Indian Defence

Can The Chinese YJ-12 Match India’s Brahmos?

Brahmos is a medium-range cruise missile produced by Brahmos Aerospace (a joint venture between India’s Defence Research and Development Organization and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyeniya), projecting various roles – air-launched cruise missile, air-launched anti-ship missile, land-attack missile, and ship-launched surface-to-surface missile, and is used by Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. The YJ-12 is a supersonic Chinese anti-ship missile produced by the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp (CASIC) and is used by People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). So let’s see which of these two missiles makes it to wreckage faster.

Range – According to a spokesperson of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) in the 2016 Zhuhai Airshow, the YJ-12 has a range of 290km, but the United States Naval War College Review lists this missile as a 400km range hell-bringer, yet some other experts say it to have the range of 300km. Among all the uncertainties, it is believed that YJ-12 has a confirmed operational range between 250-400km where it can go speeds up to Mach 4 depending on warhead size and altitude. According to some sources it is actually faster than our Brahmos, which can currently go up to Mach 3.5 and had a range of 290km which has been upgraded to 350km. These statistics make it harder to tell who wins the range game but one thing is for sure the YJ-12 has the capability to take on our Brahmos.

Engine – The Brahmos is a multi-stage missile where it is powered by a Solid Rocket Booster with solid fuel in the first stage, and Liquid Rocket Ramjet with liquid fuel in the second stage. The ramjet uses the atmosphere as a working mass to gain the required speed and having no moving parts make them more simple, more reliable and lighter than conventional liquid-fuelled rocket engine. The solid rocket booster accelerates the missile up to its cruise speed up to where the ramjet takes the job to continue the trajectory.

The YJ-12 reportedly uses an integrated ramjet system with no confirmation of a solid rocket propulsion system in the first stage. If that might be the case, then the YJ-12 ramjet might just be weaker in performance than the Brahmos engine capability. Continuing the flight with a ramjet from the starting line itself will not produce the expected results because for ramjets to work in the most efficient way, they need that high altitude and acceleration. This is the reason it has been used in the second stage of Brahmos. Furthermore, the ramjet will impose mass requirements and streamlining in the atmosphere with more drag in the flight that would have been avoided if the ramjet introduction would have been in the latter stage. But then again, YJ-12 is a much more classified entity and all these are just statistical speculations.

Guidance system – The Brahmos use a two-stage guidance system. For the mid-course, it uses the Inertial Navigation System (INS) which uses motion sensors and gyroscopes with a computer to continuously calculate by Dead Reckoning the target’s position and Satellite Navigation System for autonomous geo-spatial positioning with very high precision. In its terminal phase, the Brahmos uses Active Radar Homing with an integrated ‘Fire and Forget’ system. Being completely autonomous in the terminal phase, once the target is locked on, the missile’s smart computer will automatically derive its own trajectory and has no dependency on the pilot’s inputs. This makes the pilots less vulnerable to enemy fire and increases accuracy significantly.

The YJ-12 has an inertial guidance system and an indigenously designed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) which China projects as the competitor for the US Global Positioning System (GPS). The BeiDou system provides an independent navigation system for the YJ-12 thus reducing dependence on GPS as it can deny access to certain areas in times of conflict. It has been stated that the BDS can be updated by data-link with an active radar seeker for terminal homing for a target-hitting accuracy of more than 90%. Even if the GPS were to go down entirely, the BDS would serve as a backup. This is indeed a serious issue if it is as powerful as they say.

An IAF Sukhoi Su-30 MKI with a Brahmos

Warhead – The YJ-12 can carry a 200kg – 500kg conventional High Explosive Warhead but the main concern comes to its ability to carry a 500kg nuclear warhead. The Brahmos however also lie in the same bag with a limited capability of a 300kg conventional High Explosive or Semi-Armour Piercing warhead, or even nuclear warhead. It can be used for both impact and proximity explosions. The YJ-12, according to sources, have beaten our missile in payload capacity, which is itself a concerning issue, considering the devastating effect it can produce if it touches our soil.

Accuracy – Circular Error Probability (CEP) is a measure of a weapon system’s precision when considered military science of ballistics, where the lower the CEP is, the more accurate the missile would be. In this accuracy test, the YJ-12 has an accuracy of 5-7m CEP while the Brahmos projects an astounding 1m CEP, which significantly boosts our precision strike capability.

Sea-Skimming – Sea-Skimming is a technique used by many anti-ship missiles to avoid infrared/radar detection and lowers the probability of being shot down by coastal enemy air defences, naval ship Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS) during their flight by cruising very close above to the water surface. The Brahmos can fly as flow as 3m-4m above the water’s surface. However, in the case of YJ-12, while experts say that YJ-12 is supposed to have good sea-skimming capability, the data is totally confidential and we may never know unless it pierces a hole in an INS hull!

