The Chinese military targeted a moving ship during its August 2020 test launch of antiship ballistic missiles in the South China Sea, according to sources familiar with the matter.
U.S. military officials also have confirmed the incident. According to eyewitness statements, two such missiles, dubbed “aircraft carrier killers,” hit the ship.
If true, this would represent a threat to the U.S. military, which deploys aircraft carriers around China.
The test launch took place on Aug. 26 in the sea between Hainan Province and the Paracel Islands. According to the sources, the Chinese military fired a Dongfeng-26B (DF-26B) missile with a range of about 4,000 kilometers from inland Qinghai Province, targeting an old, unmanned merchant ship that was self-navigating.
A few minutes later, a DF-21D with a range of more than 1,500 kilometers was fired from eastern Zhejiang Province.
The two missiles are said to have hit the ship almost at the same time, sinking the vessel. Another source also said the two missiles were fired at the merchant ship to “display the Chinese military’s missile capabilities” to U.S. spy planes and Aegis destroyers deployed in nearby waters.
This is believed to be the first time that the Chinese military has test-fired a missile at a moving target in the South China Sea. It indicates that China’s surveillance systems, including reconnaissance satellites that detect ship positions, and the precision of its missiles are steadily improving.
In late November, Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, admitted in an online security forum that the Chinese military had tested antiship ballistic missiles against a moving target. He did not say whether the missiles actually hit the ship.
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