How powerful is the Eagle-21 “aircraft carrier killer”?

Introduction: After a long-term test, the Eagle-21 has become the world’s first sea-based hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile deployed in actual combat. Can it be true that this missile could be the Aircraft killer?

1. Missile parameters 

In the previous Zhuhai Air Show, China unveiled the YJ-21E for foreign trade, but according to the 300-kilometer range limit of the “Ballistic Missile Proliferation Treaty,” the foreign trade YJ-21E has a range of only 290 kilometers, far below the upper limit of this design, and has limited deterrent capabilities for aircraft carrier battle groups. With the official service of this missile’s self-use model, the mystery of its “complete body” technical and tactical performance has been unveiled.

The YJ-21 is determined to be a ship-borne ballistic missile for anti-ship purposes. In terms of power, the rear of the projectile is boosted by a solid rocket motor, and the head of the projectile is a double-cone configuration glider. This type of glider has a high supersonic lift-to-drag ratio performance, which meets the technical requirements for gliding in a hypersonic environment.

Starting the hypersonic gliding process in the adjacent space greatly reduces the resistance of the missile to advance, and its range has been greatly improved, which obviously surpasses other “predecessors” of anti-ship missiles.

Once the news is officially released, it also means that China can break the boundaries of the military and achieve a better combination of all means of situational awareness. 

Considering that the YJ-21’s range has exceeded the range of land-based and sea-based radar guidance, it will use a space-based data link to support ballistic missiles, that is, rely on satellites to monitor target position information in real-time and make continuous adjustments based on data link feedback The flight direction of the missile.

The YJ-21 has a range of more than 1,000 kilometers, an average flight speed of Mach 6, a final sprint speed of Mach 10, and a hitting error of less than 30 meters. The missile’s flight performance is similar to that of the “Zircon” hypersonic anti-ship missile previously launched by Russia (with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a maximum speed of Mach 9). The “Granite” heavy anti-ship missile is popular in the world.

2. Double cone, two penetrations, the new method is very eye-catching

Yingji-21 was born out of Dongfeng-21D and is regarded as a shrunken version adapted to shipboard. China’s current main anti-ship ballistic missiles (including Dongfeng-26, Dongfeng-21D, and Eagle-21) use the unique hypersonic layout design of the double-cone warhead.

Similar to the principle of aircraft lift, the double-cone warhead relies on the pressure difference between the upper and lower sides of the warhead cone to compress the air at a certain angle of attack and the expansion wave to generate a certain lift and glide. 

At the same time, it can also rely on squeezing the air in front of it. Forming a layer of “air film” to reduce flight resistance, this layout makes the missile have better speed and range. In recent decades, quite a few classic ballistic missiles have adopted this type of design. 

Applied to the Eagle-21, it has two deadly penetration methods of hypersonic speed and maneuvering orbit change. In the water drift stage after reentry into orbit, the missile’s speed is as high as Mach 6. Its trajectory has a certain degree of randomness and lateral maneuverability, which allows the missile to approach the target at a very high speed and is difficult to detect in the middle.

 Discovery and interception.

After reentry into the atmosphere, the final sprint speed of the missile can reach Mach 10, which is far beyond the speed of interceptors. Even if the enemy’s radar detects it, the aerodynamic rudder surface on the projectile can change the orbit in time to maneuver so that the opponent can “see but not hit,” ensuring that it can penetrate the defense and hit the target.

3. Multi-platform deployment is conducive to global deployment

In order to adapt to the missile silos (850 mm in diameter and 9 meters in depth) of the two main naval battleships 055 and 052D/DL in design and principle, the YJ-21 adopts cold launching to reduce fuel consumption and the size of the projectile body has been enlarged. The reduction of the diameter of the gun is only about 600 mm, making its range relatively small.

The 055 destroyer can carry different types of missiles
The 055 destroyer can carry different types of missiles

On the other hand, this missile may also be carried on a large number of new 095-class attack nuclear submarines, becoming a nuclear submarine similar to the former Soviet “Oscar” class dedicated to anti-ship missions, which can further enhance the concealment of my country’s anti-ship forces.

Our navy has over 30 cutting-edge destroyers, which are growing rapidly every year. It is currently the navy with the fastest shipbuilding speed in the world. If these destroyers can carry a certain number of YJ-21 missiles, they will become a powerful force. 

The 052D “Yinchuan” ship that once went deep into the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands can now carry many YJ-21 anti-ship missiles. Combined with China’s plan for equipment development and replacement, this system will greatly enhance the ability of our navy to track and hunt large enemy surface ships on a global scale.

The YJ-21 missile can be called a “rule changer.” It can be carried on warships deployed around the world, launched, and struck at a safe distance (outside the defense zone of the aircraft carrier battle group). This will change the rules of engagement at sea in the future, making the idea of ​​”arsenal ships” (that is, equipped with dozens of heavy anti-ship missiles) a reality to a certain extent.

If the Dongfeng-21D can keep the enemy’s large surface warships away thousands of miles away, then the destroyers and nuclear submarines equipped with the Eagle-21 can chase the enemy’s large surface warships to the ends of the world.

The YJ-21 of different platforms, combined with the land-based Dongfeng-21D missile, can form a “trinity” hypersonic anti-ship system, further strengthen the “anti-access/area denial” combat capability in the Western Pacific region, and at the same time activate The combat potential of China’s large number of advanced surface warships allows every major warship to become a launcher for deadly missiles.


Perhaps due to the size of the ship-borne missile launch module, the YJ-21 missile cannot be purely performance-oriented, so many compromises have been made. Currently, the most advanced wave rider layout and scramjet are not used. 

However, this projectile design and relatively low cost are more conducive to large-scale deployment on warships. It can carry out saturation attacks on the opponent while having two penetration methods. The emergence of this weapon will completely shake the main competition. Adversary maritime supremacy.

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