29 October 2015

China’s New YJ-18 Antiship Cruise Missile: Capabilities and Implications for U.S. Forces in the Western Pacific

Michael Pilger, “China’s New YJ-18 Antiship Cruise Missile: Capabilities and Implications for U.S. Forces in the Western Pacific,” Staff Research Report, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 28 October 2015.

In April 2015, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence confirmed that China has deployed the YJ-18 antiship cruise missile (ASCM) on some People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy submarines and surface ships. The YJ-18’s greater range and speed than previous Chinese ASCMs, along with its wide deployment across PLA platforms, would significantly increase China’s antiaccess/area denial capabilities against U.S. Navy surface ships operating in the Western Pacific during a potential conflict. The YJ-18 probably will be widely deployed on China’s indigenously built ASCM-capable submarines and newest surface ships by 2020, and China could develop a variant of the YJ-18 to replace older missiles in its shore-based ASCM arsenal. This paper assesses the capabilities of the YJ-18 and describes the implications of its wide deployment for U.S. forces operating in the Western Pacific. The author exclusively used open source information and considered the capabilities of similar missiles to assess the likely characteristics of the YJ-18.

Characteristics of the YJ-18

  • Speed: The YJ-18 has a subsonic cruise speed, reportedly about 600 miles per hour (mph), or Mach 0.8.2 Media reports suggest that when the missile is about 20 nautical miles (nm) from its target, the warhead accelerates to supersonic speed, reportedly up to Mach 3.0. The more fuel-efficient subsonic stage of the YJ-18’s flight increases its overall range, and the supersonic terminal flight stage reduces the time adversary forces have to engage the missile.
  • Range: According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the YJ-18 has a range of 290 nm. The YJ-18’s predecessor on many Chinese submarines, the YJ-82, has a range of about 20 nm.
  • Flight path: The YJ-18 most likely follows a sea-skimming flight path as it approaches its target.7 By flying only a few meters above the sea, the missile attempts to evade detection by surface radar until it breaks the radar horizon 16 to 18 nm from its target.
  • Payload: Authoritative open source information on the YJ-18’s physical dimensions, including the size of its conventional warhead, is scarce. Some sources, including an IHS Jane’s report, suggest the YJ-18’s warhead weighs 300 kilograms (kg), though other sources suggest it weighs only 140 kg.
  • Targeting: China is focused on building a robust C4ISR§ system for detecting ships and aircraft over the horizon, which would provide targeting data to antiship missiles such as the YJ-18. This system incorporates an array of ship-borne and land-based radar (including over-the-horizon radar); a constellation of imaging satellites; and a variety of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft. However, China’s C4ISR infrastructure might be insufficient to generate and fuse the targeting information necessary to take advantage of the YJ-18’s assessed range. According to the Department of Defense, “It is … unclear whether China has the capability to collect accurate targeting information and pass it to launch platforms in time for successful [antiship missile] strikes in sea areas beyond the first island chain.” Moreover, some systems in China’s C4ISR infrastructure may be vulnerable to countermeasures, such as electromagnetic warfare operations, that could degrade the ability of the PLA to detect, identify, and track enemy ships and employ antiship missiles against them in a contingency.
  • Navigation: The YJ-18 most likely is capable of using waypoint navigation and onboard radar-seeking technology to navigate to its target. …

Selected publications cited in report:

Andrew S. Erickson,Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” The National Interest, 3 September 2015.

Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “A Potent Vector: Assessing Chinese Cruise Missile Developments,” Joint Force Quarterly 75 (4thQuarter/30 September 2014): 98-105.

Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier: Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2014).



Andrew S. Erickson, Personal summary of discussion at “China’s Naval Shipbuilding: Progress and Challenges,” conference held by China Maritime Studies Institute at U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI, 19-20 May 2015.

Dennis GormleyAndrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “China’s Cruise Missiles: Flying Fast Under the Public’s Radar,” The National Interest (12 May 2014).


Andrew S. EricksonHow China Got There First: Beijing’s Unique Path to ASBM Development and Deployment,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.12 (7 June 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development: Drivers, Trajectories, and Strategic Implications, Jamestown Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Jamestown Foundation, May 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Channels Billy Mitchell: Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Alters Region’s Military Geography,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 13.5 (4 March 2013).

Andrew S. Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC),” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 14 (26 December 2010).

Andrew S. Erickson, “Take China’s ASBM Potential Seriously,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 136, No. 2 (February 2010), p. 8.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Ballistic Trajectory—China Develops New Anti-Ship Missile,” China Watch, Jane’s Intelligence Review 22 (4 January 2010): 2-4.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts Consider the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review 62.4 (Autumn 2009): 53-86.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese ASBM Development: Knowns and Unknowns,” Jamestown China Brief 9.13 (24 June 2009): 4-8.

Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches Equivalent of ‘Initial Operational Capability’ (IOC)—Where It’s Going and What it Means,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 12 July 2011.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China Testing Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM); U.S. Preparing Accordingly–Now Updated With Additional Sources,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 25 December 2010. 

Andrew S. Erickson, A Statement Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “PLA Modernization in Traditional Warfare Capabilities” panel, “China’s Military Modernization and its Impact on the United States and the Asia-Pacific” hearing, Washington, DC, 29 March 2007, 72-78; published in 2007 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 110th Congress, 1stSession, November 2007, 91.


Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Upgrading Hardware and Software (Part 2 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.14 (17 July 2014).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s Strategic Rocket Force: Sharpening the Sword (Part 1 of 2),” Jamestown China Brief 14.13 (3 July 2014).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China Goes Ballistic,” The National Interest131 (May-June 2014): 58-64.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “A Competitive Strategy with Chinese Characteristics? The Second Artillery’s Growing Conventional Forces and Missions,” in Thomas Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 206-18.

Andrew Erickson and Gabriel B. Collins, “China’s Ballistic Missiles: A Force to be Reckoned With,” China Real Time Report (中国事实报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2012.

Michael S. Chase and Andrew S. Erickson, “The Conventional Missile Capabilities of China’s Second Artillery Force: Cornerstone of Deterrence and Warfighting,” Asian Security, 8.2 (Summer 2012): 115-37.

Christopher T. Yeaw, Andrew S. Erickson, and Michael S. Chase, “The Future of Chinese Nuclear Policy and Strategy,” in Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, eds.,Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age: Power, Ambition, and the Ultimate Weapon(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2012), 53-80.

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “China’s SSBN Force: Transitioning to the Next Generation,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 12 (10 June 2009).

Andrew S. Erickson and Michael S. Chase, “An Undersea Deterrent? China’s Emerging SSBN Force,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 135, No. 4 (June 2009), pp. 36-41.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “The Future of Chinese Deterrence Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 9, No. 5 (4 March 2009), pp. 6-9.

Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher T. Yeaw, “Chinese Theater and Strategic Missile Force Modernization and its Implications for the United States,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32.1 (February 2009): 67-114.