With A New Mystery Missile, Chinese Warships Go Ballistic

Story Highlights
  • The crucial part of that sentence is the last part, as China's first-ever anti-ship ballistic missile is currently operational.
  • The East Sea Fleet has yet to get any Type 055s, owing to the fact that it has yet to receive any aircraft carriers.

China continues to amaze and outsmart its Western opponents by developing new weaponry and missiles. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) published a video clip on April 19 exhibiting a previously undisclosed missile being fired from a Type 055 guided-missile cruiser.

Most experts believe the new weapon is an anti-ship ballistic missile, dubbed YJ-21 by analysts. If the preliminary assessment of the YJ-21 is true, China will be the first country in the world to deploy such a missile from a navy vessel.

The YJ-21 was launched from the Type 055 cruiser Wuxi, which had only been commissioned a month before in Qingdao. Because it was launched from an active-duty ship, the missile is almost certainly in PLA service currently.

The new Chinese weapon appears to have small fins and a bi-conic snout, as seen in the video. The missile’s modest control surfaces indicate that it is not a surface-to-air missile (SAM), which must be highly manoeuvrable to attack fast-moving aircraft.

The YJ-21 was cold-launched from Wuxi’s stern vertical launch system (VLS), which means the missile was gas-expelled from the launcher cell before its own engine started after it was in the air and free of the ship. The YJ-21 must fit inside the constraints of Chinese VLS cells, which can accommodate missiles up to 9 metres long and 850 mm in diameter.

The YJ-21’s performance characteristics are unknown at this time, however its range could be somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 kilometres. The YJ-21 has a final velocity of Mach 10, or ten times the speed of sound, according to the South China Morning Post, which is not generally reliable in its reporting on the PLA.

The YJ-21’s origins are unknown, however it could have been derived from the Chinese CM-401 missile, which is similar to Russia’s Iskander short-range ballistic missile that was recently employed against Ukraine. When the CM-401 was first introduced in 2018, it was predicted that it might be used on warships in the future. In comparison to the CM-401, the YJ-21 adds a significant booster.

The small rocket booster and elongated and tapered manoeuvring re-entry vehicle have clearly been tailored to fit inside a constrained VLS cell aboard a ship. However, the YJ-21’s abrupt appearance does not come as a complete shock.

In 2020, the US Department of Defense (DoD) predicted that China would equip its Type 055 cruisers with this weapon.

“The Renhai (Type 055) has 112 VLS cells and can carry a large loadout of weapons, including anti-ship cruise missiles, SAMs, torpedoes, and anti-submarine weapons, along with likely land-attack cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles when those become operational,” according to the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the state of the Chinese military.

The crucial part of that sentence is the last part, as China’s first-ever anti-ship ballistic missile is currently operational.

Another foreshadowing of this type of naval ballistic missile occurred during a talk by retired PLAN Rear Admiral Zhao Dengping, former Director of the PLA Equipment Department. In 2017, images of his lecture slides were released on China’s internet. A diagram of a future ship-launched anti-ship ballistic missile flight profile, as well as another lecture slide indicating that Chinese warships could carry a “near-space hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile,” were among the surprises.

The DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile is already in use by the PLA, however it is launched from land-based vehicles. The DF-21D’s range of about 1,200 kilometres is obviously limited to waters within this radius of the Chinese coast. Because the YJ-21 can travel anywhere in the world’s oceans onboard ships, it can be considered the naval equivalent of the DF-21D, offering Chinese naval warfare a significant gain in capacity.

“China is developing hypersonic glide vehicles that, if combined into China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles, may make China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles more difficult to intercept,” according to a Congressional Research Service report on China’s naval capabilities.

This has obviously happened recently. Due to its high speed, this sort of ballistic missile with a big warhead may target enemy capital ships such as American aircraft carriers and help overwhelm surface combatant defences. Any battleship targeted by a mix of supersonic cruise missiles and hypersonic ballistic missiles would be vulnerable.

“The pairing of the Type 055 big destroyer and the YJ-21 is aimed to oppose US maritime hegemony in the region through anti-access and area denial,” naval expert Li Jie told the South China Morning Post.

Even while the YJ-21’s range does not have to be that large to pose a serious threat, it greatly increases the Type 055’s attack range. Although it may be able to acquire targeting information from other assets, the new missile could be particularly effective if it relies on the ship’s own sensors rather than a complex and potentially vulnerable chain of satellites and drones.

