Anti-Access Goes Global
Image Credit: Allocer

Anti-Access Goes Global


Security analysts the world over have detailed China’s efforts to develop weapons systems that can slow or stop a potential enemy entering a conflict zone. Dubbed “anti-access,” “access-denial,” or “A2/AD,” the goal of such a strategy is to use weapons that, as Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College explains it, “put U.S. forces on the wrong side of physics”.  

The backbone of any A2/AD strategy is an anti-ship missile. Such a missile, fired from land, sea or air can cause tremendous damage to an enemy surface vessel. Yet while such technology isn’t new, the effective ranges of such weapons have increased tremendously, along with their accuracy, speed of delivery and availability. Defending against such systems is therefore a major headache for military planners.

While U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific are retooling to confront the challenge from China, though, it seems they have another problem – other nations have taken notice, and are adopting A2/AD strategies.  

This week,Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi wrote in The Diplomat on North Korea’s asymmetric strategy for confronting U.S. and South Korean forces if conflict were to occur. Such a strategy, he says, would include submarines, special operations forces and anti-ship missiles.

North Korea’s anti-ship missile technology, which came presumably from converted Soviet weaponry, presents little threat to U.S. or South Korean forces in its present form. But tests last month showed a North Korean anti-ship missile being fired from an older Soviet style bomber. Such missiles could pose problems for smaller patrol boats or merchant vessels attempting to ship supplies to South Korea in time of war.

Iran has also jumped on the anti-ship missile bandwagon. In July, Iran tested a 186 mile range anti-ship missile with a 1,433 pound warhead. The missile is supposedly capable of reaching speeds up to Mach 3.  At such speeds, vessels would have little time to deploy any defensive measures. If such a weapon were deployed in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, for example, Iran would have a viable method of shutting down most shipments of oil out of the Persian Gulf, as well as slowing the movement of an enemy surface fleet.

Syria, meanwhile, even with its current domestic issues, has recently taken delivery of new anti-ship missiles. A contract worth $300 million dollars was signed with Russia well before current hostilities in Syria began. But many analysts believe the delivery was timed by Russia to punish the West for its reluctance to alter its ballistic missile defense system strategy in Europe.

Israel, for its part, has expressed concern over the sale of the missiles as they place its surface fleet in serious danger. The missiles have a range similar to Iran’s anti-ship system, of about 190 miles. It should also be noted that Hizbollah used a surface-to-air missile in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War to hit the INS Hanit warship; four sailors were killed in the attack.

In response, many argue that surface vessels can simply be taken out of range of anti-ship missiles, thus denying them the ability to strike. But there are problems with this argument. For a start, China currently has an anti-ship missile with an estimated range of anywhere from 1,500 to 2,700 kilometers.

But even countries with access to shorter-range anti-ship missiles could pose a challenge to the U.S or other navies if they are able to close within striking range. After all, several years back, a Chinese submarine appears to have taken a U.S. aircraft carrier by surprise, surfacing within striking range. In addition, during war games simulations in 2005, an electric-diesel submarine leased from the Swedish navy was able to “sink” the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. With diesel submarine technology becoming ever more advanced and difficult to detect, even with the best U.S. technology, surface fleets will have to be wary. Indeed, even nations without advanced submarines need only be able to load missiles onto a smaller patrol vessel to be able to strike unexpectedly.

With military planners understandably wary about placing their multi-billion dollar surface vessels and crews in harm’s way, the relative affordability and utility of  asymmetric A2/AD weapons means they are almost certainly here to stay.

Harry Kazianis is assistant editor of The Diplomat.

Benco Bebad
August 17, 2012 at 17:54

Although the world has moved on, the Philippine Navy is still fighting WW2 as evidenced by its emphasis on gun emplacements for its warships instead of missiles, CIWS and target acquisition radars, Retraining its personnel to operate in a 21st century world would require changing its naval doctrine completely. Greater spending would help but changing their way of thinking is a necessary first step. 