A Chinese media clip showing the Xian H6 bomber with the YJ-12 missiles

Operational Platform and Variants – Brahmos has a very diverse operational platform capability as it can be fired from warships, land-based Transport Erect Launcher (TEL) from ground vehicles, submarines and fighter aircraft. The ship-launched anti-ship variant is already in service while the land-launched anti-ship variant is under an ongoing induction process. Air-launched anti-ship and land-attack variants have been successfully tested and are entering the operational production stage. Brahmos-A passes its air-launch test with flying colours which was fired from a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. Indian Navy’s Vishakhapatnam, Kolkata, Delhi and Rajput Class destroyers are already equipped with Brahmo’s variants while the Shivalik and Talwar class frigates will enter the fray soon. Indian Army has deployed the Brahmos with the Akash and Nirbhay missiles to deter Chinese aggression along the Line of Actual Control in east Ladakh. But unlike the faster ramp-up in the other two Armed Force divisions, Indian Air Force is yet to get up to the pace as the air-launched Brahmos is operational only with the Su-30 MKIs of the Thanjavur Air Force Station’s Tigersharks squadron. Currently, only the Su30s are capable of firing the Brahmos but in near future, the Mig 29Ks, HAL Tejas and Dassault Rafales will be upgraded for the same once the Brahmos-NG (Next generation) upgrades roll out. The upcoming Brahmos upgrades will make it smaller and lighter without compensating for the speed and range, and each Su-30 will be able to carry three missiles.

The YJ-12 has the capability of being air-launched or land-vehicled. The YJ-12 is the air-launched one while the YJ-12B is the land-based variant. CASIC also has produced its export version known as CM-302 which China markets as the world’s best anti-ship missile, which can even disable a 5000-tonne warship and would have a Mach 3+ terminal stage flight speed. Various experts are fearful of the potential 1900km range of the YJ-12 when paired with the Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 MKK or the Shenyang J-11. It has been already tested by the Xian H-6 bombers. Shenyang J-16 and the Chengdu J-10 are also reportedly in the development stage of being equipped by YJ-12s. The four active ships of the Sovremenny-class destroyer of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are too equipped with the ship-launched YJ-12 variant.

INS Chennai firing a Brahmos during TROPEX 2017

It is for an obvious reason that no country would publicly announce such sensitive information about how many missiles each one possesses. According to an official 2008 news, Brahmos was eyeing to double the production from 25 missiles per year to 50, a 1000 Brahmos missile force for Indian Armed Forces and a potential 2000 Brahmos for friendly export, over a span of 10 years. Since then, many ground-breaking Brahmos tests have been taken across all platforms and even a Brahmos-NG manufacturing plant is being planned in Uttar Pradesh. The Air Force already confirmed a requirement of 400 missiles over an Rs. 8000 crore deal in a span of 5 years.

But for the Chinese numbers, maybe the world will be on wait until it’s too late! The YJ-12 was among those active service weapon showcase parades in the 2015 China Victory Day Parade, so it is safe to say that it has entered active service for a long but no certain numbers are there. Unlike the small-arms reliability factor, China is actually a major concerning powerhouse in missile development.


Brahmos Aerospace has already indulged in future hypersonic variants. The Brahmos-II, the planned hypersonic cruise missile, is currently under development and is supposed to have a 600km to 800km range with speeds up to Mach 8. On the other hand, CASIC is eyeing the further development of its export versions – CM-302 and CM-400. A new CM-400AKG ‘Wrecker’ has been termed by them as hypersonic as it can reportedly reach Mach 5.5+ in the terminal stage. To deal a bigger blow to India, Pakistan signed the deal for 60 Wrecker missiles in 2020. Although the missile was originally developed as an air-to-air missile, the new deal’s contents are an anti-ship variant specifically designed for our western neighbourhood, which Pakistan has also labelled to be ‘an aircraft carrier killer’. Statistically, China has beaten US’s AGM-84 Harpoon, one of the most widely used and very reliable anti-ship missiles, which should actually be a surprise for the West. However, due to the limitations and backwardness of the Chinese microelectronic industry, the unit cost of microchips has become too expensive for them, which according to reports giving China a run for its money despite the indigenized effort as each YJ-12 is approximately double the Harpoon. The radar seeker itself costs a quarter million US$ for China. Although most of the time China keeps its weapons information secret and on paper Chinese weapons always look very advanced but we should note that most of the Chinese weapons in the past have not performed as they appear on paper.’ So yes if we go by on paper specifications of YJ12 then it has more capability than BrahMos in some points but in reality, it cannot be said for sure.

And there is a very famous saying.

Chinese माल है चले तो चांद तक वरना शाम तक


Subhodip Das

An Average Mechanical Engineering student from Jadavpur University, Kolkata who dreams of having a fully customized AR-15 draped on the wall....very childish ain't it ! Well apart from that, Art is the one absolute thing I practically live for.

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