YJ-91 anti-ship missiles in Chinese Navy service.
Photo: AP
Foxtrot AlphaTech and news from the world of modern defense.  

A Chinese company has tested a supersonic anti-ship missile dubbed an “aircraft carrier killer.” The HD-1 ramjet-powered missile, intended for export, could help countries fend off American and other aircraft carriers, creating no-go zones off their coastlines.

The HD-1 missile test was a success and “verified the launch, power and flight control systems,” according to China’s Global Times. The developer, the Guangdong Hongda Blasting Company, which really is its name, released a statement saying that “all parameters for the supersonic cruising flight of the HD-1 missile achieved their estimated values.”

Although it sounds a little weird for a blasting/mining company to be building supersonic anti-ship missiles, it’s just another example of civilian companies branching into defense work. The FMC Corporation, formerly known as the Food Machinery Corporation, originally made pumps to spray pesticides and eventually branched into armored personnel carriers in the United States, as one does. FMC later spun off its defense division into United Defense.

The missile is a solid-fueled ramjet-powered design; once the missile accelerates fast enough the ramjet engine begins sucking in air via an air intake into a combustion chamber. The oxygen from the air, coupled with burning fuel, is pushed out the rear of the engine generating thrust. A similar-sounding missile, the Indian-Russian BrahMos anti-ship ramjet missile, travels at speeds of up to Mach 3.

The Russian-Indian BrahMos ramjet-powered anti-ship missile. Note air intakes.
Image: Getty

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A UPI report on the missile describes it as a “carrier killer”. If the HD-1 is as fast as the BrahMos, it could pose a serious problem for aircraft carriers and their escorts. A missile travels at 2,301 miles an hour, or .63 miles per second, at Mach 3. Assuming the missile is also a sea-skimmer, flying 10 to 13 feet above the wavetops, a radar on a ship would detect BrahMos at just 13.8 miles—leaving a cruiser or destroyer escort with just 21 seconds to track, identify, lock onto, and intercept the missile.

Could the missile kill an aircraft carrier? That depends on how big the missile warhead is. Dimensions for the HD-1 are unavailable, but the missile is suitable for launch from shore-based missile batteries, ships, and aircraft. As fast as BrahMos is, it only has a 440 pound high explosive warhead.

A whole 440 pounds of high explosives sounds like a lot, and it almost certainly is enough to blow your car to smithereens. But consider that a U.S. supercarrier is more than 1,000 feet long and displaces 100,000 tons. While an HD-1 could inflict damage on an American carrier it would take many, many missiles to put one out of action.

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INS Vikramaditya
Image: Indian Navy

HD-1 is going on the export market, however, and there it might actually live up to the nickname. One of China’s closest allies and weapons customers, Pakistan, may be interested in the missile to hold arch-rival India’s carriers at risk. India and Pakistan have fought at least four wars since 1948, including pitched battles at sea. India currently has one carrier, the 44,000 ton Vikramaditya. India is also building two more indigenous carriers, the 40,000 ton Vikrant and the 60,000 ton Vishal. These smaller carriers would suffer greater proportional damage.

And if an adversary launched, say, 30 of them at an aircraft carrier, that should be more than enough to put one out of action for a while, or even sink one if they were all precisely targeted at specific points.

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Which isn’t to say that China, or whomever else, plans to use these things immediately. But it was just three years ago that China released a video, seemingly from a fever dream, of it completely wiping out an American carrier battle group using ballistic, non-ramjet powered weapons.

It helps to back up your boasting when you’ve got the tools to make it (maybe) happen.