China is alleged to be developing a "kill weapon" designed to take out carriers. Based on the existing DF-21 land-mobile IRBM (itself the base for China's JL-1 SLBM), the weapon is a "high hypersonic land-based anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21, with a range of up to 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi). These would combine manoeuvrable reentry vehicles (MaRVs) with some kind of terminal guidance system. Such a missile may have been tested in 2005-6, and the launch of the Jianbing-5/YaoGan-1 and Jianbing-6/YaoGan-2 satellites would give the Chinese targetting information from SAR and visual imaging respectively."
As the US Naval Institute puts it, "Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes." And it carries either a conventional warhead or a nuke of up to 600Kt yield.
This might be something the USN's ABM capability can be upgraded to block, but if you were responsible for a battle group, would you want to bet on it? These aren't the North Koreans plinking away with hacked SCUD-Bs, these are the folks who supply all our consumer electronics and who are planning on orbiting a manned space station all of their very own next year.
I can just see the twitter from the Chinese navy high command: "D00DZ I R IN UR CBG N00K1NG UR CVN!!! LOLZ!!!"
Leaving aside the essential pointless stupidity of yet another tit-for-tat technology-driven arms race (pointless insofar as economically speaking China and the USA are two pickpockets with their hands so deep in each others' pockets that if they start fighting they're both going to hurt themselves worse than they hurt the other party: this isn't Cold War 2.0), this looks like a winning move for the PLA: over-reliance on really big and definitively non-stealthy surface ships has been a bedeviling problem of the USN for decades. Every military force trains to win the last war, and the last time the US navy faced real opposition was the Battle of Midway; the route to the top runs through command of a carrier, so carriers are prioritized, much as battleships were in the Royal Navy before it. And any message to the effect that floating airports in the age of the nuclear missile (or even the precision-guided non-nuclear variety) might be hard-to-defend trouble magnets is going to get the Three Monkeys reception.
Finally to put a UK-specific spin on this: Our wonderful government are pursuing the post-1956 British foreign policy strategy of playing Mini-Me to the White House's Dr Evil by pushing ahead with plans for the Queen Elizabeth class carriers — self-sucking lollipops at best, obsolete on arrival at worst.
Update: Ah, I see the War Nerd has already noticed.
'Nother update: Yes, it's probably possible to whomp up a defense against this sort of attack. But the cost of such a defense? Astronomical: it's the classic ABM problem, only without the luxury of a land-based platform unconstrained by sea state, dead weight, and weather. The problem with ABMs is that the enemy can always throw more missiles; which can be kind of embarrassing, when your ABM system is mounted on a ship with a finite number of vertical launch cells and there's a submarine stalking you at the same time.
But enough of this curmudgeonly disbelief in the permanent supremacy of the US Navy. At least let us congratulate PLA Industries, Inc. on finding something to spend their profits on that's just as pointless as US Treasury bonds. If they can start a new arms race, we might even be able to dig our way out of this depression before it really gets going again.
Party like it's 1936!