Ship Hunting Flying Sharks: China Has Equipped its J-15 Carrier Based Fighters with YJ-91 Cruise Missiles

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has equipped its J-15 Flying Shark carrier based air superiority fighters with YJ-91 anti ship cruise missiles, with these munitions expected  to equip aircraft on both serving carriers – the Liaoning and the Shandong. While initially equipped primarily for air to air combat, the YJ-91 will provide Chinese carrier air wings with an improved ship hunting capability.

Combined with the J-15’s long range, high weapons payload and powerful sensors, this will make them highly potent in such a role. The J-15 first entered service int he PLA Air Force in 2012, and over 100 are currently though to be in service with the Liaoning and Shandong deploying 24 and 36 respectively. The fighters are based on the J-11B air superiority platform which entered service from 1998, but benefit from superior avionics and electronic warfare systems. Future variants off the J-15 are expected to be built with ‘4++ generation’ capabilities comparable to those of the PLA Air Force’s J-11D, including a high composite airframe, an AESA radar, more powerful engines, three dimensional thrust vectoring systems and access to a wider range of munitions.

J-15 Flying Shark on Carrier Deck with YJ-91 Anti Ship Cruise Missile

The YJ-91 entered service in the late 1990s as a close derivative of the Soviet Kh-31, and retains an estimated range of 50-65km. The platform is prized for its high precision and its high impact speed, which even without an explosive warhead can devastate enemy warships with the sheer energy of impact. The missile impacts targets at speeds of Mach 4.5 and carries a 165kg warhead. The YJ-91 follows a sea skimming trajectory, approaching targets at just 1.2 meters above sea level, which makes it extremely difficult to intercept and minimises the response time of enemy warships. The missile was derived from the Kh-31A anti radiation missile, with many of the technologies improved on in China and its guidance system altered to allow it to perform in a ship hunting role.

The missile is considered less sophisticated than the indigenous YJ-12, which entered service around 2015 and currently equips the PLA’s H-6 bombers and JH-7 strike fighters, with the newer missiles benefitting from a considerably longer range and greater precision. Variants of the YJ-91 have also been developed as anti radiation missiles, much like the original Kh-31P and the American AGM-88 HAARM, although it remains uncertain whether the PLA Navy will adopt this ground attack variant due to the defensive nature of its carrier deployments. The deployment of the new missile comes shortly after the carrier Liaoning completed its conversion from a training carrier into a fully operational warship, and at around the time of the Shandong’s commissioning into frontline service.

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