The increase in the ability of the PLA or PLAN to launch their Dong Feng 21 (DF-21) carrier killer should give pause to the United States in deploying their fleet carriers into the South China Sea. The DF-21 is a medium range, solid fueled missile. It is road mobile missile which can be launched from a Transport-Erector-Launcher. This allows the missile to be mobile and can be quickly deployed in a tactical environment. With a maximum range of 2.150 kilometers (1,335 miles), and being capable of delivering a small nuclear warhead, the DF-21 is capable of destroying a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) at Mach 2 or 3. That is 2,400 to 3.600 miles per hour.
In the enclosed waters of the South China Sea, a United States CSG would be supremely vulnerable, especially if China chose to use nuclear weapons to destroy the American carrier task force. Even if conventional weapons were used, a sustained volley of the DF-21 missile would stand a good chance of hurting the CSG, and or destroying it. With a United States Navy fleet carrier costing some $13 billion, cost of a Ford class carrier, not to include the cost of its escorting vessels, an alternative needs to be found that will project United States naval power, at the same time lessening the risks associated of United States vessels operating in such an enclosed space. The development of the Lightening carrier may be the perfect answer for the United States navy.