China Unveils World’s 1st Carrier-Based Hypersonic Anti-Ship Missile ‘YJ-21’ That Can ‘Strike The Eagle’

China has finally unveiled its ‘YJ-21,’ or the ‘Eagle Strike 21’ shipborne hypersonic anti-ship missile that has long been shrouded in mystery. The missile has been put on display at the ongoing Zhuhai Air Show.

The homegrown YJ-21 missile is known to be the world’s first carrier-based anti-ship ballistic missile.

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The missile was displayed alongside the two Tianlei (TL) series air-to-surface anti-ship missiles. It was marked as ‘YJ-21E’, in which the ‘E’ appears to indicate the export variant of the missile.

The YJ-21 is considered one of China’s most lethal weapons, hidden from public view until now. In April, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy released a video showing a Type 055 cruiser firing a previously unseen missile which was believed to be the YJ-21.

From what could be observed from the video clip, the missile had small fins and a bi-conic nose, and its small control surfaces indicated that it is not a surface-to-air missile (SAM), considering such a missile would need to be highly maneuverable to engage a high-speed airborne target.

The YJ-21E displayed at this year’s edition of the biennial Zhuhai Air Show appears similar in shape and dimensions to the one fired from the Type 055 cruiser in April.

The YJ-21 Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

While the performance specifications of the YJ-21 remain unknown, its range is believed to be somewhere between 1000 to 1500 kilometers. According to the South China Morning Post, the missile has a terminal velocity of Mach 10 – ten times the speed of sound.

In the video in April, the YJ-21 was seen cold-launched from the Type 055’s stern vertical launch system (VLS), which means the missile was expelled from the launcher cell using gas before its engine ignited after it was airborne and clear of the ship.

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Chinese VLS cells can accommodate missiles up to nine meters long, with a diameter of 850 millimeters, so the YJ-21 must be within these parameters.

The YJ-21 is believed to have been developed from the Chinese CM-401 short-range hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile unveiled at the Zhuhai Air Show 2018. It is a solid-fueled short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) comparable to Russia’s Iskander SRBM that has been used in the ongoing Ukraine war.

A mockup of the CM-401 missile in its launcher canister. (Chinese Internet)

The missile’s manufacturer, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Limited (CASIC), had stated that the missile could be fitted on warships in the future. However, reports have pointed out that the YJ-21 has a large booster compared to the CM-401.

The missile has a range of at least 180 miles (roughly 290 kilometers), and it flies in a ‘skip-glide’ flight pattern, which means that it flies vertically straight up initially and then skips off the atmosphere one or more times after re-entering turning its downward momentum into horizontal motion.

In addition to the Type 005, there was also an image of a PLA Air Force (PLAAF) H-6N bomber carrying a missile that appears to be related to the YJ-21.

Most importantly, the YJ-21 is part of the Chinese arsenal of missiles meant to take out enemy aircraft carriers. It is an ultra-fast missile with an unpredictable flight path, capable of penetrating directly through an aircraft carrier’s flight deck and eliminating it quickly.

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Beijing has long been concerned about the ability of American aircraft carrier groups to travel across the world and exert military dominance.

File Image: YJ-21E

The US Navy plans to maintain a fleet of 12 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. In contrast, China has only three aircraft carriers, with the fourth in the pipeline.

As EurAsian Times discussed recently, the capability to destroy an aircraft carrier is at the heart of China’s strategy to counter any US military action off its eastern coast.

Furthermore, EurAsian Time also reported about a target range in Xinjiang’s remote Taklamakan desert with targets built in the shape of a Ford-class US aircraft carrier and at least two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford – US National Archives & DVIDS Public Domain Search

These targets were meant for the Chinese military to practice precision anti-ship attacks with the land-based Dong Feng-21D (DF-21D) missiles, also known as the ‘carrier killer’ missile, with a range of 1,500 kilometers.

The US Navy, on the other hand, does not currently have an anti-ship ballistic missile like the ones operated by China. The service is collaborating with the US Army on the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) hypersonic missile system, which can be launched from land, ship, and submarine platforms.

While the Tomahawk Block Va and Vb cruise missiles used by the US Navy have an advantage in terms of range, as these missiles can engage targets at around 1800 kilometers, they are subsonic and, therefore, easier to intercept by air defense systems.

In March, a report by US Congressional Research Service about China’s naval capabilities highlighted the concerns of the top US military officials. It said that China’s stockpile of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) could virtually block the US Navy from accessing an area of about a thousand miles off China’s coast.