HONG KONG – Increased interactions between the Chinese and U.S. Navy in the contested South China Sea risk becoming more complicated by the increasingly sophisticated missiles being carried by submarines.
A new report to the U.S. Congress assessing a Chinese submarine-launched missile known as the YJ-18 highlights the danger, noting the missile accelerates to supersonic speed just before hitting its target, making it harder for a crew to defend their ship.
Defense chiefs from several countries in Southeast Asia have warned in recent months of the danger of undersea “clutter” as countries build up submarine fleets and the U.S. challenges China over its claim to a large swath of the South China Sea. Last week’s U.S. patrol inside the zone of 22 km that China claims around its man-made islands in the waters saw the USS Lassen shadowed by two Chinese naval vessels.
The YJ-18 missile can cruise at about 960 kph, or just under the speed of sound, only a few meters above the surface of the sea and then, about 20 nautical miles from its target, accelerate to as much as three times the speed of sound, according to an Oct. 28 report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
“The supersonic speed makes it harder to hit with onboard guns,” according to Larry Wortzel, a member of the commission. “It also makes it a faster target for radars.”
The YJ-18’s speed and long range, as well as its wide deployment “could have serious implications for the ability of U.S. Navy surface ships to operate freely in the Western Pacific” in the event of a conflict, the commission found.
The YJ-18 should not be confused with the so-called carrier killer DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile, which was paraded during China’s commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. The DF-21, which would target aircraft carriers, would be fired from land-based mobile launchers. The YJ-18 could impede the progress of a carrier group, the commission report said.
Full article: Chinese supersonic ship killer makes U.S. Navy’s job harder (The Japan Times)