China’s navy has revealed a previously unknown test of a new hypersonic missile, footage of which emerged on Chinese social media just days ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the Chinese navy, and just before talks between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders.
The missile depicted in the video is likely China’s YJ-21, also called the Eagle Strike 21, which is believed to have a maximum range of some 620 miles.
While the characteristics of the missile are unknown, as no official launches have been documented, analysis by NavalNews suggested that the missile is a cold-launched ballistic anti-ship missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle.
The test footage appears at a time of increased anxiety in the United States over the lack of a robust domestic hypersonics program. U.S. defense officials have said that the military will need to quickly develop new capabilities in order to counter China’s hypersonic weapons, which they warn could be used as a nuclear first-strike weapon.
The missile was launched from a Type 055 cruiser, which is China’s most formidable surface warfare vessel and likely to be a key asset in China’s burgeoning aircraft carrier groups.
The vessel, launched in 2017, also is the world’s largest surface combatant, boasting a displacement of around 13,000 tons, compared to the U.S. Navy’s 9,800-ton Ticonderoga-class cruisers.
“If this missile turns out to be the hypersonic YJ-21, the Type 055 cruisers would arguably become the most heavily armed warships worldwide,” NavalNews said.
The release of the video preceded a reportedly tense phone call between U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, on April 20, the first such call in Austin’s 15 months in the role.
Following that call, the Pentagon released a short readout saying that the officials had discussed “regional security issues.”
The Chinese regime, meanwhile, released a statement saying that Sino–American relations would be damaged if the United States undermined the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) claim that Taiwan is part of China.
The CCP maintains that Taiwan, which has been self-governed since 1949, is a breakaway province of China, although the regime has never controlled Taiwan. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has vowed to unite Taiwan and the mainland, and hasn’t ruled out the use of force.
The continued de facto independence of Taiwan, a democratic nation and the world’s largest supplier of semiconductors, is thus a sticking point in U.S. and CCP foreign policy.
As such, the Type 055 ship and missiles such as the YJ-21 are fast becoming a key part of Chinese military strategy, insofar as the CCP hopes that the new capabilities will intimidate the United States away from defending Taiwan in the event of an invasion.
To that end, Hu Xijin, the former editor of hawkish CCP-controlled media outlet Global Times, used the Austin–Wei call on April 20 as a pretext to demand that China “strengthen its military buildup” and use nuclear weapons to frighten the United States away from supporting Taiwan.
“It is useless to reason with America,” Hu wrote in a lengthy post on the Chinese social media platform WeChat.
“I have said this many times, but I will repeat it again: Don’t worry about how Western public opinion reacts and what other effects there will be. We must build more nuclear warheads and put them on advanced missiles like the DF-41 and JL-3,” he wrote.
Similarly, Hu recently issued a series of threats against Taiwan and the United States on Twitter, vowing that the Chinese military would “smash the Taiwan army” with “thousands of missiles” in the event of an invasion.
China is currently reported to have about 350 warheads, but a recent Pentagon report warned that the CCP was drastically increasing production and modernization of its nuclear arsenal, and might have 1,000 nuclear weapons by 2030.