Mysterious new missile launched by China’s Type 055 giant destroyer

A video has emerged from China showing what is believed to be one of its massive Type 055 destroyers launching a mysterious new missile from one of its vertical launch cells. Although it is not entirely clear which missile it is and what concept of operations underlies it, there are certainly distinct possibilities, one of which is highly probable.

The video clip shows a missile being “cold launched” and then propelled into the air. The thruster is relatively short while its payload is a long conical shape with small fins at its base. The design is strongly reminiscent of a maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MaRV).

Our friend @Alexluck9 on Twitter pointed out that this missile design has already been mooted as future armament for warships equipped with China’s advanced Vertical Launch System (VLS):

The weapon seen is most likely a sea-launched anti-ship ballistic missile believed to be in development for some. Fielding such a weapon at sea would have major implications because currently China’s only anti-ship ballistic missile capabilities are land-based, with an air-launched type also being developed. In fact, the same day this video was released, we also got our best look at the air-launched JY-21 “Eagle Strike” which you can read here. The timing is suspect, no doubt, but matches the stream of “leaks” from China that act as informal strategic messages.

The missile appears to use a slimmer, more elongated, conical-shaped maneuvering re-entry vehicle compared to that found on the YJ-21, as well as what we’ve seen on many other MaRV-equipped missiles. Combined with a much shorter rocket booster, the design is clearly optimized to fit inside the tight confines of a ship’s VLS cells. The relatively short booster rocket would significantly reduce its strike distance, but it would be a reasonable compromise given that the capability would already be forward deployed at sea. Even a range of a few hundred miles would be beneficial. This weapon could also hit stationary targets on land.

Like most MaRVs, the shape of the DF-15 short-range ballistic missile MaRV is very similar to what we see with the missile in question, although the latter has a more elongated shape to fit inside of a VLS cell.

The system could borrow some components already used by the land-based CM-401 short-range anti-ship ballistic missile, although the MaRV profile is clearly different, as is the type’s rocket section. You can read all about the CM-401 in our profile about it.

CM-401 in its launch canister mock-up display. (Credit: Chinese Internet)
A Chinese graphic showing an anti-ship ballistic missile executing a jump trajectory that is difficult to intercept. (Credit: chinese internet)

Layering even short-range anti-ship ballistic missiles with air-breathing anti-ship cruise missiles would complicate even the most advanced naval adversary’s ability to defend itself. Also, the shorter range would match the organic sensing capabilities of a Chinese flotilla to detect and engage targets without having to rely on overly complex external data links and networks of sensor platforms like missiles. land-based medium and long range anti-ship ballistics.

The Chinese Type 055 destroyer. (Chinese Navy)

Another possibility, though we think it’s quite remote, is that it’s a cruise missile of some type, possibly even hypersonic air-breathing. The fact that the missile appears to enter a thrust maneuver for a shallower flight path shortly after clearing the ship further indicates this possibility. But still, her figure is confusing if that were the case. Note than a number Chinese very high-speed anti-ship cruise missile designs emerged in recent years, but which feature body-mounted air intakes to feed the ramjets and otherwise have configurations that bear no resemblance to this missile at all. It’s also a bigger technological challenge to create something like a hypersonic anti-ship missile than an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Finally, this could be a new anti-aircraft weapon, although we really don’t have anything to directly compare in terms of base shape.

Regardless of the mystery surrounding this weapon, it’s another reminder that China is forging ahead with new weapon concepts for its growing armada.

What do you think it is? Let us know in the comments below.

Contact the author: [email protected]

Comments are closed.