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“We won’t change these operations because of this specific technology that might be out there,” he told the AP while the USS George Washington was in its home port just south of Tokyo for repairs last week. “But we will carefully monitor and adapt to it.”

The faster-than-expected development of the missile has set off alarm bells in Washington. Furthermore, China is developing a stealth fighter jet that could be used to support its navy in a conflict and aims to deploy its first aircraft carriers over the next decade.

Before visiting Beijing last month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he has been concerned about the anti-ship missile since he took office.

In December, Adm. Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper that he thought the missile program had achieved “initial operational capability,” meaning a workable design had been chosen and was being developed further.

The missile is considered to be a key component of China’s strategy of denying U.S. planes and ships access to waters off its coast. The strategy includes overlapping layers of air defense systems, naval assets such as submarines, and advanced ballistic missile systems - all woven together with a network of satellites.

At its most capable, the Dong Feng 21D could be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier at a distance of more than 900 miles.

To allay regional security fears, Adm. van Buskirk said, China needs to be more forthcoming about its intentions.

“It goes back to transparency,” he said. “Using the United States as an example, we are very clear about our intent when conducting routine and normal operations in international waters. … That is what you might expect from other nations that might operate in this region.”