Because of their long-range weaponry, Chinese Type 055s have become perhaps the most potent warships in the world when equipped with this new type of ballistic missiles. It is unknown whether the YJ-21 will be used to arm other PLAN warships, such as the latest Type 052D destroyer.

The PLAN’s Type 055 cruiser, which has a displacement of 12,600 tonnes, is a critical platform. It can travel the world’s waters on its own or as part of a Chinese aircraft carrier’s protective umbrella.

In its 112 VLS cells (64 front and 48 in the stern), Type 055 carries HHQ-9 SAMs, YJ-18A anti-ship missiles, and Yu-8 anti-submarine rockets, as well as the newest YJ-21 missiles. There’s also a 130mm H/PJ-45A naval gun on the bow, a 30mm H/PJ-11 close-in weapon system, 55mm CS/AR1 anti-diver rockets, and a 24-cell HHQ-10 point air defence launcher.

The PLAN only commissioned the first of these guided-missile cruisers in 2020, demonstrating the Type 055’s newness. China launched the class’s eighth hull in the same year. Two shipyards built Type 055 ships, and six of them have been commissioned into the North Sea Fleet in Qingdao and the South Sea Fleet in Sanya thus far.

The East Sea Fleet has yet to get any Type 055s, owing to the fact that it has yet to receive any aircraft carriers.

Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard completed Wuxi, the sixth-of-class Type 055 that fired the YJ-21 in the well recognised video clip, in only 22 months after it was launched. Despite the impact of COVID-19, this was the quickest Type 055 construction phase to date. This year should also see the seventh and eighth Type 055s (Zunyi and Xianyang) enter service.

COVID-19 is rumoured to have caused a delay in the launch of the Type 003 aircraft carrier in Shanghai. Given that Shanghai has been subjected to rigorous and debilitating lockdowns that have impacted the workforce and logistical supply chain, this is understandable. The Type 003 was supposed to be unveiled on April 23, the 73rd anniversary of the PLAN, but that did not happen. Some predict that China’s third carrier, and its second built domestically, will be launched in June instead.

A new video depicting a Chinese air-launched ballistic missile carried beneath an H-6N bomber aircraft was released on the same day as the YJ-21. This missile, which has a warhead that looks similar to the DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) that was unveiled in 2019, was first seen on 17 October 2020 in a Chinese web article.

The bomber in the current film is from the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), and a semi-recess in the H-6N’s belly allows the massive new armament to be carried. The initial release of photos is thought to have been a captive carry test for the missile in development. That ballistic missile is at least a couple of metres longer and has a smaller diameter than the DF-21D.

The existence of this missile is not surprising, as the Pentagon highlighted it in a 2018 report and referred to it as a CH-AS-X-13, albeit the Chinese name is still unknown. The first test of this two-stage, solid-fueled weapon is thought to have taken place in December 2016. Although no performance details are available, a rumoured range of 3,000 kilometres has been mentioned.

The operational state of this aircraft-borne ballistic missile is unknown, but it appears to be progressing. Following China’s first hypersonic test in 2014, the United States and others are particularly concerned about the country’s progress in producing HGVs. HGVs are nearly impossible to intercept because to their manoeuvrability and rapid speed.

The H-6N bomber was supposedly observed in 2020 at Henan Province’s Neixiang Air Base. This airfield is home to the 106th Air Brigade, which is equipped with nuclear-capable H-6 bombers. The Central Theater Command is responsible for this unit.

Modernization and enhancements have been made to this airbase. It already had 20 aircraft shelters large enough to accommodate H-6 bombers, but the excavation of a massive subterranean complex on a nearby hill piqued our interest. Two taxiways lead to three entrances, which may be used by bombers to enter and exit the underground facility, according to satellite photos.

The H-6N strategic bomber is a more recent model than the H-6K, which was updated with new avionics and larger Russian jet engines. The H-6N features a probe above the nose that enables for in-flight refuelling, as well as the aforementioned belly recess rather of the typical bomb bay. This permits the PLAAF to carry huge missiles on the centerline, and such an air-launched ballistic missile allows the PLAAF to strike land and naval targets at vast ranges.

After possibly entering PLAAF service late that year, the H-6N was publicly revealed at a parade in Beijing in October 2019. The H-6 is an ancient design, but it will have to do until China completes its H-20 stealth bomber development.

New armaments, including as the YJ-21 ship-launched ballistic missile and this air-launched ballistic missile, pose a serious danger to naval and land targets in the meantime. They also show China’s great advancement in armament, which is leaving the United States in its wake in many respects.

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