In service since 2015, the YJ-12 anti ship cruise missile was developed as a key asset for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) amid growing tensions in the South and East China Seas. The missile is widely speculated to be a derivative of the Russian Kh-31 which entered service in the Soviet military in 1988, and which China was able to acquire in large numbers from the cash strapped Russian Federation in the 1990s to modernise its own anti ship capabilities. Like many Chinese derivatives of Soviet weapons, the YJ-12 boasts significant capability advantages over its Russian made predecessor, and while the KH-31A was restricted to a range of 103km and a speed of little over Mach 2, the Chinese platform increases the range to up to 400km and the speed to up to Mach 4. The YJ-12 carries a sizeable 500kg warhead, though this can be lower depending on the variant, and uses an advanced inertial navigation system to strike with high levels of precision.
Th YJ-12 missile was initially developed as an air launched platform deployed from the country’s long range JH-7 strike fighters and H-6 bombers, and reports have also indicated that the missiles have been deployed by more numerous J-11B and Su-30 heavy fighters allowing these elite combat aircraft to perform a ship hunting role. The newer J-10C and J-16 may well also be equipped with the missile for similar roles in future. More recently, the YJ-12 has been developed into a land based variant, the YJ-12A, which is equipped with an additional rocket booster for initial acceleration. This is necessary as it lacks to kinetic energy imparted to it by aircraft and the initial altitude that air launched variants have. A second land based variant, the YJ-12B, has also been developed, and both these missile platforms are ideal for a coastal defence role.
With the United States Navy and those of its European and Australian partners rapidly increasing their presence in the South China Sea and near the Korean Peninsula, the PLA has had great need for advanced long range ship hunting platforms to strengthen its anti access area denial (A2AD) capabilities and better defend its territories. North Korea and Russia have notably taken similar approaches to protect their territorial waters amid growing tensions with the Western bloc, with the Korean military inducting the KN-19 into active service in early 2017. While lacking the range of the DF-21D 'carrier killer,' a satellite guided ballistic missile which revolutionised Chinese A2AD capabilities in the South China Sea, the YJ-12 is set to seriously complicate Western military operations in the region.
Reports that the YJ-12 has recently been deployed to Chinese military outposts in the South China Sea, alongside advanced HQ-9B surface to air missile platforms which serve a complementary role by denying access to the airspace 300km around PLA facilities, is set to prove a major asset to enhance China’s maritime security. The deployment of advanced J-11B heavy fighters, which alongside an air superiority role to complement the HQ-9 can also potentially carry out a ship hunting role when equipped with air launched variants of the YJ-12, is set to further strengthen the PLA’s ability to defend its interests in the South China Sea. With China's outposts growing, and having been compared by a number of analysts to immobile defensive aircraft carriers, they remain a cost effective way of denying the forces of the Western bloc access to waters which China claims as its own.