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The Dong-Feng 21D (DF-21D) is a Chinese indigenously developed anti-ship ballistic missile.
The base version of the missile is the DF-21, which is a medium-range, road-mobile ballistic missile. It was the first road-mobile, solid propellant missile developed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and is a variant of the CSS-N-3 (JL-1) submarine-launched system that replaced the Dong Feng-2 (CSS-1) in the early 1980s.
The Dong Feng 21’s solid-propellant system significantly increases its service life and mobility while decreasing its maintenance cost and launch time. The Dong Feng 21 represented a shift in the PRC away from liquid fueled designs.
The DF-21D is a conventionally armed DF-21 variant designed to attack ships at sea. Sometimes dubbed the “carrier-killer,” U.S. reports suggest a range a 1,450 to 1,550 km.
Similar to the DF-21B, the warhead is likely maneuverable and may have an accuracy of 20 m CEP. This missile entered service in 2006 along with the DF-21C.
In 2013, the missile was tested against a ship target that was roughly the same size as contemporary U.S. aircraft carriers.
The DF-21D was deemed operational in 2012 and is the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) intended to attack ships at sea while being launched from a ground vehicle.
Reaching speeds up to Mach 10 during the terminal phase, the DF-21D is the fastest MRBM to date and can surpass existing U.S. missile defense systems such as the sea-based AEGIS ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.
By using both inertial and radar guidance systems, the ASBM increases speed upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere to avoid missile defense structures and ensure a direct hit on moving sea-based targets.
A variant of the DF-21D is currently in production with intentions of increasing its range and payload.
Until the United States deploys adequate capabilities to defend against the DF-21D, U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups operating within the missile’s range will remain vulnerable.
The DF-21D is critical to China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, which aims to limit U.S. freedom of movement by exploiting U.S. operational vulnerabilities.
Using long-range precision-guided ballistic missiles such as the DF-21D, China puts all U.S. forces operating in the Asia-Pacific at risk, undercutting U.S. power projection in the region.
In addition, the long-range standoff capability of the DF-21D grants China more operation flexibility in the field while minimizing the chance of a surprise attack.
As a result, this is a significant operational advantage in the region for China.
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