While navies across global maritime powers racing to develop hypersonic missiles which are likely to forever change the pace of naval warfare. While the Russian Navy is set to deploy its Zircon hypersonic missiles on its submarines the U.S. Navy has commenced work on a common hypersonic glide body (c-HGB) for its destroyers, China has taken a different approach. Its hypersonic weapon is air launched.
China’s new hypersonic missile, labeled CH-AS-X-13, is most likely the world’s biggest air-launched missile.
Way back in 2018, Ankit Panda, a Stanton Senior Fellow member at the Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had reported the presence of the Chinese hypersonic missile.
Candid images have now appeared on Chinese social media sites providing a
clearer view of Beijing’s new weapon.
According to analysts, the missile may have been designed to target high-value warships, especially aircraft carriers, making it an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). Since the missile appears to be carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), it is likely to have extended range and increase its survivability against air defenses.
It is very likely that the CH-AS-X-13 is closely linked to its ground based DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile. Image analysis of the missile suggests that it has different dimensions compared to its ground-based cousin, suggesting that it probably uses a different rocket motor. The most likely reason for this is likely to be the physical restrictions imposed by carrying it under an H-6 bomber.
While the DF-21D is believed to have a range in excess of 1,500 km, the CH-AS-X-13 is likely to possibly have an extended range beyond this given that its launched from the air and that it is equipped with a hypersonic glide vehicle. Its overall reach is significantly extended since it will be carried by a bomber.
Further, the H-6N bomber has aerial refueling capabilities which again increases its range, granting the CH-AS-X-13 threatening capabilities beyond just the South China Sea. It can hit targets in the Indian Ocean as well as those in the Pacific Ocean.
Despite its massive range, it has an Achilles’ heel: finding and tracking an aircraft carrier in the vastness of the ocean at extreme range is very challenging. Further, its success will depend on the survivability of the bomber itself as well as the number of aircraft available for the mission.
Incidentally, China’s H-6 bomber is not limited to the CH-AS-X-15 alone, it can also carry a range of anti-ship missiles, including the YJ-12 supersonic missile, which is similar to Russia’s Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) missile, but significantly larger. The H-6 can carry at least four YJ-12s, thus a squadron of these bombers could launch a saturation attack on a Carrier Battle Group. The H-6 can also carry the subsonic KD-63, which is commonly referred to as the YJ-63.
By revealing the presence of the missile, Beijing may be sending a message to potential adversaries. Earlier this year on August 26, Beijing had test fired a DF-21D ASBM into the South China Sea, just weeks after the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan completed exercises in the area.
Carrier battle groups will have to find ways to mitigate this threat so as to puncture China’s ballooning ego.