China dragon
August 3, 2012 at 04:32

China's anti access weapons are designed for defence. China has no menacing carrier groups prowling off the coast off the US.If China had such vessels,what would the Pentagon do?Devise schemes to render such weapons or ships obsolete.That is precisely what the the PLA is doing.
The days when the US can attack China without significant damageare over. The US can trample over China and destroy it a trillion times. A prohibitive price will be exacted .That is why  the US is one iota bothered.The Chinese aint itching to fight or take over Taiwan or all of Asia as the US inclined media is portraying.
The US wants to deter the Chinese or intimidate them. Well China can play the same game.The point is the US for all its protestation s of peace to China is underming China by stationing more weapons of destruction against China.Fortunately the PLA aint buying this but to ensure China is capable of retaliation if under attack by  US forces.Under US rules of war,this must not be allowed or neutralised.
All good things must come to an end. The US has an overkill with regard to China. The Chinese aint going to match this because it will destroy the economy. Instead they are focussing on heaping significant or unacceptable damage on US assets.

December 13, 2011 at 10:14

High oil prices and not having capital to purchase oil has the same result on petro based economies. If it goes to high people cannot afford it, if you are close to bankruptcy as a purchaser you cannot afford it. So in the end it send people onto the streets in both the petro based economies and in those countries are the purchases. There will be riots all over the world, in China, Russia, Europe in the US. So I say push up the price $180 a barrel we worked very hard to try to get parity between crude and LNG. Europe freezes and no petro dollars for Vlad, Chinese rioting. Whats not to like.

Darren P
December 7, 2011 at 14:35

@Mike Earussi- Aircraft made battleships obsolete as first line ships way before cruise missiles were invented.
And, carriers aren’t going anywhere, not for a long long time. A-bombs were supposed to make carriers obsolete after WW2, but that fallacy has been, and continues to be, disproved.
Cruise missiles are like any other weapons system- these have strengths and weaknesses. Minimizing the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses are the keys to defeating these.

December 5, 2011 at 17:14


Having spent time on an aircraft carrier, I do not feel that they are obsolete just yet. If that were the case, then why are China and Russia focusing much of their R&D on countering US aircraft carriers? What they do offer is an air force that is not tied to any political concerns. What I mean here is that many of our air force planes are based in countries that may not want the US to involve them in anything. Just look back that the 1986 strikes on Libya when our F-111′s had to fly a long route just to attack Qaddafi’s forces. Or when our B-52′s had to fly from the US to attack Afghanistan in 2001.
Modern aircraft carriers may evolve in their roles that they now play. Piloted aircraft will soon become obsolote except in perhaps a search and rescue role. Aircraft carriers may become smaller as UCAV’s become smaller. Stealth technology will play a huge role as well.
What we are seeing with China and Russia is that they have developed a counter weapon (Anti ship missiles) to our weapon (aircraft carrier). The US has developed a counter-counter weapon to their missiles.

yang zi
December 5, 2011 at 06:30

george, Vietnam could put up a respectable fight, but unlikely to prevail in a conflict with China. the tyranny of geography is hard to overcome. I am expecting closer people to people relationships between Vietnam and China.

yang zi
December 5, 2011 at 06:25

HHop, you guys are driving me crazy asking for links, nobody stopping you from googling. here is a link:

John Chan
December 5, 2011 at 00:23

@Kimbo Y. Laurel,
For Philippines to achieve asymmetrical warfare against China is very simple, just one step, that is to increase Philippines’ defense spending to 22% of GDP for the next 40 years.

Buying American obsolete junk is not the way to go, it only fattens American and Philippines corrupted politicians’ pockets.

Mike Earussi
December 4, 2011 at 17:54

The only thing missing from our present naval vessels are bullseyes painted on their sides. Cruse, and other missles, have made aircraft carries as obsolete as they made battleships obsolete. The only useful ships left are subs, as long as they can’t be detected. But robotics and missles are the soldiers of the future.

