China announces that the YJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship missile is in service aboard its Type 055 destroyers

China has confirmed the installation of the YJ-21 missile, a naval hypersonic anti-ship missile derived from the DF-21D, aboard the Chinese Navy's Type 055 heavy destroyers.

When it comes to hypersonic missiles, the mainstream media seem to consider only the advances made by Russia, whether it's the Avangard hypersonic glider, the Kinzhal airborne missile, or even the 3M22 Tzirkon anti-ship missile which hit the headlines a few weeks ago when the frigate Admiral Gorshkov undertook a deployment in the Indian Ocean passing not far from the European coast.

However, Russia is not the only one to have recorded important successes in this area. North Korea has carried out several tests in recent months of a ballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic glider, while China admitted to service 3 years ago the surface-to-surface missile of the same type DF-17, comparable or even superior in performance to the Russian Kinzhal.

The same goes for the YJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship missile and its air-dropped version CJ-21, tested almost a year ago on board a Type 55 heavy destroyer as well as under the wings of a bomber heavy H-6N.

The existence of these two missiles, derived from the DF-21D ballistic missile and topped with a hypersonic anti-ship glider, is not new. They were indeed observed in April 2022, and their supposed performances, as well as the tactical and strategic implications of their entry into service in the Indo-Pacific theater, were then analyzed in an article entitled “ China's new YJ-21 and CJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship missiles are a game changer in the Pacific"

Nothing has fundamentally changed since this analysis, apart from two things. On the one hand, the US Navy, but also the Japanese, Australian and South Korean navies, are committed to rapidly deploying the new RIM-174 SM-6 missile aboard their destroyers, the only western naval missile, with perhaps the Aster 30, which is effectively capable of intercepting this threat. On the other hand, the People's Liberation Army has just publicly announced that it has this missile, breaking the omerta about him that had lasted for many months.

An air-dropped version of the YJ-21, the CJ-21, was observed aboard an H-6N bomber
April 2022 snapshot showing an H-6N bomber carrying what is believed to be the CJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship missile

Until now, the anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic defense of large American and allied destroyers equipped with the AEGIS system, relied on the SM-2 missile to intercept combat aircraft as well as cruise missiles, whether anti-ship or not, and possibly terminal ballistic missiles, as well as on the SM-3 exoatmospheric missile designed to intercept ballistic targets in transit flight thanks to a kinetic impactor capable of hitting targets up to beyond 150 km altitude.

However, these two missiles left a zone of vulnerability, located between the 25 km maximum altitude of the SM-2, and the 60 km minimum altitude to engage the kinetic impactor of the SM-3. In addition, the maneuverability and speed of hypersonic gliders, such as those fitted to the YJ/CJ-21 or 3M22 Tzirkon missiles, make their interception very difficult with the SM-2, even in its most advanced version.


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