reconnaissance drone have begun making their way online, and SOFREP was among the first to notice that the design bears a striking resemblance to a similar platform employed over China by the United States in the 1960s. However, China’s propensity for stealing aircraft designs doesn’t make the threat posed by this new carrier-based drone any less significant — in a very real way, this high-speed drone could be among the most potent threats to American aircraft carriers fielded by any nation’s military.
For nearly two years now, the United States Navy has worked to develop multiple new technologies and methodologies all aimed at the singular goal of beating back the area-denial capabilities represented by China’s growing stockpile of anti-ship ballistic missiles and long-range hypersonic anti-ship missiles. The latter, in particular, represent a threat to American naval assets unlike anything seen before, as the sheer velocity of hypersonic platforms (or missiles that travel in excess of Mach 5) make them both extremely powerful and currently, impossible to defend against. The latest missile defense systems employed by any nation, including the United States, simply lacks the high speed capabilities required to locate, target, and effectively engage such fast moving projectiles, which means that once a hypersonic anti-ship missile has been launched, there’s nothing the target can do but wait for impact.
With an oft-touted range of nearly 1,000 nautical miles, hypersonic anti-ship platforms like China’s forthcoming DF-17 create a sort of area-denial bubble around China’s coastlines that extend well beyond the reach of America’s carrier based aircraft. That means American carriers would have to sail well within range of China’s ship-hunting missiles in order to launch sorties against Chinese assets. In other words, these missile platforms make it all but impossible for America to use its most potent form of force projection in the early days of a hypothetical conflict in the Pacific.
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