China is stepping up testing on a space missile that could sink American aircraft carriers in the Pacific, a US naval commander warned on Tuesday.

The news increased tensions between Washington and Beijing as concerns grow that China is boosting its military might.

The anti-ship missile, which is fired into space before hitting its target, could alter the balance of power in the Pacific.

The land-based ballistic warhead was specifically designed to threaten the US fleet. It can track down and target aircraft carriers hundreds of miles away.

Admiral Robert Willard, the top US commander in the Pacific, warned that as part of China’s aim to become a global sea power, the missile had already reached “initial operational capability”.

He said: “The anti-ship ballistic missile system in China has undergone extensive testing.”

But he added that full deployment could take several years.

Massive growth in China’s spending on its armed forces and a drive for military modernisation is causing alarm at the Pentagon.

Defence experts say the Dongfeng 21 D missile is a “game changer”. It would be the world’s first land missile system capable of hitting a moving aircraft carrier.

Using satellites, unmanned aerial drones and over-the-horizon radar, the Chinese would launch the warhead into space before manoeuvring it towards a target. - Daily Mail