In recent years, the balance of naval power in the Pacific has been witnessing a shift. China’s development and deployment of its “Carrier Killer” missiles is central to this evolution. 

Designed to target and neutralize some of the world’s most advanced aircraft carriers, these weapons are causing ripples in the strategic planning of naval forces, particularly the U.S. Navy.

The term “Carrier Killer” underscores the missile’s capability to challenge the dominance of aircraft carriers, vessels that have long been the backbone of the U.S. naval fleet in the Pacific. This missile’s presence in the region changes how naval forces conduct exercises and formulate defense strategies.

In the past, U.S. aircraft carriers played a pivotal role in ensuring maritime stability and projecting American power in the Pacific. However, with the emergence of the Carrier Killer, questions arise: How will this affect the U.S.’s traditional naval strategies? And what does it mean for the future of Pacific geopolitics?

The Rise of the ‘Carrier Killer’

A Chinese DF-21A transporter errector vehicle on display at the “Our troops towards the sky” exhibition at the Beijing Military Museum in 2007 (Wikimedia Commons).

Spanning over 60 million square miles, the Pacific Ocean has been a strategic hotspot in global geopolitics. Historically, the U.S. Navy has maintained a considerable presence here. It has a fleet of 11 active aircraft carriers—vessels supporting over 75 aircraft. 

These carriers have been instrumental in ensuring U.S. naval supremacy. They project power from the coastlines of Japan to the waters of the South China Sea.

However, China has been bolstering its naval capabilities in the last decade. Their development of the DF-21D missile, commonly called the “Carrier Killer,” is a prime example. 

It presents a credible threat with a reported range of over 1,500 kilometers. It can also carry a warhead designed to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced carriers.