Type 055 destroyer test-fires mysterious YJ-21 hypersonic missile

China unveiled its YJ-21 hypersonic missile for the first time on the eve of Chinese Navy Day on April 23. Western media described it as “one of China’s most mysterious and deadly missiles.”

The media reported on April 24 that at the sensitive moment of China’s Navy Day, Chinese officials disclosed one after another important military news, in addition to the official announcement of the “third aircraft carrier”, and the mysterious missile launched by the Type 055 13,000-ton destroyer. The latter is widely speculated to be the “YJ-21” hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile developed by China.

India’s “Eurasia Times” said on the 21st, that one of the most deadly weapons in the PLA’s arsenal is the “YJ-21” anti-ship ballistic missile, which has previously been shrouded in mystery. But in a rare move, the PLA Navy recently released the first video footage of the Type 055 destroyer firing this hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile.

The report also highlighted an earlier U.S. Congressional Research Service report on China’s naval capabilities, which noted that “China is developing hypersonic glide vehicles that, if incorporated into China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles, could make China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles more difficult to intercept.”

The U.S. Navy News website mentioned in an April 20th report titled “China Test Fires New YJ-21 Hypersonic Missile” that the Chinese Navy recently released a video of a new missile lifting off from the Type 055 destroyer.

The report quoted a leading naval intelligence analyst as saying that the missile was the long-speculated “YJ-21” hypersonic missile, and that the Chinese Navy’s Type 055 large destroyer equipped with the missile was thus dubbed by the West as “the world’s most powerful warship in terms of firepower”.

The military expert carefully studied the video and concluded that the missile was the PLA’s latest “YJ-21” hypersonic anti-ship missile. “The new missile is similar in appearance to China’s earlier CM-401 missile design, but with the addition of a large booster. The publicly displayed CM-401 is roughly similar in performance to the Russian ‘Iskander’ missile, but the former has a much smaller diameter of 600 mm.” He also speculated that the new missile test-launched may be related to the CM-401 series of missiles, but may have a smaller diameter in order to fit inside the vertical launch units of the Type 055 destroyer.

The video suggests the missile may be an anti-ship ballistic missile with a small hypersonic glide warhead, according to the U.S. Navy News website. “The missile’s control surface is quite small, meaning it’s probably not an anti-aircraft missile.”

The report said the new missile was launched from a Type 055 cruiser (some Western media refer to the Type 055 large destroyer as a cruiser). “With eight Type 055 cruisers already launched, it is undoubtedly the most impressive surface warship in the Chinese naval line-up.” According to public data, the Type 055 destroyers are equipped with up to 112 vertical launch units, the largest of which is large enough to accommodate oversized missiles measuring 9 meters long and 0.85 meters in diameter, the report said.

If the new missile proves to be a hypersonic ‘YJ-21’ missile, the Type 055 cruiser will be the world’s most powerful surface warship,” the report added.

The U.S. website “Drive” also believes that although there is much speculation about the mysterious missile launched by the Chinese Type 055 destroyer, the most likely one is an anti-ship ballistic missile.

According to the report, the video released by the Chinese Navy shows a missile lifting off in a “cold launch” and then igniting its booster to fly at the target. The booster is relatively short in length, with a long tapered warhead section and small fins on the bottom. “The design is very reminiscent of a maneuvering re-entry vehicle.”

“This new anti-ship missile uses a more elongated tapered maneuvering re-entry vehicle and a shorter rocket booster. The design is clearly optimized to fit within the confined space of a shipboard vertical launch unit.” The report also speculated that while the relatively short booster rocket would significantly shorten its strike range, it is a reasonable trade-off given that the maritime platform it carries can maneuver around. “Even if it has a range of only a few hundred miles, it has a very effective deterrent.”

The report emphasized that the self-defense capabilities of even the most advanced navies face a severe test against a combination of close-range anti-ship ballistic missiles and other anti-ship cruise missiles. In addition, the relatively short range is better suited to the Chinese navy’s ability to search for and monitor targets with sensors, rather than relying on an overly complex network of external data chains and sensor platforms, as is the case with shore-based medium- and long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles.

It is believed that the YJ-21 may be closely related to the CM-401 missile. The latter is a close-range anti-ship missile with a maneuvering re-entry vehicle that was publicly unveiled at the Zhuhai Airshow 2018. At that time, the missile’s introduction openly mentioned that this anti-ship missile system could be installed on a large ship like the Type 055 destroyer.

However, the U.S. website “Drive” believes that the “YJ-21” still differs significantly from the CM-401 missile in terms of its specific design, so it is more likely that some of the relevant technology was used rather than modified from the base.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese navy has demonstrated an advanced anti-ship missile in the run-up to the Chinese Navy Day. “This is the first public demonstration of the ‘YJ-21’ hypersonic missile, which can be carried by ships or warplanes. The missile has a range of around 1,000 km to 1,500 km and is believed to be capable of striking aircraft carrier strike groups.”

U.S. media also said that the YJ-21 hypersonic missile could attack ship targets as well as shore targets. After it is formally commissioned in the Chinese Navy, it will pose a huge threat to large ships of the U.S. and its allies, and the targeting could cover the entire carrier strike group.

The report speculates that the YJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship missile would have a range of 1,000 to 1,500 kilometers and a terminal velocity of Mach 10. “The Type 055 destroyer, when equipped with the missile, may become the most powerful surface ship in the world in terms of firepower.”

Some expert said that the introduction of the new sea-based hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile not only has the ability to strike maritime carrier formations, but also shows that in the field of ultra-long-range rapid sea target strikes, the Chinese Navy already has a unique secret technology, “it can be said to be unique in the world.”

The South China Morning Post also quoted Chinese naval expert Li Jie as saying, “The pairing of Type 055 large destroyer and the ‘YJ-21’ is meant to counter U.S. maritime hegemony in the region through anti-access and area denial.”

Zhou Chenming, a researcher at Beijing-based think tank Yuanwang Think Tank, told the South China Morning Post that “by releasing the unprecedented move of the missile test video,” it is meant to warn both Washington and Taipei that the PLA has many options in terms of anti-access and area denial.

Western media also said that the Chinese Air Force has already equipped its H-6N strategic bombers with air-launched YJ-21 anti-ship ballistic missiles. Thus, the PLA has now formed a “land, sea, and air” trinity of “anti-access/area-denial” capabilities with land-based “DF-21D” anti-ship ballistic missile, air-based airborne “YJ-21” air-launched anti-ship ballistic missile and sea-based “YJ-21” anti-ship hypersonic ballistic missile.

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