December 4, 2011 at 17:23

As I understand China never offer HQ 9 to Syria. It is only natural that Russia still has the lead when it come to Anti Air Missile . Since they are the first to come with this weapon.But the gap is not that far HQ range is 250km and comparable to S-300MPU II but less than S-400.

No 1 or 2 satellite cannot provide intelligence Remember they orbit the earth once every 15 hour You need more than 1 or 2

December 4, 2011 at 09:30


I don’t know about the alternate use of the said satellites, but I read that at least one of the research satellite was developed by the Vietnamese team with Japanese collaboration. Is what you mentioned something else? Can you provide link?

Yang zi
December 3, 2011 at 19:25

Today’s asymmetric warfare, could be tomorrow’s new trend. The real concern from US navy is that China’s so called access deny technology will render its investment and expertise out of fashion.

China is not interested in playing world domination game with US. Syria is buying from Russia instead of China, just shows how lacking China’s technology is. If you believe the hype, Syria should buy from China. However, iran’s progress in its anti-ship missiles has some roots in Chinese sales long time ago.

The most important yet under reported news in SCS is the acquisition of 2 satellites by Vietnam from Japan, these so called ocean research satellites give Vietnam the ability to monitor SCS manuvors, asisst its own anti-ship missiles bought from Russia.

December 3, 2011 at 17:48

That assuming if the ship carrying ASM can get close enough to Chinese ship before it get grind by ASM JY 82 carrying JH 7A or sunk by Submarine carrying ASM missile or Long range Torpedo

Then it have to face barrage of long range ASM missile from Type 054 Frigate

Check this one out

December 3, 2011 at 17:30

Well China is not defenseless when it come to ASM anti ship missile. Since China produced some of the fearsome anti ship missile C803, YJ 82

They know how anti ship missile work and how to counter it . US has Sea Ram and close in weapon of Phalanx

China has HQ 10 and Type 730, 630
They will make mince meat out of outdated and slow ASM
Check this one

December 3, 2011 at 14:50

One of the cornerstones of US diplomacy is our Navy. They US has used it “big stick,” to remind nations that the US will defend its interests and the security of our allies if provoked. Both China and Iran have seen US aircraft carriers patrolling off their coasts. This has caused some degree of anger to them and this is why they are so focused on building anti-ship missiles in order to deter the US from patrolling anywhere near there coastlines.

December 3, 2011 at 13:18

A very good point, the U.S should be selling the Phillipenes air and land launched anti ship missiles instead of old Coast Guard cutters. The two coast guard cutters we are selling the Phillipenes will do nothing to strengthen their deterence against China and they are still more expensive than a batch of anti ship missiles that could put China’s entire southern fleet in danger if it were to make a move on the Phillipenes.

As we retire our harpoons and other 70′s and 80′s era naval missiles and replace them with new versions, we should offer the retired models to the phillipenes and vietnam. Although I’m sure they would need some refurishing that would drastically change the naval ballance of power in the region against China and come at very little cost to all country’s involved. In the current fiscal environment the receving countries would probably have to pay for the refurbishing but the original hardware would be free or at an extremley reduced cost.

December 3, 2011 at 13:13

Very true, as the average citizen of Papa New Guinea or one of New Zeland’s outlaying islands what they think of naval strategy and A2AD tactics.

However its enevitable that conflict of some type will happen there because of the current balance of power in the greater region.

Kimbo Y. Laurel
December 3, 2011 at 08:17

Personally, I want to know about the naval asymmetrical warfare so the Philippines can use this tactics against China if China declares on the Philippines.

December 3, 2011 at 02:55

It’s very interesting to listen about South Pacific Naval War exercises and new technology. The SP is a vast area of different political views and cultures and religions. How primitive it seems to still be talking about military strategy about a place where most people would probably not put much emphasis about it themselves.

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