China is moving closer to deploying a ballistic missile designed to sink an aircraft carrier, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said in newspaper interview published Tuesday.

Adm. Robert Willard told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper that he believed the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile program had achieved “initial operational capability,” meaning that a workable design had been settled on and was being further developed.

Known among defense analysts as a “carrier killer,” the Dong Feng 21D missile would be a game-changer in the Asian security environment, where U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle groups have ruled the waves since the end of World War II.

The DF 21D’s uniqueness is in its ability to hit a powerfully defended moving target with pinpoint precision — a capability U.S. naval planners are scrambling to deal with.

The system’s component parts have likely been designed and tested, but U.S. sources have not detected an over-water test to see how well it can target a moving ship, Willard said.

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